E-Mail Brainstorming

depository for messages

on the development of "Metropolis" at Pentacle Theatre-Page Two

Aug 24, 2001 Randy Bowser to Simon Bennet

Hello, Simon!

--and first off, an old American custom: Now that we've known each other all of a few weeks (though the custom dictates it could even be instantly)--I would like it if I'm "Randy" to you.

Appreciating the respect that "Mr." denotes (unlike a lot of Americans who only feel old when people start using the title) I feel that as we go on, to be on a first name basis would be the most comfortable way to work.

Appreciating also that my full name has the unfortunate connotation in England of "A Dog In Heat" (as has been pointed out with glee several times)--you should know that "Randy" is a countrified nickname that goes way back here, and 90% of Americans don't know the name as an adjective. Most probably think of a cowboy John Wayne once played in a Western movie. hahahaha.

NEXT thing, and much more important: I would like it if you never feel pressured to respond to my messages within any given time frame. If there is a gap of a week or even several weeks, I'll know you're busy with all you have going, besides brainstorming on Metro.

So the schedule of emails can be relaxed without giving ourselves pressure that we "must" ever write by a particular time.

Next---I don't know why you haven't successfully gotten in to the libretto. I'm wondering if you indeed clicked on the Robot keychain after I put your name on the access list.

Here's the direct link to the front page of the libretto, which in turn has two links, one for each act:


The person I told you about who said she suddenly stopped being able to get to the script confirmed the reason: When one becomes a member at Yahoo, they expect you to use their free website building tools within a certain period. I didn't know that when I set the Metro site up there.

Try the link above--and if you do get in, and if you have a way to do it, I suggest you print out a copy of the libretto for yourself. For now, it's the only way any of us can see the text.

It's wonderful though that you like the way fresh ideas are perhaps even more possible, with limited access to details on the original production. We certainly will be creating our own designs and methods, as we've already discussed. Being aware of what was done can be instructional without being our model.

Wonderful also that you're already sketching away and want to work with a model to show me with jpegs what you're doing. I'm used to seeing very simple "white models" --so I hope you only spend an appropriately modest amount of time on something that is bound to go through many changes as time goes on.

It occurs to me that maybe you could actually take advantage of the free website tools at Tripod. They give you 50 megs of space, which is quite a lot, and you could keep your files of photographs there, and any explanatory text you want. They could even be eventually linked together with my Metro site, since its main purpose is to have a place for design and concept ideas to accumulate and grow.

"I have now fully explored your `Forum` and `HAiR` websites and enjoyed them immensely." Great! Thanks for doing that. I'm so glad you were impressed with what you saw.

Yes, from the photos, you have an idea now of the kind of things that can fit The Pentacle's stage. But I really need to get the accurate dimensions to you. I know the width of the proscenium opening is 32 1/2 feet, and that we often spill our sets around the corners of that, adding a potential of about 10 more feet. But the precise dimensions never stick with me and I really should confirm them with Tony, the Tech Director. From proscenium line to the back wall is 15 feet I believe.

Randomly occurring to me as I type---one set element I don't think I've mentioned--?--are the television screens.

On the front page of the Metro site, on the link "latest production news"---something like that, it takes you to a page where I'm asking people locally to help gather television sets for the show. There's a short description there of how they'll be used.

We have a 9'X12' screen for rear or front projections, along with a good video projector. Those were purchased for "HAiR"---and I really want to use that system again, but in a way that doesn't seem a repeat of "HAiR."

The television screens, of different sizes, I am picturing all being incased in black boxes so that only their screens are noticed. They would be hanging at different angles throughout the set---probably more to the sides, maybe with some way up high. With a video switching system, we would have the choice throughout the show for them to all be showing the same image, or different ones simultaneously.

Scenes such as Freeman warning Steven to not go down below---I would want a live camera backstage with Freeman close to the lens, so that a tight close up of his face would be on all the screens, glaring down at tiny looking Steven down below the screens.

The large screen has potential of being a major element in scene shifts. Perhaps the upper world is largely suggested from backdrops projected on it.

Did I mention that concept before? Well, it could be such a major element, anything else we do does need to incorporate the screens.

Have I just thrown a spanner into your works? I hope not. (I'm proud that I just now said "spanner"---we say "Monkey Wrench" here, but I happen to know the English expression. hehe.) "Do you have an opening date yet and if so how long will `Metro` be running for?"

