Line: “We will always be there for you, anytime you want us, why we are right inside your heads. And we promise you sets, costumes, lights, magic.” (83)
This line is so full of meaning. Within this scene, as Leading Player takes away all of the tools of manipulation, she reveals that these players do in fact live in Pippin’s mind and can live within anyone’s, suggesting that anyone can develop a mental illness. This line is slightly problematic because it has several implications: That people choose mental illness, that people want it. The first is an obvious problem. The second is slightly true. What happens when you get used to your mental illness is that it becomes a habit. Working to get rid of it is scary because you’re going to take away a part of you that makes you special- the sets, costumes, lights, magic. What will the world be like if this thing that you’ve learned to live with goes away? Popular culture glorifies pain, and as a result, glorifies mental illness. That dark, broody girl is so mysterious it makes men love her. That girl that hates herself needs to be saved by a man. How often have you compared your pain to someone else’s and wanted to win? To be the more traumatized? To show off the most scars?
Schwartz: “And the metaphor, of course, is that these self-destructive voices exist within all of us. The concept of self-destruction- the longing for death- was particularly personal to Bob.”
Staging Moment: “I Guess I’ll Miss The Man” (73)
How powerful is this woman to tell her abuser to leave her alone? To take control of her circumstances, and be vulnerable. Catherine, who has been presented as weak, feeble, silly, slightly airheaded, now commands the stage, and steals this show from Pippin. This song isn’t even listed in playbills. As a result, she not only conquers Leading Player, but the person running the lights, the conductor, and the administration. While Catherine could have allowed herself to be manipulated and controlled, she does not. In fact, Schwartz’s biographer argues that Pippin is not solely about his break from Leading Player, but Catherine’s as well. This shift in the storytelling gives her story importance at a time when women were seeking to stand up to their own power structure. This play, which has been dominated by a man’s journey, suddenly becomes equally about the happiness of a man and a woman, and Pippin is not angered or threatened by her inclusion in the narrative.
Line: “I’m not a river or a giant bird that soars to the sea. And if I’m never tied to anything I’ll never be free.” (81)
Pippin changing his mind and refusing to listen to the players is by far the most significant line in the play. He shows courage standing up against them. He demonstrates that he has learned that fulfillment is not exactly possible, but the closest you can get is to be with people that love you and that you love.
Staging Moment: “the PLAYERS begin to creep in again, focusing on THEO, smiling at him, reaching out to him.” “Gotta find my corner of the sky” (84)
This ending was not the original. Bob Fosse and Roger O. Hirson had a major falling out over the ending. Originally, Catherine asked Pippin, “How do you feel?” and he responded, “Trapped, but happy.” Fosse found “but happy” to completely cop out the entirety of the show. Fosse believed that the ending was not supposed to be happy, whereas Hirson was less pessimistic. This new ending was created in a completely separate theatre, without permission from any of the writers. When Stephen Schwartz heard about it, he thought it was perfect and changed to licensed script to have this ending. And it is the perfect ending, demonstrating the cyclical nature of mental illness and life, how it feeds on vulnerability. Those who suffer from mental illness recognize that they have triggers that can immediately cause a breakdown. That something upsetting leaves them more susceptible to a depressive period. If you consider emotional stability as an umbrella, mental illness puts little holes in it. When bad times come and it begins to rain, the water seeps through, wind catches the tears, and the umbrella’s state only worsens.
Pippin as Everyman
The greatest thing about Pippin is his ability to connect with everyone in the audience. Most people feel lost and unsatisfied at some point in their lives, so we want to go on his journey with him, we want to see what he learns and be able to apply it to our own lives. As Lawrence Henley of Utah Shakespeare festival says “Pippin is led through a series of experiences throughout the journey of the play reminiscent of the late-medieval morality drama Everyman.” As Pippin takes place in 780 BCE, it is no surprise that Hirson and Schwartz would have designed Pippin to function as an everyman, a convent of medieval theatre.
Joy in the Darkness
The contrast between joy, magic, and pizazz with “complete despair” gives great life to play. It allows the audience to laugh through their own pain.
“So I am in utter, abject, complete despair.” “And that’s it?”
The Grand Finale = Suicide
“This evening, for your entertainment pleasure, we present our most mysterious and miraculous tale. A stunning example of magic! And Merriment! You will witness acts of lust! Murder! Holy War!”
“Sire, due to famine our fields are barren-” / “Denied! Next!”
“Pippin, this is embarrassing. A victory celebration and my own son not joining in.”
