Queen Lear

A Drama With Music

Conceived and Created by David Grapes
Music/Vocal Arrangements by Vince di Mura

Production Requirements

Cast
12 Women & 8 Men
Plus Ensemble

Orchestration
Studio music tracks available
Orchestration available

Setting
Unit Set

From the dewy moors and swirling mists of an ancient land comes a tale of madness, magic, betrayal, war, love, and the quest for a tortured soul’s ultimate dignity. Lear, the vain tribal Queen and Shamaness of the Pictish Orcades, foolishly abdicates her throne, dividing the land between her three daughters. But an act of simple humility soon casts the realm into chaos, and Lear becomes a helpless pawn in a bloody grab for absolute power. Lear as you’ve never seen it before, this unforgettable gender-bending adaptation of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy is accompanied by an original score of haunting, heart-pounding music that will appeal to fans of Enya and Clannad..

Queen Lear – Musical Numbers

Act I

Funeral Offering High Priestess & Ensemble
The Lullaby Lear & Cordelia
Goneril’s Offering Goneril
Regan’s Offering Regan
Cordelia’s Offering Cordelia
The Storm (Part One) Cordelia

Act II

The Storm (Part Two) Cordelia
Lear’s Song Lear & Ensemble
Fool’s Warning The Fool
Child Rowland Etain, Cordelia, & Ensemble
Funeral Exit Ensemble
Lullaby Finale Queen Lear and Cordelia
Spirit Arise Ensemble

Studio Cast Recording and Music Tracks Available
Music tracks are available for the productions and music can be played live onstage, using period instruments if budgets allow. There is a heavy use of drums to accompany dance, chant, indicate battle, etc., as well as flutes and stringed instruments (lyres, lutes, etc.).

Reviews

Under Construction

Character Descriptions

QUEEN LEAR – Queen of the Orcades in what is now Northern Scotland, a rocky series of islands on the North Sea. She is old, but her strength and beauty are timeless. She doubles as both warrior queen and shamaness/high priestess of the tribe. She is the mother of life and bears a giant water tattoo. She is a being of great magic and great rage, which has won many wars. Now, at the end of her reign, she has become vain, weary, and decadent. Rather than ruling until her death, as is tribal custom, she has abdicated her throne and divided her land and power amongst her daughters.

GONERIL – Lear’s eldest daughter. Trained to be a great warrior, as strong and fierce as any man, and just as hardened. She is constantly scheming and manipulating to increase her lot in the world. A brilliant liar. She bears a giant fire tattoo.

REGAN – Lear’s middle daughter. She is strong-willed and cruel, but will always follow Goneril’s lead in any plans they make together. Yet behind her façade of obedience to her sister’s schemes, she only feigns a sense of submission. She is incredibly intelligent and possesses a gift of foresight and prophecy, which has been corrupted by her lust for power. She bears a giant earth tattoo.

CORDELIA – Lear’s youngest daughter and object of her mother’s deepest affection until Lear banishes her. Truly loyal, she is unaffected by the trappings of wealth, power, or fame. Human affection and a respect for the natural world drive her purity of spirit and guide her inner magic. She bears a giant wind tattoo.

GLOUCESTER – A wise and faithful female elder of Lear’s tribe. The voice of reason and compassion in all courtly affairs, she is highly respected by all of the tribe’s leaders and warriors. Widowed when the love of her life died in battle, she was raped by a soldier and became pregnant, ultimately giving birth to Ethne. She dotes on Etain, but does not reject Ethne.

ETAIN – Legitimate daughter to Gloucester. Her father, the love of her mother’s life, was killed in battle. She has pledged to safeguard her mother in her father’s absence. The victim of circumstance and Ethne’s scheming. She is loyal and generous, a morally upstanding individual. She flees from her mother’s house when wrongly accused, but rather than seek immediate revenge she bides her time and administers compassionate justice on Ethne. She dresses like a madman in order to remain in the kingdom and protect her mother and ends up becoming the queen’s caretaker as well. She bears a giant fairy tattoo.

