Bach at Leipzig is a comedy about organ players in Leipzig, Germany, in 1722. TSL had the pleasure of interviewing Sydney Scott PO ’16, the director of the show. Scott is a member of Bottom Line Theatre (BLT), a student theater group that puts on plays throughout the academic year. Bach at Leipzig shows at 8 p.m. in the Large Studio in Seaver Theatre at Pomona College Saturday, April 6 and Sunday, April 7.
TSL: Tell me a little about the play you’re directing, Bach at Leipzig.
Scott: The organ master in the town Leipzig’s name is Johann Kuhnau. He dies, and so his spot is vacant, and the Leipzig council of musicians invites in a bunch of organists from all over Germany to come audition for a spot. They all arrive, and once they are there, they immediately start to bribe each other, blackmail each other, and there is a lot of backstabbing, all in order to go for the position.
TSL: Why did you choose this play?
SS: I have always liked this play. It was performed at a local theater one time and I read about it in the paper, but I wasn’t able to see it. So I ordered the script from Amazon, and I read it and I thought, “Wow, I would really like to direct this someday.”
TSL: This is your first time directing a play. What made you decide to direct?
SS: Well, I have been involved in theater for several years, and I have done kind of everything; I have worked backstage, I have been in the cast, I have been in the pit orchestra, and, most recently before this, I was an assistant stage manager for A Doll House first semester. Doing that, I thought that I would like to have a lot more control over a show, and I would want to pick a show as well, so I went for one that I really liked.
TSL: How has your experience been as a director?
SS: Well, I mean, it’s radically different, especially because I am not really working under anyone. I am not part of a department, which also means that you don’t really get a lot of the resources or people don’t hand you resources, so everything you need, whether it’s lighting, sound, costumes, props, everything, that’s all on you, and you have to make sure to find all of that. You have to enforce the rules, you have to make sure cast members go where they need to, show up on time. What took me by surprise was that from the very first rehearsal, people would stop me while they were reading lines and say, “Hey, what does this mean?” or “What is your interpretation of what the playwright is saying here?” I was surprised by how much autonomy they gave me in deciding what the show meant.
TSL: Have you liked the process so far?
SS: I have loved it, yeah, it is so much fun. I am sure that there are many people—or I know that there are many people—who can do it a lot better than I can, but it’s kind of nice, because it’s a show that not many people know about, but I would really like to bring it to other people. It is very much a good show for me to get my feet wet in terms of directing, I guess.
TSL: How does it feel being a first-year and being able to direct a show? Was it a hard process to get it accepted?
SS: I don’t think it was because not that many people apply to be directors through BLT … and I think they did take everybody who was interested because they are really trying to encourage more people to go into directing and to not be afraid to take that risk. I have encountered some difficulties in that some of my cast members are also, or were, in other BLT shows, and that means that I also have to talk to the other directors to try and figure out rehearsal times. I feel like since they are older than I am and more experienced than I am, they sometimes have seniority over me. Also there is the feeling that all of them know a lot more than I do, which is also true [laughs], but it is good just for the learning process.
TSL: What is it about this play that you connect with?
SS: Well, it is interesting, because I see such a difference between musicals and plays. My favorite musicals are ones that are very dark and serious, and then all my favorite plays are ones that are quite lighthearted and funny. I really love farce, which is a type of comedy that relies a lot on physical humor. It is fast-paced; a kind of characteristic of farce is that at the end of the show everything completely collapses and it kind of ends in a big mess, which is also characteristic of my show. I think there might have also been special appeal for me because I have played a lot of classical music in my lifetime. I have never done organ, obviously, but I have been in orchestras and had experience in that kind of world, and I am also German, so maybe that called to me as well. And I have lived in Germany, so all of those elements just combined.
TSL: What is it about the show that you think the audience will connect with?
SS: I deliberately picked a cast that is brilliant comically, they are all very good with comedy, and I knew going into this show that I was going to let them have a lot of freedom in deciding how they wanted to take their characters and the choices they wanted to make in acting. There have been many times where they have done things that weren’t scripted and that I didn’t tell them to do that have been absolutely brilliant. So I think that the cast is essential for breathing life into the show, and everything they do I respect so much. Their choices as actors, they are all super brilliant, and I think that even though the subject matter may not be as accessible—I mean, it is very esoteric, it’s a show about organists in the town of Leipzig, Germany—I think that they deliver it in such a way that everyone can connect to.
TSL: How do you feel working with BLT?
SS: I absolutely love BLT … They are all really brilliant at what they do and they are very supportive and I understand that their resources are limited, but given what we have, their attitudes are so positive. They say, “Whatever you want to do, just do it, and let us know if you need any help, we will be right here.” They are as helpful as they can be, but they do make it clear that if you direct through BLT, this is largely an independent process, so you do what you can.
TSL: Are there people from all 5Cs involved with BLT?
SS: I mean, I feel like a lot of groups are predominantly Pomona, probably because we have the most students, so that might be true for BLT. But there is a lot of representation from the other schools. The leader of BLT this year is actually a senior from Scripps.
TSL: Are you going to be a theater major?
SS: No [laughs], probably not … I feel like to be a theater major you also have to take acting classes, and design classes, and those are things that I am not as interested in.
TSL: So, are you going to direct another play in the future?
SS: Probably. I might take on one that is not as big a piece of work as Bach was, because this is a full show. It is a big cast, there is light design, sound design; there are a good number of props. If the show was being performed at its full capacity, there would be a set and everything. And it’s long, each act is about an hour and there are two acts, so it’s been a good haul getting it all together. I feel like as a first-time director, I should have started a bit smaller.
TSL: Go big or go home.
SS: Yeah, exactly!