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Sofia Fox as Zed, Harriet Cohen as Nicki. Photo by Paul Bestock.

Ways Of The World

This short play was produced by Seattle Public Theater's Youth Program, as part of a collection of six short plays called The Mozart Effect, which ran March 5-6, 2016. In tandem with SPT's production of Amadeus for its adult mainstage, six playwrights were asked to deliver short plays using one of Mozart's compositions for thematic inspiration, for its middle school class to perform. I used the Jupiter Symphony as my inspiration.

We are backstage, in the green room before a big rock concert at a massive arena. ZED POMPEO, world famous rock star, is in mid­interview with NICKI MONTROSE, rock journalist. She is using her smartphone to record the interview.

ZED: I wrote my first song when I was eight. I said “dad how's it sound” and he threw my guitar in front of a bus. My guitar sounded better after that so I decided to quit school and start a band.

NICKI: When you were eight?

ZED: Well it’s hard to say, I might have been eight and a half, or ­ seventeen maybe. Dad said “you’re just a punk kid, you don’t know anything about the world, that’s why your songs are so” ­ oh what’s that word, it means pedestrian or humdrum or-

NICKI: Insipid?

ZED: I was going for trite, but insipid’s good yeah. Anyway I wanted to prove him wrong and show him that even though I was just eight and a half-

NICKI: Or seventeen.

ZED: ­that I still had depth, that I had a deep understanding of the world, that I had something new and unique and unexpected to offer as a musician. So I quit school and started my new band -­ the Beatles.

NICKI: You named your band the Beatles?

ZED: You’ve heard of us!

NICKI: I’ve heard of the actual Beatles.

ZED: Yes, everyone in the world has heard of us! Dad practically ate his shoe when he saw us on the Ed Sullivan show.

NICKI: Ed Sullivan has been dead for years!

ZED: So has Whitney Houston!

NICKI: What does that have to do with anything?

ZED: I don’t know ­ I thought we were listing dead people!

NICKI: Zed Pompeo, I get the feeling you’re not taking this interview very seriously. You won’t make the home page if I don’t turn in a good profile.

ZED: Nicki ­ after tonight, I’ll make the home page of every music site, every news site, every blog and Tumblr and Twiddlr-

NICKI: There’s no Twiddlr.

ZED: -­every blog and Tumblr in the universe.

ARIETTA G, glamorous producer, sweeps into the room, followed closely by a very agitated MARY “ROY THOMAS” JACKSON, sound engineer, who carries a small electronic bullhorn.

ARIETTA: Zed, your so­called “sound engineer” wants to cancel your concert tonight! Will you please inform Roy Thomas that canceling concerts is the exact opposite of engineering actual sound?

MARY: Zed, it’s too dangerous! We tested the new sound system yesterday and pulverized half of Kansas!

ZED: The empty half?

MARY: It’s empty now.

ARIETTA: Then turn the new sound system down, for god’s sake! This is not rocket science!

MARY: Okay, first of all, when you say “rocket science,” what you really mean is “rocket engineering,” which is one of a family of disciplines that does include sound engineering, and B of all-

ZED: ­if we have to turn it down, then what’s the point?

NICKI: What’s the point of what?

ARIETTA: Wait, who are you?

NICKI: Nicki Montrose. I write for Pitchfork.

ZED: Nicki, this is my producer, Arietta G.

NICKI: I thought your producer was George Martin.

ZED: George does not produce the material I record with Wings. And this is my sound engineer, Mary “Roy Thomas” Jackson.

MARY: Are you recording us with your cell phone?

NICKI: I am.

MARY: Would you mind shutting it off?

NICKI: I would, actually. I was promised full access.

Mary swiftly raises her electronic bullhorn and fires off a painfully loud siren, which lasts several beats until Nicki can’t stand it any longer.

NICKI: All right!

Mary and Nicki shut off their respective devices.

MARY: Zed, that is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction ... of a fraction of the decibels the new sound system can produce.

ZED: What does the spec for the concert call for?

MARY: Pretty sure it doesn’t call for any fractions, Zed! Pretty sure it’s all multiples!

ARIETTA: You’re right, Roy Thomas, that sounds just like plotting a rocket trajectory.

MARY: Arietta -­ you’re a genius manipulating sound in the carefully controlled environment of your recording studio. But when it comes to amplifying sound for 20,000 ticket holders, with crystal clear sonic reproduction across the entire frequency spectrum, and without liquefying anyone in the arena­-

ARIETTA: Stop exaggerating! Nothing happened in Kansas!

