There is a common language, little acknowledged, between the theater and the nautical world. Historically, able-bodied seamen were hired as deckhands to man the rigging in theatrical productions. This was because they were used to handling heavy equipment, ropes, and curtains from their work upon ships. Hence the reason the floor of the stage is called a "deck," and why whistling is considered bad luck in the theater: sailors communicated using whistles, and an errant whistle in the theater could inadvertently result in a piece of scenery flying down upon an actor's head. There are many other examples of these common usages, but what if we could marry the two by telling the true story, replete with authentic sea chanteys, of a tragedy that occurred aboard a whaleship that was sunk by a whale in the middle of the Pacific? What if we could exploit that common language by laying bare the traditions of both trades while pulling back the curtain on mankind's eternal quest for oil in a thrillingly theatrical way?
This is the concept for the play, "The Whaleship Essex", which tells the story of the men who attempted to survive for ninety-three days adrift in three small whaleboats. They were subjected to the same horrors they visited upon the whales they hunted, resorting not only to butchery and cannibalism, but also to acts of great courage and sacrifice. Intrinsic in this tragic story of whaling is our modern-day quest for oil, the lifeblood of our economy.
Using simple rope-and-pulley techniques inherent in both theatrical and nautical rigging, and utilizing automotive parts pulled from a junkyard to simultaneously portray the ship while drawing modern parallels to our worldwide reliance on oil, it is my vision, in concert with the imagination of our audience, to instill a sense of history, perspective and a respect for working people everywhere, who give up more than just a forty hour week for the vocation to which they are called.
Although there is music in the play, it is not a musical. They are work songs born organically from the spirit of the sailors who used them to set a cadence for the rhythmic work of hauling an anchor, bracing a sail, or rowing a whaleboat. These songs will be used onstage as a whaleship is actually assembled before the eyes of the audience. They will be used as an accompaniment to the grisly act of killing a whale and cutting up its blubber to be rendered into oil. They will be used as a funeral dirge for the spirits of their fallen comrades whose bodies are commended to the sea. They will be used to express the sense of joy a workman feels when his efforts result in a job well done.
The culture of whaling from a whaleship is a uniquely American experience. It was an experience Herman Melville endured, and after reading the story of the Essex, he was moved to create perhaps the most American of all novels.