A brief biography of Jules Verne, author of “Around the World in Eighty Days”

Early Life

Jules Verne, circa 1878

Jules Verne, circa 1878

Jules Gabriel Verne (8 February 1828 – 24 March 1905) was born into a middle class family in Nantes. His father, a lawyer, expected Jules as the oldest son to follow him into the legal profession, although Jules very early displayed much greater interest in travel, science and writing. However, he was sent to Paris at the age of 19 and received his law degree when he was just 23.

The following year Verne’s father offered to give Jules his own law practice and Jules refused. Instead he began to write for a magazine, The Family Museum, which sought both well-written fictional stories, and straight-forward non-fiction. He excelled in careful research, especially about geography.

Verne also worked as a stock broker for a time, in order to improve his financial situation enough to court Honorine de Viane Morel, a widow with two young children. They married in 1857, and had one son, Michel, born in 1861. The following year Verne met publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, and submitted to him a draft of his first novel, which would eventually be published as Five Weeks in a Balloon.  This led to Verne’s being commissioned to write the series of novels which would become known as Voyages Extraordinaires (Extraordinary Journeys). These lavishly-designed volumes were considered both literary and popular successes, and are today highly-prized collector’s items.

Literary Career

A volume from Jules Verne's vast output

A volume from Jules Verne’s vast output

Among the more than fifty novels in the series are such titles as: Five Weeks in a Balloon; From the Earth to the Moon; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; The Mysterious Island; Master of the World; Journey to the Center of the Earth; and—of course—Around the World in 80 Days.

Over time, Verne’s growing popularity led to suspicion of him in literary circles. Early, poor-quality English translations led British and American readers to consider him a children’s writer of sensational adventure stories. Today however, Verne’s reputation as a gifted researcher and writer has earned him a place in the pantheon of great French writers. New, accurate translations of his work into English are greatly enhancing his popularity as a writer for adults, and respect for his work is growing. In fact, Verne is now the second-most translated author in the world .

“Verne’s meticulous attention to detail and scientific trivia, coupled with his sense of wonder and exploration, form the backbone of the Voyages. Part of the reason for the broad appeal of his work was the sense that the reader could really learn knowledge of geology, biology, astronomy, paleontology,oceanography and the exotic locations and cultures of world through the adventures of Verne’s protagonists.”

Although he is often referred to as “the father of science fiction,” Verne did not ever claim to be a science writer per se. He was fascinated by the natural world, and had a vivid imagination. The fact that many of his more fanciful creations (heavier-than-air flying machines, underwater ships) eventually became reality was more coincidence than prophecy, according to contemporary critics and his own opinions.

Literary and Scientific Influences

Verne claimed to have been inspired by several earlier writers, including Victor Hugo and James Fenimore Cooper.  In his turn, he is pointed to as a major influence by more recent writers, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; Arthur C. Clarke, Margaret Drabble and Ray Bradbury.

Naval engineer and submarine designer Simon Lake credited Jules Verne with being “the director-general of my life.” Sir Earnest Shackleton and Jacques Cousteau also pointed to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as being a profound inspiration. Among a long list of scientists influenced by Verne’s books, the most familiar include: Edwin Hubble, Wernher von Braun, Guglielmo Marconi, and Yuri Gagarin.

Whether one regards Jules Verne as a great travel writer, a science fiction creator, or an author of epic adventure tales, he has earned a lasting place among the world’s best-loved literary giants.

[Source:  Wikipedia]

Recommended reading:  JULES VERNE, The Definitive Biography, by William Butcher, with an introduction by Arthur C. Clarke. copyright 2006

PLOT SUMMARY, Around the World in Eighty Days

80days-final-graphic-crop

Jules Verne’s classic novel, published in 1873, is said to be his most popular book (at least in English–its french title is Tour du Monde en Quatre-Vingt Jours). Unlike most of Verne’s works, it is neither science fiction nor fantasy. Instead, it follows the journey of Phileas Fogg, an eccentric Englishman, who has made a wager with the Reform Club that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days or less. Fogg and his servant, Passepartout, set out to win a purse of £20,000 (roughly £1.6 million today, according to Wikipedia), after reading in the newspaper that a railway in India has been completed, ostensibly making it possible to travel all the way around the world by train and ship.

Meanwhile, a London bank has been robbed and circumstantial evidence leads Detective Fix to suspect Mr. Fogg. He (pardon me, SHE–in our production) sets out to follow and arrest Fogg, and becomes caught up in the adventures (and misadventures) of circumnavigating the globe.