Yes indeed. We do 8 shows a calendar year, and each show runs four weeks:

November 15 through December 7, 2002
Approximately 17 performances in that 4 week period. I anticipate a sold out run, and the possibility of adding another performance or two in that same time period.

Very exciting news to hear how well people respond when you mention the show. An English friend of mine recently called to chat about how she saw the show in 1989 and was thrilled with it--said she bawled her eyes out over it.

"One person in particularly said it was the loudest thing he had ever seen on stage and that he was dazzled when Maria kept changing back and fourth into Futura before his eyes!"

Loud--yes it does need to be. Our sound system will be challenged. HAiR went fine, and it wasn't exactly--quiet. hehe.

Maria changing back and forth. I Do wish I could get information on some of the tricks used in London. This is the first I've heard of any transformations happening in front of the audience, after the first major one. Interesting. Perhaps you could attempt quizzing that person and others who may have a memory of what was done.

I've come to the end of your message. I think I have covered what I needed----The link, the TV sets--

Do let me know if you have success this time getting at the libretto.

No pressure for a response. In a short time you have inspired confidence in me that I will be hearing from you, and all is well!

Take care, Simon.
Randy B.

~~footnote~~ with the screens, I know that I do want to incorporate some footage from the silent film also. Opening scene with the workers coming in from all sides augmented with the famous "shuffling workers" in the Lang film

Aug 27, 2001

Dear Randy,

        Thank you so much for making me officially part of the team. I couldn`t have hoped for a better introduction to the site and it was certainly unexpected.I can not express how happy I am to be working on Metropolis - it will be a great adventure and indeed something to very proud of.You really have made my day/week/life !! Thanks.

With regard to the original artwork for`Metro` in London - it did seem a bit weak. I always thought it was too soft - completely the wrong colour and just plain bland.

I really like your idea for the poster design - its very much what I was thinking with Futura`s face overlaid with an image of the clock or cogs in very rustic colours,probably much like the collage image in your head. I look foward to seeing it very much. Can you go to full colour for the poster artwork or a more limited pallette for the finished and printed product? Incidently the original artwork for the London show was very dark and grimey and featured a silver/grey fully detailed Futura (possibly with red eyes-I can`t remember) on a stark black background. It was incredibly striking much like the Morodor version and I never did understand why it wasn`t used.

I am going back to re-read the libretto now. Its fascinating to see how certain scenes panned out. I was suprised to see that certain sections of songs are sung by different characters than I had originally thought and there were also some interesting locations and possibilities to think about.

With regard to the character of Warner I saw a film recently in which a scientist was wearing a metallic headband on with a sort of giant magnifying glass attached to it and hanging over one eye. This made one of his eyes look massive and maybe quite an interesting look for `the great inventor` ?

Sorry if any of the above sounds garbled - its getting quite late here in the UK and sadly I have to work early tomorrow on a bank holiday as well ! Oh well - I have a day off on Tuesday and have arranged for extra time off next week for some r & m ( rest and Metropolis ! ) Thank you once again for your kindness and faith in me.

Best wishes

P.S - Prepare for the British invasion ! I have at least four people very interested in seeing Metropolis when it opens in Oregan and they won`t forgive me if I don`t ask you when tickets are expected to go on sale ?

Aug 30, 2001

Dear Randy,

Ideas are developing thick and fast over this side of the water so here goes...

Firstly-I haven`t forgotten about designing a webpage based on the design ideas for Metropolis (Tripod are doing a sterling job of reminding me) but I have a friend a recent convert to Metro who has offered to help me out in that area.Problem being she is on holiday until mid September but has promised to look into the site as soon as she is back on these not so sunny shores !

