A “ribbiting” tale filled with comic sparkle and enchanting storytelling.
David Gonzalez brings his hip adaptation of a classic Russian story to Irvine Barclay Theatre.
Sunday, March 17, 2019 at 2pm
Irvine Barclay Theatre - 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine CA
www.thebarclay.org | 949.854.4646
David Gonzalez’s The Frog Bride is a “ribbiting” coming-of-age story. When a King sends his three sons to find their brides, two return with fair ladies. The last returns with… A FROG?!
Gonzalez, whose storytelling has been engaging imaginations for over two decades, combines quirky, rhymed verse, live music, stunning multi-media, and the most extraordinary device of all—our imaginations—to create a hip adaptation of a classic Russian tale filled with comic sparkle and enchanting storytelling.
Recommended for ages 6-10
ABOUT THE SHOW
When a frog talks, listen. It’s a voice from the wet, murky swamp—half land, half water—where anything can happen.
I first heard The Frog Bride story from poet Robert Bly, then I read several versions of it in collections of Russian fairy tales. In this yarn the qualities of innocence, wonder, loss and discovery are clothed in the characters of princes, frogs, witches, and one very enchanted young lady. Yes, he marries a frog, but that is just the beginning of the adventure. The Frog Bride has everything I love in stories: great characters and settings, a truly troublesome problem, a quest, and the unearthing of wisdom.
Prokofiev’s Five Melodies for Violin and Piano was chosen for its beauty, its emotional power and complexity, and because the movements are just the right length.
Kandinsky’s paintings were selected from the Guggenheim Museum’s collection for their sheer lyrical beauty, but also to reflect the artist’s evolution as one of the founders of abstract art.
Wassily Kandinksy paintings used in The Frog Bride.
Sketch for Composition II
ABOUT DAVID GONZALEZ
David Gonzalez is a professional storyteller, poet, playwright, musician and public speaker. He is a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department, and is the proud recipient of the International Performing Arts for Youth Lifetime Achievement Award for Sustained Excellence. Mr. Gonzalez was named a Fellow of the Joseph Campbell Foundation and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience for The Frog Bride. David has created numerous productions, including the critically acclaimed ¡Sofrito! with The Latin Legends Band; and MytholoJazz, both of which enjoyed sold-out runs at the New Victory Theater. Sleeping Beauty was co-commissioned by the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Brooklyn College, and The McCallum Theatre. David was a featured performer at the National Storytelling Festival and appeared for three seasons at the Royal National Theatre in London. The Man of the House was commissioned by and premiered at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2013.
Mr. Gonzalez’s work, Double Crossed: The Saga of the St. Louis, toured nationally, including a run at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. As If the Past Were Listening was in Lincoln Center Institute’s repertory for three seasons. Finding North, commissioned by the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, ran at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. He co-wrote Mariel, an Afro-Cuban musical, which won the Macy’s New Play Prize for Young Audiences. David is also the librettist for Rise for Freedom! produced at the Cincinnati Opera, and wrote and produced Jimi and Mr. B, a musical commissioned by the Empire State Plaza Performing Arts Center. His poems for The Carnival of the Animals, with classical piano virtuoso Frederic Chui, premiered in 2008. David was the host of New York Kids on WNYC for eight seasons. He earned his doctorate from New York University’s School of Education and has worked as a music therapist with handicapped children for many years. David performed his poetry project, City of Dreams, at colleges, festivals and theaters throughout the country. He is also the artistic director of Crisalida Communications, a company which consults to arts and civic organizations, helping them create effective community outreach programs.
INTERVIEW WITH DAVID GONZALEZ
What is your artistic background?
My uncle, Jose, made me a puppet theater when I was seven, and my mother sewed red velvet curtains for it. My first show was a musical (I sang all the roles) about a boy’s adventure in Central Park. In high school, I graduated from air-guitar to real guitar, and music has been at the center of my life ever since. Jazz artists John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Wes Montgomery, Charles Mingus and many others showed me possibilities of musical and artistic achievement I had never before dreamed of. I fell in love with the sound of jazz and began serious study.
From an early age, I was drawn to human service work, so quickly my creative life moved into the field of music therapy, for which I received bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees. Music therapy brings the art of the musician to the needs of the handicapped—often in creative collaboration, improvisations, songwriting, jam sessions, movement, poetry and, yes, storytelling. I began working with stories in my sessions with emotionally troubled kids, helping them to create spontaneous operas and musical myths, where they could express themselves within a rich and accepting musical relationship. Those wonderful years of hard work, mostly in special education settings, is the “wind beneath my wings.” Together with my “kids,” I lived first-hand the real power of art to touch, inspire and heal—it’s no wonder my artistic mission is to join great music and world myths onstage.
One of the greatest pleasures in my life has been the opportunity to collaborate with brilliant musicians such as Larry Harlow, Yomo Toro, DD Jackson, Mark Dresser, Lisa Sokolov, Andrew Cyrille, Daniel Kelly, Christian Howes, Bobby Sanabria, John DiMartino, Marvin Sewell and many others. I never went to theater school and have no formal training—I’ve learned by watching and doing, always paying very close attention to the audience, observing their responses, making sure that they are journeying with me to the glorious places where myth and music lead us.
