—The Sea of Tranquility—
An original piece of theatre
made for the rooms of Rutherfurd Hall
Morgan FitzPatrick Andrews (Ensemble, Radio Host, Professor T.P. White, banjo, guitar, script, design, songwriting, direction)
Sarah Gladwin Camp (Ensemble, Sabina Rutherfurd, Last Panther, choreography, bass drum)
Stephen Dahmer (Ensemble, Robert Rutherfurd, guitar, cello, music direction)
Dana Haberern (Ensemble, Margaret Rutherfurd, mandolin, fiddle, animation, costumes)
Daniel McNamara (Lewis Morris Rutherfurd, ensemble, piano, clarinet, music direction)
Mason Rosenthal (Tour Guide, Young Rutherfurd, ensemble, direction)
Alie Vidich (Jenny Jump, music box, bass drum, choreography)
Written and directed by Morgan FitzPatrick Andrews and the Mediums, with production support from Amy Hufnagel.
The Sea of Tranquility premiered at Rutherfurd Hall March 2nd, 3rd and 4th of 2012. An excerpt, "The Moon and our Furture", was performed at the Rotunda in Philadelphia, at the Bread & Puppet Theater in Vermont and at Goddard College's Alternative Media Conference in 2012-13, and also appeared as an installation at Great Small Works' International Toy Theater Festival in New York City. While developing the show, the Mediums also held workshops, performances and talkbacks with all of the students and most of the teachers at three public schools affiliated with Rutherfurd Hall.
The Sea of Tranquility Conceived
This play was born from two phone calls concerning earthquakes and the Moon.
The first call came from Japan during the summer of 2011. It was the middle of the night in Tokyo and there were fears that another quake would come. The first one had been big enough to cause a tsunami and damage a nuclear power plant in the seaside town of Fukashima. Another tremor could increase the damage, the death toll, the threat of radiation, and there wasn’t much that one could do to prevent this. So, while the Sun shone above me in Philadelphia, this midnight voice from Tokyo asked for a song about the Moon.
The second call came from Allamuchy, New Jersey, asking for an original piece of theatre. The parameters were that it be set in the grand rooms of a historic mansion, that it be tied to New Jersey history and folklore, and that it include reference to a certain astronomer who was the first to take telescopic photos of the Moon. A friend and I drove up to that New Jersey mansion to meet with its caretakers, where our meeting was interrupted by the rarest of occurrences in the state of New Jersey: an earthquake.
Two earthquakes and one Moon, experienced from opposite sides of the planet. That, and the town of Tranquility, New Jersey, which I was told (albeit erroneously) was the namesake of a lunar sea, inspired me to write “The Sea of Tranquility” as a song about two people who are a world apart and then united by the end of that world. From there I worked backwards to expand the song into a play based around three characters from history and/or myth. These are:
- Lewis Morris Rutherfurd, the prominent 19th century astrophotographer who shares a name with parts of the Moon and New Jersey, as well as the mansion where the play would be performed.
- Jenny Jump, a folkloric figure who may have taken any number of possible leaps that leant a name to a mountain range, a state forest and a legendary rock in that forest. A version of her also appears in one of the many books about the Land of Oz.
- The White Pilgrim of Dark Moon, a traveling storyteller-cum-preacher who dressed in white from head-to-toe and rode a white horse from Ohio to New Jersey, where he was struck down by smallpox before his own congregation.
Down the road from the Rutherfurd mansion is a gated community called Panther Valley that is also home to a golf course and a quaint strip mall, not one single panther. So I gave the panthers a home in the play alongside other characters that could run the gamut from fact to fable.
The Sea of Tranquility Devised
The Sea of Tranquility (the play) is about how we tell stories, and also how stories are told.
Bear with me on this one—these are actually two different concepts.
One concept describes the media that we use to tell stories. Today most Americans get their stories from television, the internet, movies, popular songs, advertisements and slogans prevalent in our culture. Setting this play in a 110-year-old mansion and dealing with characters that were older than that, I wanted to use the precursors to modern media: the folksong, the radio drama, the illustrated lecture, the masquerade ball, and live theatre.