A daring rescue, an escape by elephant, a typhoon, an Indian attack in the American west, and a runaway train are among the perils awaiting the unflappable Phileas Fogg and his faithful manservant. But will they make it back to London in time?

Here is a map of the route taken by Fogg, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Production Design: STEAMPUNK!?

80days-final-graphic-crop   Astute viewers may have guessed last Spring that our upcoming production of Around the World in Eighty Days will be presented with a steampunk-themed stage design. For you, the show art said it all, and I don’t have to explain or justify anything.

But for the rest of you, some explanations are necessary. What IS steampunk? Why is it appropriate for this show? How are we going about designing with this theme?

First of all, thanks are due to Michael Wilhelm, who suggested both the show and the steampunk stage design. I will admit that most of us associated with afO immediately asked, “What in the world is ‘steampunk‘?”

We’re glad you asked! (You did ask, didn’t you?)

“Steampunk refers to a subgenre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy—also in recent years a fashion and lifestyle movement—that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. (Oxford University press, as quoted in Wikipedia)  

…Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.”  

Wild Wild West

Actor Kenneth Branagh in steampunk wheelchair, from 1999 film “Wild, Wild West”

One early example of steampunk in visual media is the television show, The Wild, Wild West, which aired from 1965 to 1969, and inspired a 1999 feature film.

Authors who are associated with steampunk (art, illustration, film or stage productions) include H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Mary Shelley.  All three imagined technologies which did not (and still don’t, in some cases!) exist, and described them in terms consistent with scientific knowledge and materials of the 1800s.

pocket watch goodAlthough Around the World in Eighty Days is not actually fantasy or sci-fi, the combination of steampunk-associated author Jules Verne with then still-new use of steam engines for transportation make steampunk a logical design choice.  Images strongly associated with steampunk include clocks and watches, gears and machinery. Look for all those things on the set (and costumes) for our production!

AND, stay tuned for an exciting opportunity to OWN some of the custom pieces being designed for us!

Season Finale: AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS

80days-final-graphic-cropall for One is thrilled to announce that its season finale, Around the World in Eighty Days, will be the first afO production to be presented on our new home stage: the PPG ArtsLab. The ArtsLab is an innovative black box theatre in the Auer Center for the Arts, located on Main Street directly across from the Arts United Center.

This comedic journey across four continents will be directed by Jeff Salisbury. The cast includes:

Gabe Schneider   as   Phileas Fogg

Evan Fritz             as   Passepartout

Rachel Maibach*  as   Detective Fix

Bridget Bogdon   as   Aouda

and an ensemble of actors who play over 30 roles between them:  Nate Chen, Dennis Nichols, Eli Ramsour, Corrie Taylor*, and Michael Wilhelm.    [* indicates afO debut]

Choosing Music Purposefully

[NOTE: If you are a theater company considering producing The Music Lesson, we are happy to offer our complete sfx CD for a modest fee. Please leave your contact information in the comments section below, and we will contact you immediately.]

 

The playwright helpfully suggested music for the various moments on stage which required it, but since I (the director) am also a piano teacher, choosing piano music was a pleasure, and allowed me to revisit some of my favorites from my own student days. However, unlike Irena–who believes that Bach should be the foundation of any student’s repertoire–I have not played or taught a great deal of Bach. But since it was important to the script, I knew I would need to make carefully appropriate selections.

One challenge of selecting piano music was that music serves several purposes in the script: it reflects the skill level of the character playing at that moment, her emotions at the time, and the mood of the scene. All this, plus it must be an appropriate length—generally, the shorter the better. The audience has not come to see a concert, after all! (The other challenge was that it all needed to be music I could play with little or no rehearsal, and record myself on my own keyboard.)

In one case, a prelude is played badly by Kat (Rebekah Fodrey) during a long lesson sequence, then played well later. But since the “good” version is also an underscore for an emotional monologue by Maja, I chose to play that version in an un-Bach-like style: very sustained, with pedal, because it must nearly disappear under Maja’s words. The original version was spare and percussive and intruded on the scene.

Another critical piece of music is the piano/violin duet which is a central part of the lessons.  The suggested piece is a Bach C Major Prelude No. 1 from the Well-Tempered Clavier, which is partnered with “Ave Maria”.  I assume that the playwright chose these partner melodies because the prelude is a very simple piano piece, suitable for the student who plays it. It is also lovely as the accompaniment to the gorgeous “Ave Maria” melody played on violin.