ETHNE – Bastard daughter to Gloucester, a child of rape. Her soul has been wounded by her origins and her inability to hold a legitimate place in the tribe, despite Gloucester’s lack of animosity towards her. She is mannish and spiteful, a tomboy. Trained herself to be excellent with a sword and taught herself to read. Incredibly intellectual, morally a predecessor to Machiavelli. She bears a giant dragon tattoo.

AILIS – Lear’s faithful friend and true counselor. She is capable of great sacrifice of body and spirit and has pledged her fealty to the queen. Ailis regards that loyalty is a lifelong vow. She is a strong warrior and has always born herself with courage and integrity. She recognizes Cordelia’s strength of spirit and seeks to protect it as well.

FOOL – A young man not unlike the changeling boy from Midsummer. The Queen’s personal servant and male “pet.” His humor comes primarily from ironic wordplay and sarcasm, turning the situations around him upside down. He is a fragile soul able to see the truth in difficult situations. He becomes a substitute for the grandchildren the Queen does not have.

THANE OF KIRKWALL – Husband to Regan. Rash, quick to action, vicious and merciless. Strict and authoritarian. Stubborn. Constantly fighting his wife for domination of their household and his lands. Always seeking to prove himself.

THANE OF ABERDOUR – Husband to Goneril. A strategist more than a soldier. His biggest fault is that he loves his wife dearly, but knows that she will always regard her thirst for power above any real affection for him as a man or lover. A good man at heart, he has lost his way by participating in his wife’s schemes.

KING OF GAUL – Leader of the Gauls in what is now France, he is distinguished and mannered, a living representation of his people. The Gauls, though savage fighters, are more civilized than Lear’s tribe, with formal,

decorated uniforms, banners, and tents. Gaul is kind and generous, sympathetic to Cordelia’s plight, even if he does not love her in a romantic way.

PRINCE OF BRITTANY Young, handsome, likely will be a good leader once he matures. On the surface, he loves Cordelia very much and shows much devotion to her. However, he has been sent on a mission by his father to marry her in order to form a political, military, and financial alliance with Lear’s tribe. When Cordelia is disinherited, he sees these plans fall apart, so he must return to his homeland and negotiate another similar courtship and marriage with another tribe.

OSWALD – Goneril’s servant. Vain, shifty, cruel, a bit unhinged, a bully. A loose cannon that seeks out discord and violence wherever he can find it. Fiercely loyal to Goneril. An inept swordsman and coward.

CURAN – A female courtier in Gloucester’s house. Respectful, deferential.

SHAMANESS – A wizened old woman who possesses great powers of second sight and healing. Cordelia takes her to Gaul as a remnant of her tribe’s religion. She later returns to Orkney to minister to Queen Lear.

HIGH PRIESTESS – A tall woman, striking looks with a high soprano voice. She leads and sings the opening song, which is sung in Gaelic.

OLD WOMAN – A tenant on the heath on Gloucester’s estate. Most likely makes her living by selling peat cut from the bogs on the heath. Maternal and compassionate, she possesses a spirit of great hospitality.

CAPTAIN – Male soldier employed by Ethne.

GENTLEMAN – Attendant on Cordelia

PICTISH WARRIORS – Female

GAUL WARRIORS – Male

ATTENDANTS, MESSENGERS, SERVANTS – The cast size may be reduced by doubling or increased by adding ensemble members.
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Creator’s Notes

