101 Poems and Counting
The poems are taken, a scoopful at a time, from Charles Baudelaire’s debauched 19th century classic, Les Fleurs du mal (“The Flowers of Evil”), translated into English, or sometimes Spanish, or sometimes left to stew in their native French, and set to music.
As the songs are being written, Theater Oobleck founding member Dave Buchen illustrates the poems, on long paper scrolls.
The scrolls are mounted into wooden frames, and fitted with handles, to be hand-cranked in all their crinkly pre-cinematic majesty. The songs sing the scrolls; the scrolls depict the songs. Each points back to the original poems, circuitously, refracted by time, forgetfulness, distraction, and, of course, wine.
When we put the music and the crankies together, it looks and sounds something like this.
To date, we have performed 9 episodes featuring 141 new and unique cantastorias and crankies, written from 101 poems from Les Fleurs du mal.**
The music for episodes 1-9 was written by 32 composers from across the United States, and performed in over a dozen different venues in Chicago, New York, Madison, Chapel Hill, and San Juan. Three of our episodes have been written a second time in entirely new Spanish-language compositions: Episode 1: The Wine Cycle, Episode 7: The King Of Rain, and Episode 8: Delicious Night.
And now we have reached the point of bitter satiation: In August 2017, Theater Oobleck will present a complete durational retrospective, featuring each episode in its entirety, as well as never-before seen bonus material, in a weekend-long festival called Closed Casket.
* (This being Theater Oobleck, there is actually some dispute over just how many poems are in the box. The 1861 Second Edition of Les Fleurs du mal is the last edition published during Baudelaire's lifetime, and is considered definitive. But it omits six poems that were censored after the release of the first edition, some of which are considered among Baudelaire's best. Time will tell exactly how many poems there are. For now, 126 is a nice number, reminiscent of the early photographic roll (scrolling!) film format.) ** ("Cranky" or "crankie" is the preferred nomenclature in the US today, thanks to its coining by Bread and Puppet's Peter Schumann, who is perhaps single-handedly responsible for the revival of this time-honored narrative device. In the 19th century, crankies were called "Moving Panoramas," and they were all the rage; "picture-going" was a hugely popular pastime in Britain and the US in the 1830s and 40s. In 1846, an American painter after our own heart, John Banvard, toured Europe with a Mississippi River panorama scroll 12 feet tall and a half mile long. It's not impossible that Charles Baudelaire would have attended a Banvard showing, though if he did, we're not sure he would have been particularly impressed.