But there are several problems with this selection.  First, the piano prelude is a bit monotonous to be used as many times as it is called for. Second, Charles Gounod wrote the “Ave Maria” for cello (specifically to go with this Bach prelude)…137 years later after Bach’s composition. Third, Irena sings to comfort Maja during a bombing, (“We have Bach, and we will sing until they stop.”)  What she sings is supposed to morph into Eddie’s violin lesson, so they need to be the same melody…and the Ave Maria is not Bach. Finally, this duet also serves as the polished piece that Kat and Eddie play at the end of the drama. But besides the foregoing, it is also rather long to play in its entirety without feeling anticlimactic, and it is not possible to excerpt.

The solution to all these concerns, I found, was to substitute an abridged version of the main theme from Bach’s chorale, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” arranged for piano and violin. Since it includes lyrics for a simple melody, as well as a more complex accompaniment, it was a good choice. In Eddie’s first lesson, he is working on the melody; in the second act, he is playing the more complex part. Kat plays the simple chordal melody with him, which includes brief solo sections…nice, and also believable that she could learn it in one day.

[There is an inside joke in that choice, though it was not intentional:  the last time we used that piece, it was an important part of a play called Miracles (2011), about an autistic girl. At the end of the drama she plays part of “Jesu, Joy…” on the piano. Bekah Fodrey, who plays Kat, also played the girl in Miracles. Guess what Bekah is doing at the end of The Music Lesson?  Yup. Ironic. ]

Other piano pieces you will hear:  part of Bach’s Musette in D Major, his little prelude in D minor, another prelude in C Major, as well as fragments of:  Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, Chopin’s Prelude No. 5 in A minor and Handel’s “Sarabande”. Irena and Ivan play a piano/violin duet version of the main theme from Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”), second movement. [Several of these pieces can be found in the John Thompson method books, and this nod to piano students of my generation is another inside joke of sorts.]

Special thanks to Ben Steiner, who spent an hour one Saturday playing several fragments over and over again, in order to get the timing exactly right. Later on, we combined two of his recordings into a duet! Also thanks to Matt Cwanek, who engineered that session.

The genius behind it all, Scott Kump, took my digital piano recordings, the violin recordings, sounds of warfare, and a digital metronome, and put everything together in its finished form through the magic of digital technology.

The piano in our production is center-stage, straddling the worlds of Pittsburgh and Sarajevo, reality and memory. Since we assume that the piano the Batonovic couple acquires is not a good instrument, I used a sound on my keyboard called “Honky-Tonk”–a jangly bright sound, not quite out of tune, but grating. When the piano is played in memory, it is a mellow grand sound. [The one exception is the final phrase of the play…the music segues from the Bosnian folk song back to “Jesu, Joy…” I hated to end the play with that jangling sound, so I kept the more mellow tones for the play’s final moment.]

 

Some Background on the Conflict in Bosnia

I asserted in a previous post that The Music Lesson is not a play about the Bosnian civil war, per se. It is about humans dealing with intense conflict, the effects of such trauma on children, and the sustaining power of beauty, purpose and human contact to bring healing.

However, a secondary benefit of producing this play has been to heighten the cast and crew’s awareness of the tragic events of this war, and to bring home to us a deeper appreciation for all that is being suffered currently in places like Ukraine, the Middle East and North Africa. Americans, long insulated against the horrors of war on our soil, have difficulty in imagining what it is like to live in the midst of such a crisis. I hope that this play will engender a new empathy in our audiences for those living under siege.

—————

I wish there were an easy way to summarize the civil war which took place in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. The conflict between ethnic Serbians, Croatians and Bosniaks is an ancient one, made infinitely more complicated by centuries of intermarriage.  This map of Yugoslavia in 1991 shows the states into which the country was already divided:

Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 1991

That same year, Slovenia and Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia, and multi-ethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina published a referendum for independence. Bosnian Serbs rejected the proposal, wishing instead to create new states which were ethnically pure. The play makes several references to the fact that much of the Bosnian population was ethnically mixed and had neither the desire nor the ability to separate along strictly ethnic lines. [NOTE: The ethnic groups referred to throughout the play are Serbs (Orthodox), Croats (Catholic) and Muslims (aka Bosniaks).]

Irena Batonovic, in the play, sums up the conflict this way:

“Justice, people say, look what they did to us. As far back as we can remember, they are enemy, we never forgive them, we bomb them, shoot them, starve them and make sure we kill their children, so hatred never die.”