As for the set design after reading your `Call of the wild` I thought it best that I tell you exactly what I have been thinking so we might share ideas before I go developing anything more concrete.Time is on our side at present so its probably best to run through what I have developed and see what you think... Okay i`ll do my best to describe my ideas via text (believe me you wouldn`t want to see my rough sketches-rough being the operative word ! As the film is set around the year 2000 and we are now in 2001- thought it would be interesting to use a look for Metropolis that used elements of the period the movie was filmed in mixed with those from the film themselves and also our own unique perspective on the future.I have looked at the advent-garde and abstraction as well as the designs of factorys ,machinery and even steam trains to come up with one look for the show(probably the first of many-ha,ha).. I see the clock/machine as very much the centre piece of the stage.Its very large ,6ft or more tall and is firmly placed at the centre of the sets back wall.Below it is a series of steps or a platform allowing access up to the clock from the front,left and right.Above the clock is the large projection screen used in HAiR. Around the clock is a `metal` panel complete with rivets kind of like the portholes on an old steam ship.The rivets or at least some of them are plastic and house bulbs.The rivets are painted to look metallic but when lit could take on a whole new look and provide the machine with its circumference lights for the workers to follow.Lighting is very important here to make the machine look like an elegant time piece in the city (Freemans office?) and like a terrible machine in the workrooms.As I mentioned in a previous email you could have a third hand hidden behind another whilst in clock mode only to be revealed when the dreaded machine is in action ! On the front of the platform you could have a temporary railing or the like to form a stand from where Freeman could take centre stage above everyone else (think Citizen Kane !). To the left and right of the clock are what appear to be huge windows .They are in a large semi circular arc the centre of which falls behind the clock and its platform. To further give the impression of glass there are `strips` across the windows cutting them into pie shapes.Behind the window is a painted backdrop portraying Metropolis. This would be detailed and would show the bustling city for as far as the eye could see.This painting would need to show the height of the city to further distinguish between the upper and lower regions .Whilst in the underworld there would be an altogether different appearence with the `windows` taking on the look of either a tunnel or archway leading to further machines (again painted ?) or the mouth of a furnace lit red and spewing steam and smoke-can we do smoke ?

You could also use the projection screen as a window whilst `above` and if we were able too could possibly co-ordinate the backdrop painting with the (repeated) image on the screen.

I like the idea of having televisions strewn around the set at different heights and angles.How about a couple of the screens being covered by wired grids-perhaps these could be the TVs that give out the warning messages down below as their look would help to amplify the dangerous surroundings and conditions that the workers endure.

With regard to the clock a thought has just occured to me during George`s song `The Sun` (one of my faves !) the clock could be lit in a pale yellow or white and realising that he came all this way to the upper city putting himself in grave danger only to find that he can`t find the sun that his girlfriend Jade had so longed to see he could rip the hands off the clock in anger/despair/frustration/insert word here ! Does that sound corny ? It was only a quick thought. Back to the set-At the sides of the set are `SUPER-STRUCTURES` I love that word !! Okay so they are really panels arched kind of in an upside down `L` shape ! There are at least six of them three on the left hand side of the stage and three on the right perfectly positioned opposite each other. They carry on the pattern formed by the clock and the shape of the windows by rounding out the stage. At the peak of each of these panels is a fully working circular shaped spindle (I knew this would be hard to explain!) Attached to each of these spindles are massive levers one on each side of every panel so one panel = two levers. When in the upper city these levers are attached to the structures themselves to form a spacious yet very dominant look. Whilst in the lower city these giant levers unattach from the sides of the panels(super structures !) and as the are attached by spindles or come to think of it cogs are used to drive the machines. The size of these levers denotes that they can be used in different ways -the workers could push against them  or have them over their shoulders and they could give the impression of toil far easier than anything smaller.The levers could work independently of each other creating quite an image - from clean and spacious to a dizzying visual display as the workers all work at their machines the levers streching far into the stage from both sides at varying heights and speeds whilst keeping the clock as an easy focal point for any action. You could actually make it seem that a great deal of time is passing by having different workers on the clock as the sing their parts especially during `101.11` - with every change in the music a passing hour ? Perhaps the projection screen or a change in the lighting could be used to achieve a better sense of passing time.

With regard to keeping the upper levels airy it may be a cool idea to have the workers actually build their set around them as part of their work ? After reading the libretto I noticed that the shifts do not always start as soon as the songs - there is actually quite a long time especially during the opening before the workers `hit` the machines. This would work well with the idea of Grot chaining the workers inside the machine room that I mentioned in a recent email as the workers would be creating the enviroment they hate so much around themselves and would also keep the staging (i hope) interesting.As Freeman says `They don`t know any better` !