What inspires you to tell stories?
Stories saved me. There was a time in my life (I was about 22) when I felt very confused about the “big picture”—I just couldn’t figure out what was important. Lucky for me, I was introduced to Joseph Campbell and Robert Johnson, two of the best storytellers and story-thinkers that ever spun a yarn. I read everything they wrote. Suddenly and completely, I saw how stories could be a comfort and an inspiration, and how stories join people. This is perhaps the main thing—that we gather together for storytelling, and then the stories and the storytellers shower us with their gifts. About this time, I attended a storytelling circle around a campfire deep in the Maine Woods. The storyteller, Karen Seiber, lit us up with her voice, language and gestures. I remember thinking, “That is what I want to do—to bring people on a journey like that!”
I often choose to tell stories that are at first intriguing and confusing—tales that perplex me. By working on them, by exploring their situations and uncovering the story’s characters, I come to understand the deeper meanings hidden within the tale. This helps me sharpen my insight into myself and enriches my life.
What is the inspiration behind The Frog Bride?
There is something in Ivan’s (the protagonist) dilemma and the choices that he must make that I relate to. When I first heard the story, I immediately sensed it was like a dream that I could have dreamed. Maybe there is a little bit of Ivan in all of us. Ivan is like a seed that has fallen into the ground—he cannot see himself and knows not what he will become. Fortunately, the swamp soil is rich and wet, the sun is high, and the adventure has begun—but things are not what they seem, and there is danger ahead. The Frog Bride is a magical story about the journey of a lifetime—how a boy becomes a man.
How does Sergei Prokofiev’s music support the story?
Sometimes I like to think that the story actually supports the music. Prokofiev’s score is so profoundly beautiful that there are times, within the show, where all else stops, and the music carries on functioning to extend the language that I am speaking onstage, leading us into a further dimension. These quiet interludes are moments when the music takes hold and reveals itself.
The various movements of Five Melodies for Violin and Piano propel the story. Prokofiev’s genius for knowing, and making available in gorgeous sound, the full range of human feeling lends The Frog Bride emotional depth, honesty and passion. Violinist Christian Howes and pianist Daniel Kelly have incorporated motifs from Prokofiev into their new compositions on modern electric instruments, giving new sonorities and character to classical music.
Why did you choose the abstract art of Wassily Kandinsky in the piece?
Many years ago, I saw a retrospective show of Kandinsky’s paintings at Centre Pompidou in Paris. The exhibit began with his early paintings, where trees were trees, people were people and landscapes were landscapes. Gradually, as I moved from painting to painting, and as Kandinsky’s work moved toward abstraction, my mind opened to the freedom, beauty and power of modern art. I think I spent five hours there. Since that day, I’ve been a huge fan. I knew that I wasn’t going to speak over Prokofiev’s music, and that I wanted a visual experience to complement it and add to the mood of the story. Kandinsky, a fellow Russian master, with his strangely beautiful and evocative paintings, was the obvious choice.
For a long time, I have been fascinated by the juxtaposition of music and painting. This “collaboration” of Prokofiev and Kandinsky brings a certain Russian intensity and intelligence to the work, and, since there is no specific spoken narrative along with the paintings, the audience is free to make any associations they wish—the imaginative journey of the piece becomes more individual, more personal.
What was the development process like for you and your artistic team?
I checked The Frog Bride folder in my computer and found that the first draft was dated 1994! Over the years, I’ve been refining the script, and, with the generous help of friends and arts institutions, we’ve gradually been able to bring the story to its final stage. The Frog Bride began, as most of my pieces do, with me, a microphone and an auditorium filled with kids. I told and re-told the tale many times in schools, libraries and community centers. Once I felt good about the text, I searched for the music, then I made five short films of five Kandinsky paintings. With these basic elements, Christian Howes, Daniel Kelly, Lenard Petit and I traveled up to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), where we stitched the music, video and story together and played before our first live audience. We received a standing ovation, so I knew we were on to something. Last year, the Theatre Development Fund (TDF) gave us the opportunity to re-mount the show for an audience of fifth graders and to work on the video element. We've added the talents of video artist Matyas Kelerman. In the true spirit of the piece, Matyas and I actually spent an hour wading hip-deep in a funky swamp to film the perfect settings for the tale to unfold. Lighting designer David Lander came in to see our rehearsals and workshops to get a sense of the relationship between the video and the onstage drama before he created his beautiful lighting design. Recently, our director, Lenard Petit, has been researching the theory behind the charm of traditional Japanese Zen rock gardens and has used some of those ideas to gather the varied theatrical elements we are employing into a simple, balanced and graceful whole.
About Irvine Barclay Theatre
Since opening its doors in 1990, Irvine Barclay Theatre has emerged as one of California's most imaginative performing arts showcases. A unique collaborative venture among the City of Irvine, the University of California, Irvine, and the private sector, the theatre has a reputation for wide-ranging programming in the fields of contemporary dance, music, and theater arts. Performances take place in the 750-seat "jewel box" theatre which is renowned for its intimate atmosphere and superb acoustics. Visit www.thebarclay.org to learn about our exciting new season!