The other concept concerns that any story can be told from any number of viewpoints. Take the American Civil War as an example: What would its story be like told from the perspective of a Confederate soldier? A Union soldier? Their wives, children or parents? How would it be told by their descendants living today? What is that story like from the perspective of a former slave or her descendants? A Native American, Mexican, Canadian, or immigrant from Germany, Ireland or China? How would a general’s version of that war differ from a corporal’s, or a politician’s? The story changes to suit the storyteller and there is no single story for any occurrence. The same goes for those stories that we deem auspicious enough to be called “history,“ for history is written by those who wield the power to write and publish it. The Sea of Tranquility is not concerned with one version of history, but many histories told from the viewpoints of many characters.
The Sea of Tranquility’s performers came out of circumstance and happenstance from a variety of backgrounds: dance, theatre, music, puppetry, filmmaking, costume design—in short, everything we needed for the show. I handed them an outline of the script, and we played theatre games that built into techniques for improvisation and character development. I’d take notes during our rehearsals, and then turn these notes into bits of a script, which the performers then expanded upon with stagecraft, choreography and musicality. After rehearsing scenes, we each gave feedback on what worked, as well as suggestions for what could change. Through this methodology, we collectively scripted the play, both offsite in Philadelphia and onsite at Rutherfurd Hall in Allamuchy, with each cast member taking leadership based on their personal strengths.
Many of the ideas in the play were inspired by other sources, including interviews with longtime residents of Warren County, research into New Jersey history and folklore, and science history that put Lewis Morris Rutherfurd's astrophotography into context. The wood engravings of Mexican printmaker J.G. Posada (1852-1913) were also a big inspiration. Posada provided many images of political events and environmental disasters for the press in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His woodcut illustrations, along with others from that time period, appear in the show.
- Abumrad, Jad and Robert Krulwich. Radiolab: Escape. (New York: WNYC, 2012. Podcast.) This episode of the popular science podcast recounts Isaac Newton's process of deducing why the Moon revolves around the Earth.
- Beck, Henry Chalton. "The White Pilgrim of Dark Moon." Tales and Towns of New Jersey. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1964. Print.) 26-47. Henry Beck goes into great detail recounting conversations about the mysterious man from Ohio who rode into Warren County on a white horse, as well as the road and cemetery associated with him.
- Botton, Alain de. “Atheism 2.0” (TED, 2011. Podcast and video available online)
- Burke, James. The Day the Universe Changed. TV series, 10 episodes. (London: BBC, 1985. Video.) Science historian James Burke was the BBC's correspondent on the Apollo Space Program and then went on to make the landmark series Connections in 1978. His series from 1985 is Burke at his peak, tying all of human history and invention to space exploration through an auto-ethnographically Western lens.
- Ervey, Cassie with Nicole Lindow and Melissa Maltese. Allamuchy: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. (2002. Print.)
- Jensen, Derrick. A Language Older Than Words. (White River Junction: Chelsea Green, 2004. Print.) In his memoir, Jensen writes about inter-species communication, making deals with ducks and coyotes, and listening to trees and stars.
- Johnson, Helen R. History of Allamuchy Township, Warren County, NJ: 100th Anniversary. (1973. Print.)
- Neill, John R. The Wonder City of Oz. (Chicago: Reilly & Lee, 1940. Print.) Neill was an illustrator of the Oz series created by Frank L. Baum and then took over as series author for four books from 1940-45. Jenny Jump was one of his main characters, inspired by the many places named for the original Jenny Jump in New Jersey.
- Nelhart, John G. Black Elk Speaks. (New York: Washington Square Press, 1972. Print.) Nelhart recounts his experience listening to Nicolas Black Elk, a Lakota Sioux elder who tells American history from a native perspective.
- Posada, J.G. Messenger of Mortality. (Mt. Kisco: Moyer Bell Limited, 1989. Print.) Posada made many engravings of disasters for the Mexican press in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We used these to depict references to blizzards, earthquakes, tornados, volcanos and other apocalyptic events.
- Sagan, Carl. Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. TV series, 13 episode. (PBS, 1979,) Video. Carl Sagan's classic series poetically illustrates the universe and our place in it, and how we have come to know what we know about it.
- Weird New Jersey (Website.) An invaluable reference for things to do and see in the Garden State includes some histories of Jenny Jump, Panther Valley and other ghosts from the past.