In early February I did a mini-interview with Eric Sanders knowing that I’d soon have the opportunity to have a much longer conversation with him and his collaborator, Dave Nuss. Together they have created Original Innocence – The Rock Opera and I’m already fascinated by what I’ve seen. This Friday, March 25th I’ll be heading over to ISSUE PROJECT ROOM (At the Old American Can Factory) 232 3rd Street, 3rd Floor Brooklyn, NY 11215 [Telephone: 718-330-0313] to see a workshopped production. There are two shows that night – one at eight and one at ten. I think you should come too.
I always love chatting with Eric Sanders, he’s my favorite combination of brilliant and humble. Not to mention amazingly talented. Now, meeting Dave for the first time I was equally excited; together these guys are an interviewer’s dream. Read on to find out the random thing that brought these two talented men together, find out why they think it’s so important that our culture has a creation myth they can finally get behind, and let them explain why they cast Satan as a woman.
So, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first thing. A religious rock opera. Before we even get to what sparked the idea – your goals, the plot – I have to say. These days religion in New York is a hard sell. Without saying “the plot is good, the actors are amazing” . . . just from a thematic point of view – what made you both think this was such a great idea that you were willing to take this leap?
ERIC SANDERS: The question answers itself. Why are we afraid to have conversations about the most important topic in the world – our own relationship to the universe? We’ll talk about sports, fashion, and art – why not religion? If you redefine religion and strip it of the perversions of some of the organized sects and just think of it as person’s relationship to his universe, then we all have a religion. So then it becomes a question of if it’s working for you, how is it working for you, if it’s productive and helping you to coexist with people. So in my opinion to not talk about it is much scarier than bringing up the topic.
DAVE NUSS: I was brought up in Corpus Cristi, Texas, a very religious town with a particularly religious upbringing, so I wanted to confront aspects of the story I was raised with. The creation myth from Genesis has many beautiful and mysterious aspects that were simplified and presented to me as ‘Truth’; but now I understand that this truth really just refers to a network of forces and ideas that, especially when we encounter them as children, shape us on a fundamental level. So for Eric and I religion simply refers to the meta-lifeview that we encountered through the stories of our youth. Everyone can relate to that- even if the story is, say, Star Wars. In the case of this play our reference point is the Genesis story, and that connects with a wide audience because everyone has an experience with it. We don’t want people to leave the theatre saying “hmmm, well that was bizzare” or “I don’t get it.” We are offering “a new creation myth for our time”, and it’s for everyone, right now. We want the meaning to be felt on a visceral level. Genesis 3 is a story that fit the needs and circumstances of a particular group of people at the time when it was told, and has been interpreted over the years by myriad communities with myriad agendas. Original Innocence is a new myth that Eric and I are offering in NYC 2011. But please note, like the Genesis story, it may no longer be relevant in 4000 years, haha.
Tell me about the very first seed that started “Original Innocence”. Was it a conversation in a bar at 2:00am? An off the cuff remark over coffee? Set the scene for how this all started.
ERIC: The seed came from Dave – when I was doing The Wendigo a couple of years ago we had a mutual friend who thought that it would be great if we met since Dave and I both liked the supernatural. So he came to The Wendigo and we went out afterwards. We had similar interests but different backgrounds. He comes from the experimental musical world. And he said “I have this secret – I’ve been working on this religious rock opera, totally different than anything I’ve ever done before.” I was intrigued.
DAVE: By the time I met Eric I had shared the concept with my usual music biz people and they all said basically the same thing: “we have no idea why you’re doing this.” The music of Original Innocence really alienated my usual contacts because of the musical theater trappings; it also has strong emotional content and that is not something that is necessarily part of the avant garde world. So I was just allowing these recordings to percolate until a mutual friend of Eric and mine, Jodi Willie of Process Media, said to me, “Give the music to Eric, he may be interested.” My intuition was that the theater world was where this piece belonged, and Eric’s reaction confirmed this.
ERIC: Dave trusted me enough to share it with me. It was kinda like fate – or we were making our own fate. He had a rough blue print and a general idea. I just wanted to hear it. I listened and was just stunned; I felt like I’d found some sort of ancient manuscript – it was like finding the Dead Sea Scrolls … I felt like I’d unearthed this treasure. I was overwhelmed because it was out of my hands, really, but I just knew that this was something I had to be involved with for a long time.
So we started collaborating a little more than 2 years ago. I knew from that first night of talking that there was a great deal of creative chemistry between us.
I was going to initially ask how, once you knew you wanted to make this story, what about it said “musical” – specifically “rock opera”, but now I see that the music came first. So let me ask the question a little bit differently. What made you decide to make it a completely sung-through piece rather than a musical with dialogue?
DAVE: We kept trying to write dialogue and just kept saying “this isn’t working”. Then we realized, “let’s do it all with gesture.” I’ve always thought of Original Innocence as more of a parable, a story which perhaps has a “moral” but this moral has a lot of breathing room. Every time we were started writing dialogue for a scene we also felt it simplified the story into something too apparent, and we realized we couldn’t preserve the sense of mystery that we both were feeling regarding the subjects we were grappling with.
Like the question of the chicken and the egg, which came first? Well the chicken came first this time . . . the music piece was already done by the time we started “writing” the story. So Eric and I just needed to approach the music and allow the ideas to germinate. The most interesting part of the development of the piece is that Eric and I had to grow ourselves to receive the story the music is telling. In the beginning of the process we were a bit too concerned with autobiography and portraying our own beliefs. We had all these ideas like, “should we set a church on fire?” I feel like initially I had a little score to settle with the Church.