Roles for older women
Pippin has a wonderful range of roles for older woman. Berthe is gloriously independent. Fastrada is a woman that loves her own sexuality and refuses to apologize for it, nor is she dehumanized for it. These women are powerhouses that take and create their own opportunities, refusing to accept any sort of patriarchal boundary. Fastrada (Charlotte d’Amboise) was 48, Berthe (Andrea Martin) was 66, and Catherine (Rachel Bay Jones) was even older than the average Catherine in her twenties. Though I cannot find her age, in an interview she said she was “Old enough that Stephen Schwartz had to add jokes about Catherine’s age into the script.” (Because she “bypassed college” to be in Meet Me in Saint Louis in 1989, she was around 42 years old when she played Catherine.)
I have a really hard time finding anything negative in Pippin because I love it so dearly and I find that it is so perfectly constructed. However, I know that there are many, many people that hate it. They find it too campy, the storyline about a man looking for purpose hackneyed and un-feminist, and the meta-theatre overwhelming. I know that many people have also had negative experiences in high school doing a production of it, which makes them dislike the show overall. This will be a challenge to overcome, especially when it’s likely that our production will not have a celebrity or a Broadway theatre to help sell tickets.
While Pippin is not designed to be non-fiction and is commonly described as “loosely” based on his life, some of the most basic parts of the story are inaccurate. For instance, Hirson provides the 780s for the setting. During this time, Charlemagne lead the Saxon Wars against the Frisians, but primarily the Saxons. In the text, Louis notes once that he killed Frisians, the war within the play is against the Visigoths. As Catholics, the Visigoths were not involved in the Holy War, as Charlemagne did not need to convert them. Another inaccuracy is that Louis was not Fastrada’s son, but Hildegards. Furthermore, Pepin the Hunchback (Pippin), though the eldest son, was not in line for the throne. In fact, it is believed that he was disinherited. Pepin of Italy was the son that Louis competed with for the throne. Of course, the point of Pippin isn’t to give a history lesson, but some of these errors would have required a simple changing of a name.
We will need very specific actors, which may pose a challenge in pasting. This play requires a woman around sixty years old, a man and woman around 40, a child, a dog, a duck, magicians, and many triple threats. There are also other questions that must be considered. Typically, Leading Player is cast as an African American. Should only white actors audition, what can be done? Can we cast other characters as non-white? Does Leading Player have to be African American? Perhaps it would be effective if Leading Player was Middle Eastern. What are the potential implications of traditional and non-traditional casting?
Will women be considered for playing Leading Player?
How much of Pippin is a performance? Particularly Pippin himself. While he is an actor, the show feels as if it’s a cast and a real person. Is it Pippin the character or the actor who decides to “put his hand on [Catherine’s] face? While it is generally clear when Catherine’s actress breaks character, “I Guess I’ll Miss The Man” is unclear. Is the actress singing about the actor or is Catherine singing about Pippin? Who is quitting at the end? Pippin and Catherine or their actors?
If taking Scott Miller’s article into consideration (theory that all characters are players, not just those labeled players, and thus pieces of Pippin’s psyche) are Catherine and Theo players? How does that impact the ending? If they are not, should we chose not to double them as players as many productions do?
Can we get a stage dog? (Fun fact: the dog used in the 2013 revival was Mathew James Thomas’s [Pippin] dog.)
Fire on stage?
The cast may want to know if they should incorporate darkness into their roles. In the productions I have seen, it seems as though it is most effective when the characters (with the exception of Pippin) are having a great deal of fun.
Should the cast develop actor personas layered behind their characters in Pippin: His Life and Times?
CRACKS & THREADS
I watched the Bob Fosse 1982 Pippin for the first time in 2013. Thinking, “That was weird, I don’t understand what I just watched,” it became necessary for me to do more research. I was so interested in whatever it was that I had just seen that I was compelled, nay, challenged to understand it. I connected with it stylistically, loved the music, and was completely mind-blown by the ending. This was also the year that it was revived on Broadway. After reading constantly about the development, the themes, and interviews with Stephen Schwartz, I took my mom with me to see it. I was enthralled every second. Afterwards, my mom turned to me and said, “I don’t get it.” But this production had solidified everything that I had read and been unable to fully comprehend.
In 2015, I wrote a short play about the challenge of finding an ending to the play. It was a scene in which Hirson and Fosse dueled it out. A few weeks later, I went to see the tour in Pittsburgh and met John Rubenstein (the original Pippin was playing Charles in the tour). I gave him a copy of my play. In 2016, I adopted a cat and named him Pippin as this musical has given me so much clarity about my mind and so much joy.