The primary war event to which the play refers is the Siege of Sarajevo–“the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare” (Wikipedia). It took place between April 1992 and February 1996 (1,425 days total). Throughout the play, Irena has flashbacks to moments with her student, Maja, during the siege. Ivan also describes hiding in the basement during bombings, and the couple relive one such time together.

Cellist of SarajevoOne excellent work of literature depicting the siege is the novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, available in our Allen County Public Library. It is based loosely on the actions of a musician in 1992, who sat in a public square and played the Albinoni Adagio every day for 22 days, to honor 22 people killed by a grenade while waiting in line for bread. Achingly beautiful prose describes in horrific detail the realities of daily life in a city under siege.

 

Zlata's DiaryTo gain a fuller picture of the experiences of children at that time, read Zlata’s Diary, a Child’s Life in Sarajevo, by Zlata Filipovic. This little book was almost certainly part of the source material used in writing this play. Both Shannon, who plays Maja, and I read it in preparation for rehearsal.

 

 

Production Challenges: Accents and Music

TML FB imageTammy Ryan’s The Music Lesson is not really a play about the Bosnian war. It’s not even really a play about music or teaching music, per se. But three of the six actors are supposed to be Bosnian natives–they even speak a number of lines in their language. And five of the actors are required to appear to be playing an instrument at least once in the course of the play. For many community theaters, these factors make producing this play a bit daunting.

Dialect Work
The playwright has included a pronunciation key in the front of the script, although this alone will not guarantee either the accent overall or the fluidity of the lines which are in Bosnian.  Our research into Eastern European dialects indicated that, for stage purposes, we could use as our guide Acting with an Accent‘s Polish dialect. This would allow our actors to have the basic characteristics of the accent (without sounding Russian, which would be wrong), and would focus on a dialect which would still produce understandable English for our Midwestern audience.

We were also fortunate to find a young woman who is a native of Bosnia-Herzogovina living in Fort Wayne! (And working for Tim’s sister!) She audio-recorded all the Bosnian phrases for us–slowly, and then fluidly, as a native would say them. I am proud of the hard work Teresa and Tim have put in to make those words sound natural coming out of their mouths!  They, plus Shannon, have spent hours mastering the uncommon dialect.

Piano and violin–music, instruments, arrangements, choices!

The playwright also provides a list of suggested music, used in the first professional production of the play, as well as an address through which one might acquire the piano/violin arrangements. She stresses, however, that the sound designer/director can make his or her own choices, “centering around Bach.” This is what we have done. (More on the actual music–of which there is a lot, and needed for very specific moments/purposes–in another post.)

The playwright states:

“The actors should not actually play instruments. In the production at Florida Stage, live musicians were upstage in a “blue room” playing piano and violin as the actors mimed playing. Once the convention was established, it worked beautifully. If you don’t have access to musicians, taped music can be used.”

We have access to musicians, and I was very intrigued by the notion of live music. However, our stage is smallish and an awkward size. Trying to keep the musicians where they can see the action without being obtrusive, and at the same time where they won’t take up too much of the playing area, was a task that began to feel impractical, even were it possible. This was because much of the music is “acted” as much as played–Eddie is a good violinist, but he’s only 10–not a prodigy. Kat is angry and difficult, and her playing often reflects that. For the actors and musicians to be so much in synch would require much more rehearsal with the musicians than we could rightly afford. Taping the music and letting the actors practice their mime at home seemed more reasonable and efficient.

Beyond the choice of music, and the difficulty of recording so much music so far in advance of the performance, there was the need to have TWO violins onstage, in the hands of non-violinists, as well as a piano which needs to be positioned in such a way that one or two actresses can sit at it and still be visible to the audience.

Again we were blessed in our contacts:  Debra and Bruce Graham, both violists with our Fort Wayne Philharmonic, attend First Missionary Church (which supports us by providing rehearsal space).  Deb secured two used violins for us to use, and Bruce came to coach Tim and Micah on how to hold the violin and the bow correctly.

The piano is supposed to be unsatisfactory to Irena. It is “out of tune” and “sounds like big elephant,” she says. Since they are refugees living in a little apartment, one must assume this is a used upright piano of some kind. Knowing the hardships surrounding the move of a real piano into the theater (we’ve done it before), I set out to solve our problem creatively.

And we have. Thanks to the ingenuity of Larry Nolan, we have a piece of furniture which looks for all the world like a piano. And our actresses will be able to pound on “it” and make noise, or mime playing while recorded music is played. I think the audience (who haven’t read this post!) will be none the wiser.

piano 1

piano 2