The War Dept., a new musical about rebuilding America after the Civil War, began workshop readings at the O’Neill National Music Theater Conference June 28.
The War Dept. features libretto, music and lyrics written by Jim Bauer, winner of the 2014 O’Neill Music Theater Conference Georgia Bogardus Holof Award. The libretto, art and video direction of The War Dept. were written by Ruth Bauer.
The director of the O’Neill readings of The War Dept. is Obie Award winner Melia Bensussen.
Playbill.com speaks with Bensussen about The War Dept. workshops and working with the writers of the musical. What grabbed you about this musical The War Dept.?
Melia Bensussen: I love the complexity to address complicated issues with humor and insight. And I love the music.
Have you worked with Jim and Ruth Bauer before?
MB: Jim, Ruth and I have been working together for a year on this musical. But this is our first time of working together.
How did you set the musical into the right rhythm and proper pace? MB: It is like directing plays. You feel the rhythm from the language and we have a very talented cast that also knows how to pick up a rhythm from a page. As a director, to give the actors a sense of urgency and action is helpful. What is great about working with the writers and music director in the room is that we can all work together.
What did you do to make sure the actors get the proper interpretation of their roles?
MB: I am a big believer of including everybody intellectually in the process. If actors understand your thinking, they can join you in the work.
What impact does the lighting create for the show? What kind of mood?
MB: I think part of the pleasure of this piece is a lot of different moods. It lives in a place of surrealities and absurdism, but it has very genuine emotional underpinnings.
What is the subject and theme of this musical?
MB: I think one of the subjects is the difficulty of dealing with the chaos and sufferings of war.
What do you think O'Neill Conference is going to do for this piece? MB: Being here at the conference is such a gift because we have talented collaborators who will help us define what works and what wasn’t. We are also getting feedback from audiences.