Working on a song The lyrics of Hadestown

Anaïs Mitchell

Book - 2020

"A stunning book of lyrics and stories from Hadestown -- the winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical -- from its author, songwriter Anaïs Mitchell with a foreword by Steve Earle"--

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2nd Floor 782.140268/Mitchell Checked In
[New York, New York] : Plume, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC [2020]
Main Author
Anaïs Mitchell (author)
Other Authors
Steve Earle (writer of foreword)
Physical Description
x, 257 pages : color illustrations ; 21 cm
  • Foreword
  • About This Book
  • People & Places
  • Act 1.
  • Road to Hell
  • Any Way the Wind Blows
  • Come Home with Me
  • Wedding Song
  • Epic I
  • Livin' It Up on Top
  • All I've Ever Known
  • Way Down Hadestown
  • A Gathering Storm
  • Epic II
  • Chant
  • Hey, Little Songbird
  • When the Chips Are Down
  • Gone, I'm Gone
  • Wait for Me Intro
  • Wait for Me
  • Why We Build the Wall
  • Act 2.
  • Our Lady of the Underground
  • Way Down Hadestown Reprise
  • Flowers
  • Come Home with Me Reprise
  • Papers Intro & Papers
  • Nothing Changes
  • If It's True
  • How Long?
  • Chant Reprise
  • Epic III
  • Epic III Instrumental
  • Promises
  • Word to the Wise
  • His Kiss, the Riot
  • Wait for Me Reprise Intro
  • Wait for Me Reprise
  • Doubt Comes In
  • Road to Hell Reprise
  • We Raise Our Cups
  • Acknowledgments
Review by Library Journal Review

Retelling the Greek myth of naive yet earnest Orpheus and tough yet vulnerable Eurydice, Hadestown opened on Broadway to critical acclaim in 2019. In a series of short chapters, singer, songwriter, and playwright Mitchell movingly traces the history of the musical as it evolved from a community project in Vermont in 2016--17 to a 2010 concept album followed by productions off-Broadway (2016), at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre (2017), and at London's National Theatre (2018) before its Broadway debut. By sharing her songwriting process, Mitchell offers fascinating details behind each lyric, verse, and song, and explains how noteworthy songs such as "Wait for Me" and "Why We Build the Wall" have progressed in each production. In between these anecdotes, she explores other central characters, including Hades and Persephone in the underworld, as well as Hermes, conductor of both souls and the story. In Mitchell's words, Hadestown is a musical of metaphors with elements of surprise and change; the lack of a resolution in a musical that balances seriousness and humor allows audiences to fill in the blanks. VERDICT Fans of Hadestown, especially, will gain a better understanding of Mitchell's lyricism, while theater lovers, generally, will appreciate insight into the dramaturgy. A captivating read.--Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