MARY: Some of those cows will need hearing aids!

NICKI: If the sound system is so loud, how will you perform without liquefying the band?

ARIETTA: What “band”? What do you think is happening here tonight?

NICKI: A rock show?

ARIETTA: A “rock show”? I’m sorry, what site did you say you write for ­ Deliberately Ignorant About Music dot com?

NICKI: Uh huh, let’s see ­ Zed Pompeo, eccentric but hugely popular rock star, quits touring five years ago, stops releasing records, vanishes almost completely from the stage of popular culture, but rumors swirl that he’s secretly working on his masterpiece, except the years tick by and we hear nothing, and nothing, and more nothing -­ and then suddenly, with no advance warning and no marketing or advertising, he announces a surprise concert at Madison Square Garden, selling all 20,000 tickets in four minutes -­ and now, less than two hours before the show, the sound engineer believes the concert will be physically dangerous, which may be irrelevant since I haven’t seen any actual musicians in the building yet ­ so please, by all means tell me, what am I missing here?

A beat.

MARY: Well did you know Zed was in the Beatles?

ZED: Go ahead and start recording again, Nicki. This is why I invited you here. I want to make sure people understand what we’re actually doing here tonight.

Nicki starts recording with her phone again.

NICKI: This is Nicki Montrose, resuming my interview with Zed Pompeo. We’re backstage at Madison Square Garden, joined now by Zed’s producer, Arietta G, and his sound engineer, a lady named Roy.

MARY: Roy Thomas, thank you very much.

NICKI: What brought you out of retirement, Zed?

ZED: Oh I wasn’t retired. I’ve been working on a symphony, which I’m finally ready to debut tonight.

NICKI: I don’t see an orchestra warming up.

ARIETTA: Our musicians will be performing from studios all over the world. They’re all playing to a synchronized metronome, so they won’t be able to hear each other. But each instrument will have its own live stream on YouTube that anyone can access, and the performances will all be piped into the Garden via fiber optic for a live mixdown.

ZED: Roy Thomas, tell her about the sound system you built for that live mixdown.

MARY: I’ve built the world’s absolute loudest sound system, Zed. Fifty thousand watts, capable of hitting 300 decibels without distortion. The requirement was ­ make sure people can hear the music all over the city.

ARIETTA: That’s in the arrangement, actually. The symphony is scored for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns in C, two trumpets in C, timpani in C and G, strings, and one thousand sound systems, strategically distributed across New York City.

ZED: When the symphony starts, and Roy Thomas fires up the system here in the Garden, anyone in the neighborhood who can hear it will fire up their system, and anyone further out who can hear those systems will fire up their systems, all across the city, until all one thousand systems are blaring gloriously for everyone to hear.

MARY: Unless you’re actually in the arena, in which case your eardrums will explode after the first ten seconds.

ZED: C’mon, Roy Thomas. No one’s going to be in the arena for this. The reason the show sold out so fast is because I bought all the tickets. No, we’re going to be up on the roof of the Garden, with the world’s loudest sound system pumping vibrations through the concrete beneath us, listening to echoes of all the other sound systems rippling across the night sky.

NICKI: So ­ your musicians can’t hear each other play. And you can’t sound check here anyway because then you’d trigger all the other sound systems to go off too early. How did you rehearse all this?

ZED: We didn’t.

NICKI: So you’ll be hearing it all for the first time tonight?

ARIETTA: The symphony will sound completely different based on where you are in the city. No one will ever hear all of it.

NICKI: That’s... not what I expected. Pause. What do you call your symphony, Zed?

ZED: I call it... “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Pause. I’m kidding.

NICKI: I figured.

ZED: It’s called Symphony #1.

NICKI: That’s a good name.

Nicki puts her cell phone away.

NICKI: I think I got what I need here. Thank you all very much for your time. I think you’re definitely right ­- this is going to be home page material for every music site in the country.

ZED: You’re welcome to stay and join us on the roof for the performance.

NICKI: I don’t think so. Thanks for the invitation, but I think I’m going to wander around the city during the performance. See how it sounds out on the streets. Besides ­- I don’t want to be anywhere near you guys when they send in the National Guard to shut you guys down.

She exits.

MARY: National Guard?

ZED: Riot squad, tops.

ARIETTA: You should improvise a tenor part when we get up to the roof though, because -­ rooftop concert.

ZED: Totally.

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