Guest Blog: PigPen Theatre Co.

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter


We fell in love with the Mumford-esque music of PigPen, but we weren’t quite sure how to categorize them, so we asked them to write this guest blog. Read on.

“So, are you guys a band or a theatre company?” That’s a question we get asked a lot.

We’re gearing up for the opening of our newest play in NYC (called The Old Man and the Old Moon) and every time we head into Washington Square Park to play our music and hand out fliers for our play people are simultaneously intensely interested and slightly confused.  Even with the lines between theatre and music getting blurrier every day (The Flaming Lips are making a musical!  David Byrne is making a musical!  Life is Theatre, Lady Gaga!), the idea of a band originating as a theatre company is not a familiar one. “Band or theatre company?” The simple answer is “We write original folk-tales and folk-music – so… both!”, but we thought we’d share a part of our story in hopes that it might clear things up. And that you’ll like us. But mostly to clear things up.

The seven of us met as actors in the drama school at Carnegie Mellon in 2008. Our freshman year, we came together to write a short play for our school’s student festival. It ended up being a 20-minute folk-tale with one song and some shadow puppetry about a hunter who searches the woods everyday for the bear who ate his son. We really liked doing it, and people really liked watching it.  They were especially enthusiastic about the music. So when we sat down to write our second play, we also wrote a few more songs to go with it, including a song called “Bremen”. Here’s what that song sounded like 4 years ago.

During these first forays into theatre-making, we discovered how incredibly useful music could be for telling a story.  With four measures of song we could express ideas and emotions that would have taken a lengthy monologue to illustrate otherwise. The more time we spent together writing music and plays, the more our mutual and disparate musical tastes influenced our sound, and the more the music became integral to our style of story-telling. When we first met, only a few of us were musicians, but by the end of college we were each playing at least one instrument, if not two or three, and the sound was rooted firmly in folk music. With this new sound and wider range of instrumentation, “Bremen” had grown accordingly. Here’s a video of us playing that version on the beach while doing promotion on Martha’s Vineyard.

Moving to New York City after graduation in 2011, we were excited that this once college extra-curricular project was turning into something bigger. We even won some awards and got some very nice write-ups of our shows.  We were constantly being asked whether the music from the shows was available to download or buy.  Many people suggested we should start performing around town as a band.  So we decided to record an album – something that could stand on its own.  The idea was to capture the full concert sound we could hear in our heads but could never quite achieve on stage in the frenetic plays. (When you only have seven guys to act, puppeteer, operate lights, and play music, there just aren’t enough hands to go around). We decided to name the album “Bremen”, after the song that had stuck with us for so long.  And so we took a few months, chose 11 of our favorite songs we’d written over the years, and developed them into the lush, full compositions you can hear on the album. Bremen, once again, grew as we grew. Here’s our debut animated short featuring the album’s title track.

So are we band or theatre company? To really answer that question we look to our heroes, the folks we try to emulate. Be they musicians, actors, directors, animators, bands, designers, authors, composers, singers, or illustrators, they all have one thing in common… they are great storytellers. They use every tool at their disposal – music, imagery, poetry – to take you on a journey.  And on our very best day, we like to think that’s what we do. Feel free to check out the full album Bremen and tell us how we did! And for you New Yorkers, come see (and hear) our new play in Manhattan called The Old Man and The Old Moon. We hope you have as much fun listening as we did making it!

 

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