Harry and the Thief
This is the story of a mad scientist who forces a thief to travel back in time to arm Harriet Tubman. It's an irreverent, fast-paced, anachronistic comedy that asks questions about race, history, and the way forward.
The script has numerous references to 80's mainstream pop hits, and we quickly learn that Harry's secret code is the lyrics from "Freedom '90" by George Michael. So I went with it, and created a musical palette from '80s-inspired hip-hop beats and '80s hits.
The timelessness of the violin was important to the sound of this play. I was inspired by the remix of "I've Got Five on It" in Jordan Peele's Us, Phillip anachronistically playing Ginuwine's "Pony" in Slave Play, and "Ashokan Farewell" (the theme to Ken Burns' The Civil War). The latter is as anachronistic as it gets--a song written in 1982, but likely assumed by anyone familiar with the documentary to be a song from that period. (For that story, check out my interview with Ken Burns.)
My approach included tongue-in-cheek string covers of "Like a Prayer" for the lovers and "Hungry Like the Wolf" for the murderous cook. I also recorded violin elements to blend the seams between my found and created materials, as well as to add ambience.
This palette formed a cohesive vision that carried through the play, including the time travel sound sequences. I made them from strings, turntable scratching/cassette tape rewinding effects, and sound from my Moog Theremini.
The play begins and ends with movie trailers and features an omniscient narrator throughout. You'll see bits of that below, plus what I believe is the perfect song selection for a montage about a white slaveowner being accidentally kidnapped from his time by a black mad scientist and finding love.
Harry and the Thief
Written by Sigrid Gilmer
Produced by The NOLA Project at the Contemporary Arts Center
New Orleans, LA, January 2020
Harry: Samantha Beaulieu
Mimi: Te’Era Coleman
Knox: Wayland Cooper
Shilo: Maryam Fatima Foye
Orry: Lucas Harms
Anita: Monica R. Harris
Jeremy: Michael Pepp
Jones: Gavin Robinson
Maddox: Matthew Thompson
Vivian: Brittany N. Williams
Director: Khiry Armstead
Production Manager: Jenny L. Billot
Stage Managers: Megan Whittle and Daniel Myers
Sound Design: Clare Marie Nemanich
Costume Design: Aya Designs Global
Lighting Design: Jo Nazro
Set Design: Betsy Primes
Prop Design: Christopher Rodriguez Jr.