Night of the Living Dramaturgy

By Gareth Vile
July 11, 2017

Modern Robot presents Alive: Music for Night of the Living Dead – a live screening that will get under the skin of the audience. Featuring the classic film Night of the Living Dead, accompanied by a brand-new score performed live, each night of the festival, in ZOO’s atmospheric church sanctuary.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

In Modern Robot, I take existing film material and compose music to it. When I saw Night of the Living Dead, its potential was immediately clear. It is a widely known film, but re-watching it tends to surprise both fans and newcomers. Especially with editing, the film is more character driven than gory, and more human than zombie. It brings up questions about the time, about the filmmakers, about our own time, about racism, and puts it all in a good story.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

I believe that performance can inspire self-reflection and private discussion. I have misgivings about the public discussion of ideas, both past and present.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I cannot remember a time I have not been interested in performance. My parents were musicians and performers, and my older sisters in music and dance, so it was always a part of our lives. It’s an interesting question, but I have no answer!

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

I break it down into approachable steps. To fit the production, I needed to edit “Night of the Living Dead” from 96 minutes to 60 minutes. In my first pass, I may have cut 15-20 minutes. The second, another 10 minutes; the third, another couple minutes. In this editing, I begin to understand the movie and its details.

The music begins with an inspired evening or two, creating a handful of themes, and from there, I sit with the edit and the themes to piece the two together. In this case, it was almost a year between the first themes and the first performance.

I have a roadmap at the time of the show, but being a duo allows me to be flexible in performance. Some of the best themes have come from veering off into improvisation, and I consider this part of making the show too. I record every performance and continue to the revise both the music and editing.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

It does, but it’s also a nice extension of my previous shows. My last production at Edinburgh Fringe was a score to the 1926 film “Faust”. It was my original music, performed on electric guitar and drums. I wrote music that spoke to me, not in a 1920’s style, and made careful but significant edits to the film.

All this is the same for “Alive: Music for Night of the Living Dead”, but in this case, it’s not a silent film. The dialog is still part of the movie, and the experience is one of a “talkie”. I had to carefully work with the dialog to keep it clear.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I would like the audience to be pulled into the story, and to feel it. There’s something about using unfamiliar or anachronistic ingredients that compels me, and my hope is the experience is thoughtful.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Bringing it back to the first question, my main strategy is the choice of film. Finding that piece of material, whether it is a silent film, an old home movie, an industrial or marketing film, it’s like a road trip. I don’t know what I’ll find, but I’ll know it when I see it.