Writing the Score of The Vault: Bankrupt in Three Days

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The cast of "The Vault: Bankrupt"

There it is. The adrenaline rush. The sudden spike of energy jolting up from my stomach, then sounding off the following urgent message to my brain — OK babe, you have 72 hours to compose a new conceptual musical piece for the theater! Do it. Don’t think. Just do it. It’s due Thursday.

Ah, welcome to the Vault Ensemble and its signature three-day theatrical creation process. What with my back up against a wall of 72 hours, I have only my instincts to rely upon. No time to intellectualize. I have my muscle memory and my theatrical/musical toolbox from which, with a deadline like that, I must pull all the stops. Do it. Compose.

Jasmine Orpilla

The result is that, when the curtain goes up three days later, the amalgamated musical characters I perform onstage are suffused by the particularly raw and visceral energy that brought them to life during this creation process in the first place.

“WHAT?!” I hear the audience rumors following the show. “She did all the music? The scary actor wearing the leather and chains and wielding a whip?” “Her? The opera singer who was playing with food onstage?” “But I thought she was a hip-hop artist from Paris — she was the one rapping, too?” “I thought she was a performance artist, she was billed at the Hammer Museum, wielding a shotgun.” “But I heard also she’s a Ninja in a big punk band?” “Isn’t she a percussionist? The one dressed up like a panda onstage at the TED Conference.” “She plays the theremin, too.” “She’s the tap dancer.”

“Well, she’s the musical director of the Vault.”

Why three days, Ms. Jasmine Orpilla? Are you OK? Certainly you need more time? Especially when it comes to music that informs an entire environment onstage?

Yes. But this process is actually a tradition two years in the making in the Vault Ensemble. In its inception, I was pushed to present new work to audiences on a grueling weekly basis, in order to eliminate any of the intellectual over-analysis that can accompany the theatrical research done while collaboratively writing an original script. We’d agree upon one concept, just one theme for the week, i.e. “The Story of Greed.” Then I’d just go for it and write my new score. The body of musical work I amassed in the end would serve as a jump-off point for the next season’s full run.

The cast of "The Vault: Bankrupt"

In terms of the music I compose, I always have my voice. My piano. My splintered pair of 7A Vic Firths. My copy of Bertolt Brecht’s Uber Lyrik (for good measure). Oh, and my trusty metronome (gotta have a metronome). Absolutely no programming, no recording sessions until the score is written on paper, by the way. Because I’m old school.

In an adrenaline rush, I envision the characters onstage. I experience how they would feel to me if they suddenly rolled up beside me in the climax of their story and looked me in the eye to say “˜Hi, Jasmine. Whassup.” How would I capture the tone of their voices, their characters’ intentions, in a sound? And then, how would any specific character’s sound — once it exploded into a relationship with other characters — dictate rhythm within the arc of the story, until the whole created a world of its own? Then, what would the sound of that full world feel like, in your gut? Now, go. Compose it.

This latest creation at the LATC is entitled The Vault: Bankrupt. Pulling from a research-base of real-life stories in downtown Los Angeles, the show is a satirical observation of today’s banking systems, the fluctuating value of currency vs. counterfeiting, and the human relationship we choose to entrust with money.

Jasmine Orpilla

For Bankrupt, along with a fresh arrangement of my original Vault score, I also wrote music updating the American Depression era, whose standards I harmonically dismantled, then subliminally tucked away in musically thematic layers throughout the story. To show the protagonist’s awkward evolution, I was inspired by the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Ginger Rogers in Gold Diggers of 1933, Cabaret, Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M”, Skrillex and Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major, D. 929, to name a few.

I was inspired by the Vault Ensemble’s physical theater improvisations around the Seven  Deadly Sins as mentored by producer Jose Luis Valenzuela during the creation process. I was inspired by the absurdity of pop culture’s insidious prevalence in art, and how I, as a performer, am not necessarily immune to its result-oriented pressure. Don’t think, just do it. But that pressure inspires me, because of my knee-jerk reaction to it. I kick back because I am alive. As theater is alive. My adrenaline during the countdown to lights and curtain is absolutely honest and unapologetic. And so my music, as a result, hits you back, deep in the gut, long after the rush has subsided.

The Vault: Bankrupt, presented by Latino Theater Company. Opens March 29. Plays Thurs.- Sat. 9 pm. Through April 21. Tickets: $20.  Los Angeles Theatre Center,  514 S. Spring Street, LA. 866-811-4111. www.thelatc.org or www.thevaultdtla.com.

***All The Vault: Bankrupt production photos courtesy of The Vault Ensemble

Jasmine Orpilla is an award-winning world theater and musical performance artist. www.NinjaMamaLickum.com

Jasmine Orpilla

Jasmine Orpilla