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Under the hood of ‘Under Milk Wood’: Director’s cut

Poet Dylan Thomas

Poet Dylan Thomas

By Emilie Whelan

EDITOR”S NOTE: Shows often have a seasonal run — a string of four-day weekends over a six- to eight-week period. But peering out from under the heap of rubble that is the New Orleans Fringe Fest, the local Cripple Creek Theatre Company has officially wrapped its fall production of “Possum Kingdom” for a two-night only showing of “Under Milk Wood: In the Walking Haze.” Slated as an immersive aural experience, this is a rendition of the 1954 radio drama by poet Dylan Thomas. The evening is made up of  a three-course maritime-inspired meal and all you can drink “Buggerall” cocktails to enjoy during the musical performance, which includes an original soundscape by New Orleans favorite Alex McMurray, of the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus.

This week, we’ll hear from the source of each of the production elements: the director on this collaborative and interactive vision, the chef on creating a “maritime-inspired” menu, and Alex McMurray on delving head first into the radio genre through music composition. 

Here is Cripple Creek Director Emilie Whelan on the making of “Under Milk Wood.”

Emilie Whelan

Emilie Whelan

Under Milk Wood: in the Walking Haze is a project two years in the making. I first read Dylan Thomas’ radio play, Under Milk Wood, as a teenager and was moved by the language — the raucous, lyrical, gnarly poetry that captured a day in the life of a small city. I saw the play performed live on three different occasions when I lived in New York City and was let down by each of them. There was something that radio-play format captured — some visceral imagination — that staged versions never surpass.

When I first saw Alex McMurray and the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus perform their sea-chanty sing-along at the Saturn Bar three years ago, the maritime themes and revelry brought me back to this play. After directing The Madwoman of Chaillot in 2010 with working musician Ratty Scurvics and directing Lysistrata in 2012 with musician Aurora Nealand, I was ready to explore a new a format of a play with an outstanding New Orleans musician: the radio-play. I approached WRBH Reading Radio, and as an airing partner, together we applied and received support from the Jazz and Heritage Foundation and Arts Council of New Orleans.

company members Jim Wright, Shannon Flaherty, and Emilie Whelan during rehearsal for "Under Milkwood"

company members Jim Wright, Shannon Flaherty, and Emilie Whelan during rehearsal for “Under Milkwood”

After several readings in my living room with 20+ ensemble members scrunched in circles, reading and bringing Under Milk Wood to life with only voice, we boiled the cast down to 11 actors to play over 40 roles. In May of 2013, we spent one solid weekend at the House of 1000HZ recording studio in the Bywater. Sound engineer extraordinaire Betsy Lindell began working on a polished, hour long recording, and Alex McMurray of the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus began composing original songs based on the sea-chanty format.

We are now bringing the radio play to life at the Saturn Bar with a production that explores all senses of the Dylan Thomas world…with some surprises. The production will live on when we hand our recording over to WRBH Radio for their airing pleasure this Winter. 

“Under Milk Wood” can be seen this upcoming weekend only (Dec 21-22). Experience a three-course maritime meal, themed cocktails, live music, and a radio-play performance. Buy tickets here.


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