To me, Pippin is about manifesting the voices in your head that manipulate you into negative thoughts. Through coercion, they are able to convince you to do harmful things, which even include suicide. How better to convince someone to kill themselves than to tell them to think about their life? The life they found unfulfilling. All the while, you’ve convinced them that light, the sun, fire, are good things, when in reality, they are small tactics to get them to jump into the flame. People outside of this experience cannot grasp how you could think these things, yet Pippin makes it clear just how glamorizing self-hate is and how quickly it sneaks up on you.
Depending on your interpretation of the family members, whether they manifestations of Pippin’s thoughts about his family or independent characters, they represent how family members that look past your struggles, treat you as if you’re a child, and belittle your feelings, they only allow mental illness to continue to take control of your perspective. I personally, do not consider Catherine a player- at least in the most recent version. In the 2000s version, she is clearly a player, as Leading Player says she will be used to get Pippin to participate in the climax. However, according to the original script, and the newest, she can be independent. She shows a different perspective of mental illness. While Pippin struggles with finding meaning and suicide, Catherine is fighting self-hatred. There is clear distinction between the way Leading Player treats Pippin and how she/he treats Catherine. Thus, displaying a second battle, which Catherine is able to overcome. Watching Catherine and Pippin fight their demons together, learning that we can only find healing in love, is such a beautiful message.
As our medieval Everyman, Pippin gives audience members hope in finding fulfillment in their ordinary lives. However, because life doesn’t have happy endings, the revised ending to Pippin has the most powerful message of them all: many mental illnesses are cyclical, hereditary, easily contracted, and develop at a young age. What I gain from the revised ending, or at least what I hope should happen after the curtain falls, is that Pippin and Catherine are able to help Theo in his own battle to drive away the players.
AUDIO & VISUAL IMAGERY
“Corner of the Sky” (6)
This is the song that sets the show in motion. The familiar tune that most musical theatre lovers in the audience will know. It allows us to fall in love with Pippin and join him on his journey.
Leading Player places a crown on Pippin’s head (37)
In this beautiful moment of hope, the audience sees what they believe will be Pippin’s moment of fulfillment. It is a stunning visual in which we have seen him climb to the top, only to watch him fall again when he is hit with reality.
Catherine presents the head of the table (53)
Because this moment is foreshadowed in the text, the audience’s sense of dread and disappointment are heightened. As Catherine offers Pippin his greatest fear, she simultaneously sets up a reverse narrative of gender roles. Catherine owns an estate. Catherine employs him. Catherine essentially proposes to him. Pippin’s most important work at the home is taking care of a child. While offering him a symbolic seat of male dominance, she meanwhile, is only offering him a partnership in which she expects respect.
Set, costumes, and lights stripped (68)
What could be more haunting than Leading Player stripping the stage of all its magic? As everything is taken, your heart clings to everything that is left until you are left with emptiness, particularly when the keyboard is silenced.
Theo’s Corner (70)
As this song is famous and reprised several times throughout the play, its melody is refreshing. At this point, if done successfully, this song becomes ominous, terrifying. See 2b.
Lewis’s armor and weapons
While this isn’t a particularly important or symbolic prop, it does reveal a lot about Lewis, Fastrada, their potentially sexual relationship and plot to get the throne, as well as Pippin’s relationship to his half-brother and mother-in-law, in which he is completely left out. We are left wondering why Lewis, who is always there, received a gift, when Pippin has just returned.
Naturally, we’re going to need a pit of fire for Pippin to jump into. Depending on the theatre’s fire regulations, it may not be possible to have actual flames, but it is worth noting that the heat from the fire will only had more heat to the scene and depth to the show’s metaphor.
We’re going to need a table for Pippin to avoid sitting at the head. This great fear needs to be visible in order for the audience to feel tension, knowing that the unavoidable is going to happen eventually.
If Fosse wanted anything in Pippin, it was magic. The glitz of the show are what allow the audience to ride through without joy until the final seen. The glamorization of mental illness is a strong tactic used in many successful stories including Next To Normal. When it is represented through something the audience can connect with, it makes it allows a window for the audience into an unfamiliar world.
Unlike a dog, a duck is a little harder to get onstage. Of course it’s ideal to have a live duck, but it’s entirely possible to get away with a fake one. Regardless, in order to connect with Theo, we need to see their friendship to connect with the loss of his duck as well.
As both a murder weapon and magic trick, there must be a knife for Pippin to stab Charles with and for Charles to pull out later.
To complete the imagery of Morning Glow, it is necessary for Pippin to be crowned King.
While you could use a stuffed animal, I have yet to see a production without a huge reaction when the dog comes out onstage. Furthermore, Theo’s rejection of the dog in contrast to the audience’s collective excitement only adds to the scene.
Another peace offering from Pippin that carries significance in forgiveness and love as Theo breaks the first one Pippin gives him and later makes and gifts a flute to Pippin.
