This August, while many members of the January cohort are lying on beaches (on the dime of a consulting firm or just on vacation), one cohort member will fulfill a lifelong dream as his first full-length musical enjoys its world premiere. Dan Koloski (NK) and his wife, Stacey, have written a musical theater adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. The piece (titled after the book), which is being produced by New Haven-based Blue Line Arts, Inc., will premiere this summer from August 6-25 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The show (which the Koloskis have been writing for the last five years) began life when the couple were working together at Washington, DC’s Arena Stage in 1996. A first version of the show was workshopped in Washington in 1999 to critical acclaim. Currently, the show consists of a cast of about fifteen actors, and will be accompanied by a small orchestra. Most of the actors and artistic staff are U.S.-based – although there are a substantial number of Brits involved as well. Says Koloski, “One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of this production is its long-distance nature. For example, our orchestrator is based in London, so we keep having to find innovative ways of sharing musical ideas with each other. It keeps us on our toes, but it also adds a wonderful sense of collaboration to the process.”
The Koloskis’ version of The Scarlet Letter has been called “fresh and original” and “a psychological drama of lurid sophistication and power.” The show consists mostly of song and a small amount of spoken dialogue, all of which draw on themes from music and text of Puritan New England, updated for twenty-first century sensibilities.
The Scarlet Letter is widely regarded as the first American novel, and it is also regarded as one of the greatest novels produced by an early American writer. Published in 1853, the book chronicles the late-seventeenth century story of Hester Prynne, a member of the Puritan settlement of Boston, who is separated from her much older husband when he sends her to the New World two years before him. Once in Boston, Hester has a secret affair with her minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, and bears his child Pearl. Adultery was a crime punishable by death at the time, but the church elders permit Hester to live in the hope that she will eventually reveal the identity of her child’s father. Instead, they force her to wear a scarlet “A” on her chest for the rest of her life and ostracize her from the town. Meanwhile, her husband arrives from England at about the same time and joins the town under the pseudonym Roger Chillingworth. Roger vows to find the father of Hester’s child, and spends the duration of the story planning (and executing) his revenge. Meanwhile, Dimmesdale (the actual father) is unwilling and unable to admit his guilt and share Hester’s shame, a hypocritical failure that finally causes his breakdown.
Says Koloski, “The book provides not only a great story, but one that is very adaptable to the stage because of the passionate and ever-transforming characters. Dimmesdale’s descent into madness is a fascinating thing to watch. Roger’s revenge eventually turns a decent man into a twisted, evil wreck. Hester’s perserverance through the worst of circumstances is inspirational. All of these people we can empathize with – and sometimes hate at the same time. It makes great theater.”
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world. Nearly 17,000 performances take place in the festival each year. For more information, visit www.edfringe.com. If the show is successful in Edinburgh, the authors will look toward a full-scale American production in the next year or two, either in commercial or not-for-profit theater.
Blue Line Arts www.bluelinearts. com connects professionals, amateurs, and students in the performing arts in educational workshops, mentoring relationships, and cross-cultural exchange. Last summer, the company’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along connected students from the U.S. and U.K. with cast and staff from the West End, U.S. national tours, and critically acclaimed off-Broadway productions, and earned four-star reviews in the Festival’s official newspaper.
Balancing the needs of revising the show and HBS hasn’t been easy, says Koloski, and neither has been working within the resource constraints of not-for-profit theater, “The two most `scarce assets’ in this process are money and time. Time we can attack by working longer hours, but helping the production company raise funds is a slower battle.” But overall, the experience is one he wouldn’t trade. “We weren’t expecting to have this mounted this year while I was at school. But you can’t say `no’ to an opportunity like this – it will only come up once in a long time. It’s been a wild ride so far.”
HBS students who are interested in getting a sneak preview of the show before its premiere will have the chance to attend a benefit concert performance, to be held in the Class of 1959 Chapel on Saturday, June 30th at 7:00 p.m. The reading will feature local talent, as the company will be joined by one of NK’s very own stars of the stage for this special performance. All proceeds from the benefit go to the not-for-profit production company. Contact Dan Koloski at
email@example.com if you are interested in attending. Readers interested in making a tax-deductible donation to Blue Line Arts are also invited to contact Dan.