Inspired By: Theatre Lab Fellows Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson on Fantasia, Opera
(L-R) Lisa Peterson, Denis O'Hare, and Creative Advisor Janice Paran. Photo by Jonathan Hickerson © Sundance Institute
Inspired By: Theatre Lab Fellows Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson on Fantasia, Opera
Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare chat during a walk at Sundance Resort during the 2014 Theatre Lab.

Inspired By: Theatre Lab Fellows Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson on Fantasia, Opera and more

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Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson recently wrapped up their work at the three-week Theatre Lab at Sundance Resort where they rehearsed, revised, and rewrote parts of their in-progress play The Good Book. The play tells the story of how the Christian Bible became the most powerful collection of texts in human history. Below, the writing duo discuss their sources of creative inspiration for sundance.org.

We were asked by Sundance to respond to the following question:

“Identify the music, writing, art, or other relevant work that has inspired you, along with a brief account of how it has shaped your creative identity.”

Of course, like all good artists, we didn’t exactly follow the directions. We decided to do it a little like an interview. And since we often work by Skype or email, this is what it feels like. Here’s what we came up with:

On Jul 28, 2014, at 1:45 PM, Lisa Peterson wrote:

Ok, these things popped in my head while I was taking a shower, and thinking in the direction of our giant, wild The Good Book:

1. Fantasia (the Disney film)

(Denis writes back)
When did you first see it? Who did you see it with? How old were you? What are the one or two things that stood out to you about Fantasia? How do you think it affected the way you write/see the world?

(Lisa writes back)
Oh I was tiny – like maybe 6? 7? The crazy shifts, like from the dancing elephants – so fun! …to the sorcerer's apprentice, which scared me.

2. Caryl Churchill's plays (especially Cloud Nine and Mad Forest)

(Denis writes back)
Where and when did you see it? Did these plays surprise you or scare you or upset you in any way? Did you want to direct them? What about them was the most revolutionary for you?

(Lisa writes back)
I think I saw the first NY productions of both. I remember them as raw but also very theatrical, colorful. Nothing like a movie or any other art form. Big ideas, but expressed with such theatrical freedom.

3. Picasso's “Guernica” (in person)

(Denis writes back)
 What was your absolute first reaction when you came into the room with it? What do you think it means? Have you ever tried to paint?  

(Lisa writes back)
When I came around the corner, it hit me like a wave knocks you down in the ocean. It's in Madrid, I think in the Reina Sofia. And the weird thing is, it's a kind of small room, so you're standing, oh maybe 6 feet away. You can't get back from it. And it's violent but also beautiful. Somehow, he puts you smack in the battlefield. But with such abstraction. And no, I never have painted – that's a good question.

4. Pacific Ocean

(Denis writes back)
Do you like to swim? Are you scared at all of sharks and other sea creatures? Have you ever been scuba diving? Have you ever surfed? What is your favorite thing to do in the Pacific Ocean? How exactly does the Pacific Ocean inspire you?

(Lisa writes back)
Just sitting on the beach and watching it move. I'm a California girl.... (but I've never surfed).

Lisa signs off with: This is fun :)

On Jul 28, 2014, at 10:50 AM, Denis O'Hare  wrote:

1. Travel (India).

(Lisa writes back)
Was there one strong moment you remember most?

(Denis writes back)
There wasn't one strong moment – mostly it's a blur of color and the most glorious madness mixed with heat and smiling faces.

2. The Human Voice/Opera Arias/Countess in Marriage of Figaro - Dove Sono, Ariadne Auf Naxos - Ein Schones War

(Lisa writes back)
If you had to name one, which would it be? And could you describe it? By "Human Voice," you mean the French Le Voix Humaine? What is it about opera that turns you on?

(Denis writes back)
There is something about one person singing in the dark that I find incredibly moving. For me it usually occurs deep in an opera when a character is at a turning point of some kind. These moments are clear-eyed or sentimental, but are usually clear-eyed and often ironic or wistful. I guess I like complicated emotions. In Ariadne Auf Naxos, the aria ein Schones War comes out of a swirling mix of horns and strings – Strauss at his mystical best – hard to even find the rhythm but the effect is overwhelming. Talking about music really is one of the most futile things in the world!

3. Books - Mrs. Dalloway/ A Prayer for Owen Meany

(Lisa writes back)
GREAT – Mrs. Dalloway for me too, I never knew we shared that. What about it inspires you? When did you read it?

(Denis writes back)
When I read Mrs. Dalloway, it was after college. I was on a betterment kick. Read all the great books. I read it almost in one sitting and the crazy way in which she captures the way the mind works was what really stuck with me. She makes you feel as if you are smarter than you really are.

4. People: People who make things.

(Lisa writes back)
What pops in your mind as an example?

(Denis writes back)
I guess I’m thinking more about objects than art. The guy who came up with the zipper, for example. Or any inventor. To create something that didn't exist before – to have the imagination to envision it and then the perseverance to see it through. That's what I admire.