About This Book A musical is a living, breathing animal, so much more than the sum of its text. It's music, arrangements and orchestrations, staging and choreography, sets and props, costumes, sound and lights, directing and acting choices. Every one of these elements, and the creative minds who dreamed and wrestled with them during the making of Hadestown, could fill a book like this one. This book, though, is about the show's lyrics, and my writing and rewriting of them over many years and productions. In these pages you'll find the complete Broadway version of each song or scene (Hadestown is a sung-through show, so even "dialogue" is rhymed and metered), followed by notes on where it came from, how it evolved, and old and discarded lyrics. Some of these lyrics appeared in productions, others never did. At the bottom of every draft I sent around to my collaborators, I included a little section called "Orphans." It was the name I gave any lyric I liked enough to share but couldn't find a home for. A few of them, at least and at last, have found a home in this book! This book is for anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes look at Hadestown. It's also, I hope, a book for writers, especially songwriters crossing over into dramatic storytelling. It's not really in my nature to make a "how to" out of my process, which has mostly been one of feeling my way in the dark, one foot in front of the next, holding the hands of my collaborators. But I hope the process described here will be useful to you. If nothing else, I hope it gives you faith in, and on, the long road of writing. A couple more Hadestown metaphors for you: there were so many times, searching for a line, verse, or chorus, when I felt like I was "banging my head against a wall," and I used to describe it like that. For the last few years I was working in a small band practice room the size of a closet in Gowanus, Brooklyn (I briefly shared the composer Dave Malloy's studio, since I work early and he works late; later I got my own spot in the same building). There were no windows in those concrete walls. The head-banging attitude was: the line was "wrong, wrong, wrong . . ." until it was "right." As if the right thing was the only one that mattered. But looking back on these old drafts and even the orphans, I see that writing is more like gardening. You're raking around in the dirt, pulling up weeds. Flowers you love and find beautiful die on you. But not for nothing; they go back into the soil, and they nourish it. It's the act of raking that prepares the ground, and it's the seeds of those dead beautiful flowers that replant themselves in it and eventually come up right. The "right" thing could not exist without the "wrong" ones. People & Places Hadestown began as a DIY community theater project in Vermont in 2006-7. I had written just a handful of songs when I asked arranger / orchestrator Michael Chorney and early director / designer Ben t. Matchstick to work on a "folk opera" (its first working title was A Crack in the Wall). The cast and band were all friends and neighbors of ours, and I played the role of Eurydice. We did just two weekends of shows the first year, but in 2007 we set out on a mini-tour of Vermont, traveling through blizzards in a silver school bus full of sets and props. We had very little time or money to prepare for those productions, but Ben is a shoestring genius who pulled together a gorgeously gritty show, and Michael set the rich tone of the "Hadestown sound," complete with trombone and strings. Hadestown was just one act back then, and more abstract than any of the later productions. In 2010 Righteous Babe Records released a studio album of the music of Hadestown. It took a couple years to make: I revised a bunch of songs, wrote some new ones, and the recording was meticulously produced by Todd Sickafoose (who later became an arranger / orchestrator, together with Michael). I again sang the part of Eurydice, and the album featured guest singers Justin Vernon (Orpheus), Ani DiFranco (Persephone), Greg Brown (Hades), the Haden Triplets (Fates), and Ben Knox Miller (Hermes), as well as ensemble vocals from the original Vermont cast. For a few years after the album release, Michael's band and I traveled around performing Hadestown as a concert. We worked with different singers in different regions; for California Sings Hadestown! we had fourteen people (and a dog!) in a fifteen-passenger van. It was on that tour-at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica-that I met Dale Franzen, who later partnered with Mara Isaacs; they became the lead producers of the show during its continuing expansion. My husband, Noah Hahn, and I moved back and forth between Vermont and New York City twice during these years. We were living in the city when I met Rachel Chavkin in 2012 and fell absolutely in love with her work on Dave Malloy's Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Rachel and I began working together the next year, with the support of Mara, Dale, and, soon after that, the folks at New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW), who hosted developmental workshops for us long before they committed to a production. Rachel is a brilliant director, an insightful collaborator, and she's also relentlessly "tough love." After the first table-read we did together, she came at me with a laundry list of dramaturgical notes. I was dismayed by the depth of rewriting she was suggesting. "You have to understand," I said, "I've been living with this show for seven years already." She said, without batting an eyelash, "Well, if we're going to work together, you'll have to find a way to move past your fatigue." We had our off-Broadway debut at NYTW on East Fourth Street in the spring and summer of 2016. In the lead-up to that production, artistic director Jim Nicola introduced us to Ken Cerniglia, a dedicated dramaturg he thought could be helpful to us (a dramaturg is, among other things, a story expert who tracks a show's clarity and consistency). Ken is whip-smart, sweet of heart, and seemed to cover different bases, dramaturgically speaking, than Rachel. We began working with Ken in 2015 and continued right through our Broadway production. I loved having three perspectives, rather than two, in questions of dramaturgy (Mara would periodically weigh in on behalf of the producers, so sometimes there were four). If both Rachel and Ken felt strongly about something, I usually went with it. If the jury was hung, I went my own way. The NYTW production was a wild ride. I'd never been through a professional rehearsal, tech, and preview period as a writer before and I was learning a lot: what a writer's role is in the rehearsal room, how to rewrite on the fly, what the extremes of anxious joy and sleep deprivation look like. It was hard to eat or sleep, the way it is when you're in love, and I was in love with everyone: cast, band, creative team. Many of the collaborators we assembled for NYTW continued on with us for all subsequent productions-scenic designer Rachel Hauck, choreographer David Neumann, costume designer Michael Krass, lighting designer Bradley King, music director / vocal arranger Liam Robinson, and of course, Michael and Todd. We recorded a live version of our off-Broadway production and released about an hour of that music-mostly the newer stuff-for Warner Music Group. In 2017 we traveled to the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Canada. Ours was the final show in the final season overseen by executive director Penny Ritco, a vivacious, huge-hearted lady who supported the show unconditionally through what we all now think of as an awkward but very necessary phase of development. It was late fall/early winter in Edmonton, and freezing cold. The creative team drank a lot at late-night production meetings. Once, after many bottles of red wine, in a group discussion about the state of show, I hid my eyes behind two spoons. I wanted to express myself without having to make eye contact with anyone. There is a photograph of me behind the spoons that seems to capture the mood of the entire creative team in Edmonton. Still, we learned a ton about the show: what it wanted to be, and what it didn't want to be. At the Citadel we also began working with sound designer Jessica Paz, who together with Nevin Steinberg continued with us to Broadway. In 2018, we took that team-and the five principal American actors we hoped to transfer to Broadway-to London's National Theatre. We had a luxurious amount of time and space in London. For example, Rachel and David had working turntables for the entirety of the rehearsal period (for Edmonton and Broadway, the turntables appeared in tech). The National Theatre is one of the wonders of the world, and everyone working on its behalf was incredibly insightful, capable, and supportive of our process. In every production we fell in love with, and bid goodbye to, magical performers and ensembles. Some actors, like Amber Gray, Patrick Page, and Reeve Carney, were with Hadestown many productions in a row. Others were with us for just one or two, but we learned so much from every single actor who took on these roles. A lot of actors appear in these pages. In London, Rachel and I chanted together in the backseat of a taxi, trying to manifest a Broadway production at Jordan Roth's Walter Kerr Theatre. In the spring of 2019, that dream came true, and by that time, Mara and Dale had partnered with co-lead producers Tom Kirdahy and Hunter Arnold. When we got the news, I called my manager Liz Riches in London, who'd been a patient cheerleader during many years of development. Then I danced with Noah and our daughter Ramona to Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" in the tiny kitchen of our Brooklyn apartment. Noah, of everyone mentioned above, is the person who has (literally) lived with Hadestown the longest. He's been my rock, my therapist, and my editor in chief since the early days. Excerpted from Working on a Song: The Lyrics of HADESTOWN by Anaïs Mitchell All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.