Originally I had the panels aka super-structures revolving during the set changes. This would allow the scene to have changed quickly and look very different but I no longer think it necessary as I think we can achieve great drama by transforming the landscape we already have - making the safe and clean suddenly dangerous and uncomfortable. This should be as much an unexpected element to the show as perhaps discovering the score for the first time-the audience knows that there is supposed to be a `Metropolis` a towering city depicted on stage yet walks into the Pentacle to see a stage that depicts a rusty ,decaying work room perhaps with the machines levers already detached from the side panels and stretching at different angles across the stage ( maybe held by chain ?).The audience then wonders prior to the shows start how this will be transformed ? How will the show sound - look or feel to them ? Unsuspecting that despite the fact that they begin their journey in an uncomfortable and uncompromising vision of steel and steam it is here that the shows emotional heart lives. Transform it we will - from the ballroom to Warner`s workshop from the peaks of the city to the depths of hell taking the Metro audience on a complete journey of discovery from music and lyrics to costume,lighting and staging. Metropolis will be a new experience to so many people that it just has to be unforgetable !

Back to the set again...

The space between the panels at the side of the stage would allow the cast to move between them or on and off stage with ease .The front panels at either side of the stage could also have an entrances facing toward the audience - these could be used to depict the lifts that are often used during the show. You could also house more televisions inside of the front of at least one of these panels to give a more varied look.They could be stacked on top of each other four or five high perhaps.Of course this all depends how many televisions you are donated and how much of the shows budget can be used for electricity !! At the rear of the stage above the projection screen I had an idea for some kind of roof made out of painted cloth and wire to look like sheet metal. I have a very strong image of how this would look but have yet to find it a permanent home ! It started as a wall before moving to the ceiling and now perhaps as a back panel. Its such a fantastic visual piece that I am trying to fit it in somewhere (think Captain Nemo`s sub !!) so more on that later perhaps...

I am still working on the cogs at the front of the stage spilling out toward the audience as this will be really fun to do especially if they move -I am trying to make it so that it will be easy to highlight Jade as she gets caught in the cogs without the audience saying `what just happened ?`. Perhaps it will better if the cogs only begin to move at the end of `101` (when the pressure is high enough) so that everyones attention will move toward them. It may even be that the cogs use so much power that the rest of the lighting on stage is dimmed so that the cogs are highlighted and their power comsumption causes the malfunction which kills Jade ?

Reading back there are alot of details that I have left out which if these ideas progress I will provide you with but i just wanted to see how you felt before progressing further on this particular path.

How did the dinner party go ? Did your audience like what they heard ? I can`t wait to hear what you have done with the score - I guess my invite got lost in the post !

As always my very best wishes,

P.S-Forget to mention about colour-but have got to go for now as I am running late ! I will mail you again later this evening..

Sept 3, 2001

Dear Randy,

        Hello again ! Just found a review of the new Metropolis anime online.The link is http://www.animecritics.com/

It got a good mark and looks interesting as it uses traditional cel animation in an old style with modern computer generated effects.

Great news about the new Metropolis DVD-can`t wait !

Great news also about having a welder onboard. That opens up some interesting avenues. I love the idea of using ladders and think they will look really striking-can scaffolding be used as I have an idea i`d like to develop.....

Thoughts and concepts are becoming clearer daily and I will send you some detailed pictures soon. How is your work progressing ? Well I hope. It will be amazing to hear and eventually see your vision of Metropolis.

Best wishes

Sept 9, 2001

Dear Randy,

        Forgive the title of this email - its actually me thats moving but not until the beginning of October. The roof of the flat I am in now needs to be replaced before the winter sets in and the owners have said they will use this chance to sell it on ! Don`t know where I am going yet but I have started tidying and packing already. This has been quite difficult as its the first time I have moved any of Sulina`s things since she passed away. Packing her life into boxes has been both comforting - finding photos,letters and cards and also upsetting - finding photos,letters and cards !

I hope to have finished by the end of the weekend as I only have limited time in the evenings free over the next few days. Due to this I haven`t done any physical work on Metro in the past couple of days althought it has been very much on my mind.

Its a great idea to combine the clock and the projection screen. Perhaps you could have a light behind the screen to cause the pulsing effect you mentioned as I thought direct light from the projector might also reflect on the cast ? I can just picture Freemans face appearing `framed` on the clock front it could be very a unexpected and dominant effect. It also says very much that the clock/machine is an important focal point and may even be useful whenever you needed to draw the audiences attention to a certain scene or character.

