Do You Nomi? Blog #4

Blog Entry #4:

Do You Nomi?

                Although "SAGA" is far from a true story, it is inspired and influenced by myriad sources. Those who know me will know that I can't help but be influenced by David Bowie, with whom I've been obsessed since my childhood thanks to "Labyrinth". But there are many more direct parallels in this show. SAGA follows the story of Aleric Volsung, a gay German singer living through the AIDS crisis, who has operatic ambitions and flamboyant performances. Many of Aleric's  qualities mirror those of Klaus Nomi, the real-life Bavarian counter-tenor/flamboyant performance artist who actually performed in a camp version of Wagner's Rhinegold in the early 70's. From the late 70's through his AIDS-related death in the early 80's, Nomi became an important figure in the New York City arts scene, performing arias, pop covers and original songs with his band. If you aren't familiar, he is well worth a YouTube search.

                Klaus Nomi was clearly a fringe act, in his time. And he died too soon, succumbing to AIDS in 1983, but other unusual musicians would soon rise to prominence. Another inspiration for Aleric is Boy George. I still find it striking that Culture Club reached the renown it did in this polarized cultural landscape. Aleric is sort of a Klaus Nomi act on a Boy George level of renown.

                SAGA also features my own musical depictions of actual figures from the time period. In our upcoming concert reading, people will see the stiff upper lip of Margaret Thatcher. And though there is a song in the show entitled "Iron Lady", I promise you: I wrote it before I was aware of the eponymous Meryl Streep vehicle.

                But another huge influence on the show is my personal fascination with the origins and evolution of HIV/AIDS within our culture. AIDS hasn't been around very long. It's only a few years older than me, and yet the damage it's wrought has been immeasurable. When I was in public school health class, all I remember hearing about was AIDS. I remember feeling absolutely terrorized by the very notion of AIDS. Think about how nightmarish it was in those early years!

                I have often imagined what my life would have been like if I'd been born a little earlier and had to face the shocking suddenness of the disease. It appeared from nowhere and devastated the gay community. When I talk to my elders, I often hear tales of lost loves, of entire groups of friends entirely obliterated by the disease. Moreover, I think of the detractors... I think of the evangelicals who preach that God Hates Fags and how vindicated they must have been at the way this disease spread among the gay community. Granted, I realize I'm not the first person to write a piece of theatre dealing with AIDS... Trey Parker and Matt Stone lampooned the very idea in "Team America: World Police", with the song "Everyone Has AIDS". But, unlike "Rent", "Falsettoes" and other shows that deal with AIDS, SAGA has a significant amount of distance from the period being depicted. The world is very different today and SAGA certainly looks at the recent past with an eye on the present and how things were to turn out.

                SAGA is not about AIDS or HIV, in my opinion. But the disease factors into the plot in a very significant way. It was another dark, dark part of that decade that was abysmally mishandled and we are still suffering for it today. For all the information disseminated and all the medical advances made; the stigma has changed very little. I have more than a few people in my life who are HIV positive. People whom I love and respect. The issues that they face daily from without and within trouble me greatly and were a huge reason I wrote this piece the way I did.

In my next entry, I'll let you all in on a bit of the rehearsal process as we plough toward production! For the saga of SAGA is far from over...

-Erik Ransom
Resident Artist 2012


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