ORIGINAL PRE-PRODUCTION CONCEPT
In this radical, dynamic reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, we transpose the action of the tragedy to Northern Scotland’s Orkney Islands in the 5th- 6th century AD, and place the iconic central role in the hands of a female actor to bring a fresh perspective to the play. Told from the perspective of the dead Cordelia, time unfolds before our eyes in a celebration of ancient magic and music, unlike any version of Lear ever produced before.
In the mythical “Orcades,” great tribal warrior/shamanessess queens have ruled since the Neolithic Era. The last of these, Queen Lear, was defeated not by Scandinavian invaders or by internal revolution from within her people, but rather by her own arrogance and misguided sense of human infallibility. She divides the queendom between her daughters, the land’s rightful heirs, only to banish her youngest child Cordelia, after she fails a test of fealty to her mother. The remaining daughters, Regan and Goneril, conspire to rid the queendom of the queen’s influence for their own benefit and slowly torture her into madness. Additionally, the Thane of Gloucester and her daughters are unwittingly pulled into the power struggle, with catastrophic results. In the end, death conquers all and the sun rises on a new era for the tribe, as a man takes his place on the throne for the first time in centuries.
The gender reversals in the proposed casting of this production not only provide significant roles for female actors, to which they might otherwise never have an opportunity to bring their own unique vision, but it also contextualizes the actions and themes of the play within a historical perspective of the Earth goddess-based religions of the pre-Christian Celtic peoples who inhabited Northern Scotland for centuries. Basing the play’s action within such a matriarchal sociopolitical system not only endows a female Lear with immense feminine strength but it also transforms the text’s emphasis on familial bonds as a motif to reflect the betrayal and re-assertion of a maternal sensibility and sensitivity to Lear, Cordelia, Gloucester, and Edgar.
In addition to these choices, the tribal setting of the play allows for incredible theatricality that can only intensify the emotional core of the drama, incorporating Celtic music, dance, combat, magic, and a sense of formal ritual that informs the culture of the time and place.


DRAMATURGICAL STRATEGIES
In this adaptation process, we plan to implement a cutting of the script that emphasizes the role of Lear and results in a performance structure of two production acts, with an ideal total running time of 2.5 hours, including intermission. In order to do this, we will consolidate dramatic locations whenever possible. Some minor characters will also be consolidated as well to perform multiple functions. We will open the production with Cordelia’s funeral, leading to a scene in which Lear, heartbroken, sings a lullaby to her daughter’s lifeless body. From this moment emerges a magical fragmenting of the narrative, in which the ghost of Cordelia emerges to take the audience back to when the story began. We are transported to the raucous feast and dance marking the end of the Queen’s reign, which serves as the inciting incident at the beginning of the tragedy. Throughout the course of the performance, Cordelia’s ghost wanders in and out of the action, providing commentary and emotional resonance for certain moments. Finally, at the play’s conclusion, we return to Cordelia’s funeral, which we relive once more, but with greater context. Queen Lear dies of a broken heart and the ghost of Cordelia returns to Lear’s body and sings the same lullaby that was sung to her, and leads the ghost of Lear into eternity. Her one true daughter by her side. Research into the primitive folklore and social traditions of ancient Scotland will play a major role in determining the specific physical language of the play. The casting of runes and possible animal sacrifice, coupled with shamanessic chants and trances, may inform the scene in which Lear divides her queendom. It is important to emphasize that the female tribal leader of this world of women is not merely the queen, but one who has proven herself repeatedly to be its primary warrior, healer, and religious leader as well. Additionally, the legend and mythology of the warrior queen Boadicea will inform our reading of Lear as a female tribal leader.

The pivotal mad/storm scene will be informed by magic and psychology. Because she is a shamanessess endowed with the power over nature, her internal emotional state summons the storm into being, through chanting and incantations, as well as silencing it as she retreats into her own subconscious. For example, she may summon the storm into existence with magic spells, but as her mind becomes further and further disconnected from the natural world around her in her grief and rage, the deafening sounds and effects of the storm suddenly cease, and we witness a desperate woman alone on a still cliffside raging, trapped by the intensity of her broken internal mind.


We have incorporated the texts of ancient Celtic incantations, charms, and songs, into the script, as well as researching authentic Celtic music styles of the period to be reflected in the sound design. Lear and Cordelia and the Fool will be expected to sing throughout the drama (and ideally, the Fool would be able to play an instrument to accompany some of the singing). We have also be researched alternate versions of Shakespeare’s play, as well as other dramatic and prose versions of the story (including the anonymous King Leir and the accounts from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and Holinshed’s Chronicles) to cull possible text for songs, poems, and other minor insertions into the performance text, specifically in moments of heightened theatricality. This tactic is used sparingly and with great dramaturgical discretion, always in deference to Shakespeare’s canonical text.


PRODUCTION NOTES
The physical setting of the piece will be inspired by the harsh shorelines and stone circles and henges of Neolithic Britain, specifically existing monuments that stand to this day in Orkney. Kirks and burial mounds will be referenced in the stage geography – a world of stone and sky and water, and ultimately, emptiness. While the physical personae of the female characters are firmly planted in the Celtic traditions of their time, the male characters, with the exception of the Fool, will exhibit Norse traditions of costumes, hair, and weaponry. That is not to say that the female roles are defenseless; these women will possess their own sense of military strength and their own armor and weapons, to illustrate the strength of their society in these rough lands for thousands of years.