With regards to colour I was thinking blue too ! I actually saw a lighting effect in a show once which made both the stage and actors appear in black and white. It was really striking but I can`t remember what the show was !!! I guess it says something when you come out of a show remembering the lighting but not the story. A gold Futura YES ! That would look fantastic. Even on the poster,gold robot - blue or possibly red `Metropolis` text ? The potential is excellent.

You did an excellent job of helping me envision the Pentacle stage with the dimensions you gave me so I have another quick one for you - roughly how much height have we got to work with ?

With that final dimension and a touch more reworking I will be able to put pen to paper once more. I am quite keen on cleaning up some of my rough sketches and emailling those to you. So once my packing is complete prepare for the deluge !!

I keep meaning to mention the Superman Metropolis comic you have in your collection - I would love to see that one day it sounds great !

Heres an idea for you.....when the curtain comes down on Metropolis in Oregan I wouldn`t mind revisiting one of my older projects a comic book version of Metropolis but this time with a twist - adapted from the Pentacle production !

Featuring the cast,stage and costume design and most importantly your direction......what do you think ?

Hope you managed to finish your decorating.

Best wishes

Sept 13, 2001

Dear Randy,

I do hope you are okay and my thoughts and prayers as well as those of my friends and family are very much with you and your fellow country men and women during what must be a very harrowing time. I can`t think of the words to express our shock and disgust at the terrorist attacks that have been targeted against the United States. I am lost for words....

A quick update - work is progressing well and I believe I have come up with a good way of showing my designs in action.I will foward you these designs in due course.

Best wishes,

God bless

Sept 17, 2001

Dear Randy,

        Lets just hope that this whole situation ends as quickly and as peacefully as possible. The last thing the world needs is more conflict although I fear there will be resistance and even reprisals from the parties involved.

I pray that even the mad men who instigated the attack on the US have the forsight and common sense not to push things even further and that their actions don`t lead to full scale war for all our sakes.

That said and although it will be difficult to focus on little else at the moment I hope that you can find something to take your mind off recent events if only for a while.

I remember there was alot of distrust and bad feeling reported especially in the UK when George Bush was elected as President but those same papers and programmes are now impressed with the fact that he has taken no rash action as yet and seems to be gaining trust and support. I don`t know enough about President Bush to judge nor would it be proper for me to do so but with the power he commands I just hope he does what is best for not only America but also the rest of the world.

With regard to Metropolis and in particular the finale -

Could it possible be adapted ? For example rather than detroying the city Freeman could kill himself perhaps with the gun that was used to kill Warner or by falling into a machine? All the while the pressure is falling and the air supply below the city is dying due to Futura`s actions. As the workers make their way to the upper city led by Steven it becomes increasingly obvious that the only reason for working on the machines was to support the air supply down below and the upper city is unaffected. Like rats in a cage the workers spent their lives living and dying at those machines just to support their own existence unaware that all the while they could have lived in peace in the city above. Hidden down below by Freeman`s fanatism because they weren`t of the same class the workers finally reach the city so long out of their reach and with Steven now in charge after his fathers death a new hope as the scales of justice are tipped. Perhaps the sight of so many workers arriving in the city causes a realisation amongst the eliltists and they are shocked out of their arrogance and slowly approach to assist and support where needed.

Just an idea probably the best person to speak to would be Joe Brooks to see what his views are given the current situation. I do feel you are right in that it could take many, many years before people even begin to come to terms with these tragic events and if the show could be adapted in some way it might prove more effective to its dramatic punch. After all theatre is about escapism and the shock of the original ending might be too close to home.

I have been thinking about costumes alot this week more in the way that they would fit in with the characters rather than the look and I came up with a thought that may appeal :

With regard to the elitists and in particular the `leaders` I imagine them being dressed smartly in some kind of adapted uniform. However Steven doesn`t quite conform and although his clothes are smart he doesn`t wear a jacket and his sleeves are rolled up showing more a will to work than a fashion statement. The elitists don`t like the way Steven dresses but tolerate it due to who he is. This could explain why George is so easily spotted when he goes to the upper city wearing Steven`s clothes as everyone else is uniformed. This could make the song `The Sun` even more compelling as George still feels like an outsider. Even before he is caught George feels uncomfortable like everyone knows that he doesn`t belong.

I maybe overthinking things again !! Right I am heading back to the drawing board for a while as there is much work to be done.

Speak to you soon

Take care,