The Dream Engine : Arena Stage 1972

Funding request letter by producer Zelda Fichandler, Labor Day 1971. Page 1.

Source photos

Zelda Fichandler, Arena Stage
Funding for aspects of a production of a rock-theater piece scheduled for production in the Kreeger - to open January 12, previews beginning January 7, rehearsals scheduled to begin December 7.
Funds are being asked only for those aspects of production which are over and above our normally budgeted costs, including the budgeted deficit.

The Dream Engine

The Dream Engine is by Jim Steinman, a 22-year old genius who wrote the book, lyrics and the music for this most extraordinary rock opera. With it, he breaks new ground. The Dream Engine is the most exciting theater piece I have come across since the beginning of Arena Stage.

It was sent to me by his agent, Bertha Case. Peter Brook had a series of meetings with Jim in Stratford while he was directing Midsummer Night's Dream and wanted to take a year out to direct it but became involved with his Institute of Theatrical Research in Paris. He advised Jim that it not be evolved in New York via regular commercial routes but outside of it. The production was first done at Amherst College, of which Jim is a graduate, and - despite the fact that an inadequate sound system made the lyrics undistinguishable and that the company as an amateur one - the young audience was overwhelmed by the theme and by the rook sound. Jim's interest in the future of the work is to reach an audience all around the country, including New York, and, of course, a record. There is a Broadway producer who has become interested in its future and Arena Stage is currently in discussions with him.

In my opinion, The Dream Engine is as much for adult audiences as it is for young audiences. It is more an opera than a musical, except that its book is an important part of it. It is very real although it is rooted in fantasy. It is hard to classify or describe. It is something altogether original.

The Dream Engine stands in contrast and opposition to the “hippie” musical HAIR, which has now outlived its day. It concerns itself with a “tribe” of young people, its initiation rites, its view of itself and of the civilisation that has brought it to the brink of extinction. It takes place at the outskirts of a burned-out city on the West Coast in a kind of detection-center for the young. The through-action is the attempt of the “establishment” in the guise of two people, Max and Emily, who are constantly changing roles (father, survivor of a concentration camp, policeman, nun, seductress, etc. etc.) to lure back the young. The hero is Baal, leader of the tribe, like them bewildered, lonely, veins filled with chemical blood. The metaphor of the piece is a nightmare / dream. The lyrics are poems of a high order. The rock sounds invigorate and re-imagine this musical idiom. While the script needs some reorganisation and rewriting, and additional songs, this work is already underway through a small playwriting grant given by the Ford Foundation to Jim to free his time.

The Dream Engine is a serious artwork. Serious, but not pompous. It has it's “Hair” numbers - though they stand in self-awareness of this kind of hippie culture that the older generation is apt to take for real. It braids together elements of vaudeville, Greek chorus, farce, character transformation as in the commedia, ritual, and recognisable character relationships. It is full of pain and outrage, of innocence lost and probably never to be regained, of the deepest and saddest questioning about the Fall of The Empire. The last Fall, the Fall before that one, the Fall before that one, and then This Fall. It is hysterical, wise, witty, frightening and altogether astonishing.

It is almost impossible to believe that Jim is only in his early twenties, and it is a great responsibility to handle his first work with all the love and care that can be summoned from all available sources.

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