Any visible written language should be indicated as stone/wood carvings in Ogham, or the “Celtic Tree Alphabet” found on early artifacts such as the Buckquoy spindle-whorl. The entire world should feel like it has been carved out of the stone that juts out around the characters from the lonesome moors and cliffs.


Music tracks are available for the productions and music can be played live onstage, using period instruments if budgets allow. There is a heavy use of drums to accompany dance, chant, indicate battle, etc., as well as flutes and stringed instruments (lyres, lutes, etc.).


THE USE OF GAELIC LANGUAGE
The world of Queen Lear is one of magic and imagination and poetry, but it is informed by historical research about the Scottish Orcades and the Pictish tribes that inhabited them until roughly 800-900 AD. Audience members will note that Shakespeare’s language has been accentuated by segments of Gaelic language, poetry, and song. While basic Celtic language forms were introduced to Scotland as early as the 4th century AD, the Picts of Orkney utilized their own distinct language forms, most of which survive in intricate stone carvings that are more ideographic in nature than representative of vocal sounds. As there is no extant record of spoken Pictish language, the creative team behind Queen Lear made the decision to weave Gaelic translations of Shakespearean texts (from sources as diverse as the Sonnets, As You Like It, and Hamlet) and other assorted texts (including a lullaby by Robert Burns) into the tapestry of the play’s exotic sights and sounds. This decision was more about the creation of an evocative mood than historical accuracy, and capturing the haunting spirit of music from Celtic traditions that have been reintroduced to contemporary society by such artists as Enya and Celtic Women during the Celtic Fusion revival of the 1990s.

Creator’s Bios

David Grapes II

David Grapes II

Creator

David is an Emeritus Professor of Theatre at the University of Northern Colorado, where he served as the Founding Director of the School of Theatre Arts and Dance and Producing Artistic Director for The Little Theatre of the Rockies for 15 years. An award-winning director, actor, drama critic and playwright, David has provided administrative and artistic leadership for a wide variety of theatrical institutions including two professional regional (LORT) theatre companies. An active member of SDC and AEA his work as a stage director (250+ productions) and actor has been seen at major regional theatres across the United States. As a DGA member, David is the creator or co-creator of eight original musical revues, six plays and numerous adaptations (www.summerwindproductions.com), which have enjoyed over 500 productions worldwide. David holds a BA from Glenville State College and an MFA in Acting/Directing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Vince di Mura

Vince di Mura

Arranger

Vince is a composer, arranger, jazz pianist and musical director; appearing on concert stages and theatres throughout North America, Canada, Europe and Latin America. He is currently the Resident Musical Director and Composer for the Lewis Center of the Arts at Princeton University, where he has served since 1987. He has conducted theatre seasons and fulfilled numerous compositional commissions at theatre across the U.S. His arrangements for Summerwind Productions include “My Way,” “Christmas My Way,” “Simply Simone” and “I Left My Heart.”  Mr. di Mura is also the author and curator of “A Conversation with the Blues:” A 14 part web instructional series on improvisation through the Blues, Produced by Soundfly Inc. Vince has 6 CDs on the market including his most recent release, “Meditations on the Sacred Heart.”  All of which are available at CDBaby.com and any number of internet outlets. 

Credits

PROGRAM CREDITS FOR TITLE PAGE

Conceived by David Grapes
Freely Adapted by David Grapes and Robert Neblett
Arrangements and Original Music by Vince diMura
Original Dramaturgy by Robert Neblett

Premiere Production
University of Northern Colorado – Starring Lucy Peacock
Directed by David Grapes

Special Thanks

Anna Landy, Lucy Peacock, Shelly Gaza, Steven McDonald

Queen Lear – Audio

Queen Lear – Act Two – Cordelia Conjures the Great Storm

by Anna Landy

Contact Us

Summerwind Productions, LLC – Box 430, Windsor, CO 80528          Email: Summerwindprod@hotmail.com