Here at CityShakes, we love to brag about our company members, and this week’s pride and joy is Daniel Landberg – composer, musician, and actor in The Merchant of Venice. Though he’s been writing and performing music since he was a tween, working with CityShakes is an entirely new experience for Daniel. Here’s what he had to say:
This is your first time scoring a Shakespeare play. Tell me about the process of using your music to help enhance the story.
Shakespeare’s stories aren’t terribly complicated but the language is difficult to understand. As a company of players it is our task to decode and interpret the text (without changing it) into a visual and aural experience that makes the text understandable and enjoyable. I sought to further this effect by further de-crypting the play without injecting judgement or projecting hypotheses.
How did you come up with the poppy, folksy sound for Merchant?
As a largely self-taught musician I’ve tapped music’s past (largely folk, classic rock, and classical) and what appeals to me in modern music (primarily folk, pop and electronic) and written about what interests me culturally and emotionally from either my own point of a view or that of another. For Merchant I’ve added the element of playing a role within a role; I wrote music and words from the point of view of a character within the world of Venice and Belmont who understands (and feels) not just what the characters are going through, but the audience as well.
The result has been a simple score and three folk/pop pieces focusing on repetition, contrast, and clarity that highlights and interprets the moods and feelings of the characters and the social condition of the locations in The Merchant of Venice.
Tell me about performing with the cast.
Performing and collaborating with the cast has been an immense privilege and absolute rush. On stage for Merchant I feel their unwavering commitment and enthusiastic support of me musically which has enabled me to channel all my anxiety into focus, creativity and performance!
What do you experience during performances?
Great personal emotional investment. A most real and natural suspension of disbelief. Responsibility to the interpretation relationships between characters.
Why does this story speak to you? Why Shakespeare, why Merchant, and why CityShakes?
Controversial stories speak to the curious cat in me. I want to look at them through a lens that dispenses with our cultural baggage and objectively looks at the underlying story. Religion, xenophobia, systemic discrimination, capitalism as a value, love and compassion, justice and mercy are among the themes of Merchant that are so relevant to our modern culture – and so hard to express as themes without bias.
Shakespeare ties together so many themes and with each adds clarity rather than complication. In tying everything to everything and everyone there are no villains; There are only sympathetic characters that we see ourselves in and places that don’t look that different from our own.
CityShakes’ production doesn’t use this controversial play to make a statement or promote a viewpoint, nor is the production simply an exercise in translation into mechanical beauty. It’s an interpretation of the play which in preserving the language evokes the story and characters as they are without projecting our cultural condition onto the story or our judgement onto the characters. We leave it up to the audience to draw connections to our world and their lives.
Working with Daniel is a pleasure, and watching him work is even better. Audiences have adored the music in the show, saying: “it did even more than I was expecting, which was really cool,” and, “the music really helped enhance the story. It helped bridge things that might have been confusing without it.” The trailer gives a little taste of the opening number Daniel wrote for the show:
For those who have seen the show, what did you think of the music?
For those who haven’t, you have six more chances (4/5, 4/6, 4/10, 4/11, 4/12, & 4/13). Get your tickets here.