Hilary Mantel, the author of the “Wolf Hall” novels which are now being adapted to the stage, was asked by the New York Times recently: How does it feel to see your characters come to life?
She responded by asking another question: When were the characters dead?
Indeed. The characters for TEST are very much alive and part of the life of TEST co-authors Krista and Jamie. The TEST story hinges on the life of people named Luke, Sophie, Tony, Alex, Tina and others who have now become as much a part of the authors’ lives as their own children.
Krista and Jamie have been collaborating on projects for more than 10 years. Krista was the director of the first play that Jamie wrote. Jamie helped Krista write the first play she penned.
Since then, Jamie has written more than a dozen plays that have been presented at venues such as the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, the Chameleon Theater in Minneapolis, the FEATS theater festival in Brussels, and other locations. Krista, meanwhile, has directed some important plays and musicals over the years, including Rent, Don Juan in Soho, and A Streetcar Named Desire.
TEST, for obvious reasons, takes pride of place among their works. It has become a part of their lives. A typical TEST working session always includes conversations about and with the characters, ranging from questions such as “Do you think Tony would be upset at you Sophie if he saw you drinking too much?” to statements such as “I know that Luke will like it if he gets a second chance to stay in Happyville.”
The composer of TEST, Jakob Vinje, has stepped in to provide deep-reaching emotional qualities to the TEST characters. He has given musical expression to their needs, desires, and struggles. For example, the plight of the character Tina, whose personality is basically flippant and cynical, is highlighted in the song “Testing,” when Tina is looking for a donor for her brother Tim. Her punk-rock style now becomes intensely personal and melodic, the right music to match her mood at the time.
The deft composer’s hand of Jakob, who has written several musicals as well as music for film, is evident throughout TEST. He has added dimensions to the characters’ personalities. And that’s what an opera should do: the music will tell you as much about the characters and their development and emotions as the words they sing and the actions they take.