Now some time later we’re both in different places than when we began, and we’re each cultivating practices that are helping us approach this gesture from a less egoistic place. I think that’s why our collaboration is so successful – neither of us has a particular agenda. When we’d meet we’d have these long periods of quiet, almost like a Quaker meeting. There was no leader. We just waited and let the music tell us the next move.
I was fortunate enough to attend The Symposium on Creation Mythology last month. I not only was able to hear some very well spoken scholars discuss the creation myth of different cultures, but I also was able to hear four of the songs from Original Innocence. One thing I notice immediately is that, in the course of setting up the songs, the story itself made some very bold choices . . . for instance Satan is a woman. There were other plot points that challenge (at least what I’ve come to know as) the accepted biblical stories. Tell me about some of those changes.
DAVE: We tried to look at the characters archetypally; whether someone is a man or a woman doesn’t matter, the characteristics are what matter, they’re what’s universal. Eva, the Christ figure, is a woman as she’s embodying the concept of sacrificial love. Having Satan as female is not meant to imply women are evil – it’s actually completely the opposite – we want to break down that stereotype that Satan is a bad guy waiting to torture us. Satan in our play is fun, a kind of Loki character, but ultimately undercuts her own will to power by the recalcitrance she inspires.
So many images we have in our contemporary culture have nothing to do with their origin – in our minds today Lucifer equals Satan, but they are actually two completely different characters. Even Black Sabbath and the Stones didn’t really parse out the historical characteristics of Lucifer, haha. So in Original Innocence we’re trying to be more historical than stereotypical. There are no white hats and black hats. That’s the way the Genesis myth has been brought down to us – an evil snake in a tree, humans are fucked up and God is pissed at the entire human race. Women are the bad ones who make men sin, and now for the rest of history man has to feel guilty for acting on impulse. When you contemplate it, it’s a total disaster how this myth has effected us as a society.
ERIC: So the question here becomes – what kind of Christianity are we talking about? We were using the typical Adam and Eve story as an entry point for a new creation myth. This came out through very intricate conversations – what kind of creation myth would we find more helpful in this day and age so that we don’t feel like we’re “evil,” like we’re “fallen”? Some will disagree and we welcome that, but we recognize that people collapse under the weight of this “original sin,” so this is a new way to view the story. The essence is about liberation from suffering and sin, as opposed to wallowing in it.
DAVE: Our story gives us a little more space to put aside some of those stereotypical ways of viewing ethics, and approach them with an open heart and an acceptance of ourselves. When we’re not judging people to determine where they fit in the ethical spectrum, we can view the world with much more compassion. What a relief.
Is there anything you came across while doing research – a story, a concept – even an object maybe? – that is fascinating and you’d like to share it with us?
ERIC: The biggest revelation for me during this process was learning much more about Eastern religions – especially Buddhism which I find stunning. We’re finally being introduced after thousands of years to Eastern Religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism and yoga, and I’m seeing a really interesting shared dialogue between that and the Judeo-Christian perspective – they’re not mutually exclusive. That’s the sad thing – some people think religion isn’t worth looking into because “Oh, now we have physics.” Physics explains matter . . . it doesn’t explain how we should relate to matter. That isn’t a religion. It’s very dangerous and non-productive to think that we’ve transcended the need for religion.
Eastern religions – the lack of a God and the lack of original sin, the lack of one Creator, the idea that the universe is a continuum without beginning and without end is much in line with modern physics. Our most exciting journey has been taking the Judeo-Christian root – the Fall from Grace – using that original myth and telling a more Eastern myth about not necessarily going to heaven but about freedom from suffering. It’s more about compassion and wisdom. So the play starts with Christianity but it ends much more in Buddhism.
You each must have a favorite part of the show. What’s your favorite part – - and why?
ERIC: My favorite is the song “Only You” – it’s the second to last song of the show. It’s heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. It’s about liberation, but it’s also about reflecting back on what you’re leaving behind – which is a beautiful dichotomy. (To me at least) it’s the essence of the show: you have to move away from something in order to get to something else. You do have to leave your old self behind in order to transform. Religion is something you experience, not something you read.
DAVE: I probably like the part I shouldn’t like – the beginning which is set in the Jehovah era. There’s unification among people; it’s an age before ‘dissent’ had arisen, pre-individuation. The implication is that the song being sung, “You Are the Light” was been written by God Itself, and it’s been sung since the dawn of creation. There’s still part of me that idealizes what people can do when they have a unified intention toward a succinct goal. Of course life doesn’t work out that way because there’s so rarely a collective sacrifice for a particular intention. I see it sometimes in meditation groups – everybody’s seeking peace. An important aspect of this play is examining that part of our psyche that does not wish to participate in community.
You’re work shopping Original Innocence on the 25th. What can people expect from that evening?
ERIC: It’s off-book, there’s staging (by our director Pat Diamond), there’s a choreographer, Deborah Lohse who will work with us. We will block as much as we need. In some ways it will be like a staged concert presentation. It’s definitely a rock opera. Since there’s no dialogue so much of the story is conveyed in movement and intention. There’ll be some props and costumes. I’m hoping people who come can experience the essence of the show. We want to give a preview, not present the show in it’s ultimate incarnation. But it will all be there in a form that people can connect with.
And once again – to buy tickets for that night click the link here.
Thanks, Dave and Eric for telling all about Original Innocence. I can’t wait to see the workshop on Friday – and again, for all of you who are interested to find out more:Original Innocence A NEW CREATION MYTH FOR OUR TIME One Night Only! Friday, March 25 at 8 PM and 10 PM (two shows) ISSUE Project Room 232 3rd Street at 3rd Ave Brooklyn NY Tickets are now available ($11) Music/Lyrics/Writer: Dave Nuss Writer: Eric Sanders Director: Pat Diamond This workshop presentation runs about 1 hour 15 minutes.