ECHOES, REPETITIONS, & RETURNINGS
Uncertainty, vague description
The stage descriptions are full of insecurity, which reflects the fact that Pippin is designed to be incomplete. We are not intended to understand everything, because I don’t believe the writers did either. We are supposed to be left with questions about what was real and what was not. We are supposed to be able to connect to it personally and be able to do develop our own interpretation based on that. In fact, Bob Fosse believed that the players were trying to have a sexual “climax” by watching Pippin burn. This was entirely different from what Schwartz and Hirson saw in Pippin. When the first draft was written, the Players had a very clear role. In the first scene, they attempted to convince Pippin to join them and perform the finale. When he chooses not to, they left and were absent until the finale. Pippin’s story was not manipulated by them. This concrete purpose was shifted as Fosse grew more interested in Leading Player as a companion to Pippin. At one point, Schwartz called the Dramatist Guild to stop Fosse from removing “Kind of Woman.” Thus, the tug and pull of intentions, opinion and power may contribute to this lack of clarity. It is also worth noting that there are several historical inaccuracies (Louis was not Fastrada’s son, Charlemagne did not fight the Visigoths.) Perhaps this vagueness is a result of lack of research.
"Time: 780 A.D. and thereabouts. Place: The Holy Roman Empire and thereabouts.”
“undetermined period… a theatrical caravan of some kind.” (1-1)
“a dance of sorts…all kinds of magic tricks, etc.” (1-2)
The sun, light, fire
These three things are discussed in the play with positive outlooks regularly. It is not, however, until the end that the audience realizes that these echoes are not positive, but threatening. We are asked to associate the sun with finding your “corner of the sky” and finally fitting in with the world. Sun and light mean happiness. However, the ending subverts this expectation as we discover that light and the sun lead to sudden death. Scott Miller said, “The use of sunrise and sunset is symbolic of beginning and ending, life and death…At first, the sun references are made by other player, but later Pippin begins associating himself with the sun as well.”
Can I have some more light?, spread a little sunshine, morning glow, corner of the sky, think about the sun, look how I shine!
There are numerous variations and repetitions of the central concept of the show; can Pippin find purpose in his life? This question is asked, and answered, constantly throughout the play.
Though Pippin is filled with incredible women, two of them refer to themselves as ordinary and average. This begs the question: what is an average woman? Is it the Queen of the Franks or is it a widowed, estate-owning mother? Is it the women in the audience? What defines a woman? Bringing these questions to light forces us to recognize societal constructs (in particularly, a woman being stereotyped as an asexual, housewife and mother) that must be broken down.
Breaking from the Script
There are several moments in which we are reminded that we are watching a performance of a performance because an actor breaks character.
“Welcome to the show ladies and gentlemen.”
“This is his first time playing the role.”
“I couldn’t get my eyelash on…”
“You’re supposed to read that line naggingly!”
“Water flows over the dam…Try sticking to the part, huh?”
“You don’t have a song here.”
"What the hell are you doing out here?”
Pippin will always be a relevant show because people will always be trying to understand why we are alive. However, today, it is particularly relevant. With higher education as a requirement, graduates are constantly walking off with their degree and no idea where to go next. This is only getting worse as we are unable to find careers in fields we are passionate in, if we can find a career at all. The belief that millennials were raised with, that they are special, has made us all miserable because we have “extraordinary” expectations for how we should be treated, how happy we should be, and what type of life we should be living.
There is also revolution everywhere. The revolution in Pippin demonstrates the realities of extremism. Charlemagne’s reign is far too controlling; Pippin’s reign is far too liberal. With this we are able to see what happens when idealists try to overthrow countries with plans that are not feasible. Pippin inspires audiences to fully plan and find practical solutions for communities.
Finally, Pippin has a distinct argument against religious persecution. Pippin says that we cannot kill people because they do not believe what we believe. This is unfortunately relevant as ISIS is killing non-Muslims and Trump is banning refugees. How it is possible that a country that was founded by people fleeing from religious persecution can ban people fleeing from religious persecution is beyond me, but Pippin’s message may be able to push against this. Pippin’s revolution teaches us that we must stand up against tyranny, but need an effective plan for after we take power. At the time of Pippin’s development, protesting was endless- calling for civil and women’s rights and an end to the Vietnam war. But how does one stop discrimination when it is inherent in a culture? What would have happened to the South Vietnamese if we had not taken action? What will happen to the Middle East and all of Europe if action is not taken against ISIS, with careful preparation to end it and stop another terrorist from taking power? Are movement like Black Lives Matters and marches like The Women’s March effective when Donald Trump can still be elected? Maybe we can grapple with these questions with this show.