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INTERVIEW: Tom Teasley Brings Music to Metamorphoses

The award-winning composer and percussionist discusses his work on Constellation Theatre Company's production of the acclaimed play.

By Washington, DC
Tom Teasley
Tom Teasley
Percussionist Tom Teasley has quickly become one of Washington D.C.'s most valued composers, earning two Helen Hayes Awards (and three nominations) for his work in theatrical sound design. He's currently lending his considerable talents again to his frequent collaborators -- the Constellation Theatre Company -- for director Allison Stockman's new production of Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, now at Source, performing his own original score on over 10 different instruments live on stage.

Being part of the theatrical community is a relatively new arena for Teasley. "Most of the work I do is as a concert performer and as a cultural envoy for the U. S. State Department," he notes. Indeed, Teasley has traveled all over the world, developing his own eclectic brand of internationally-influenced drumming which he performs in collaboration with local artists.

"People abroad are frequently exposed to American musicians performing Western music, but what they're not used to is Americans coming to collaborate with the local people," he says. "It's an amazing thing because it creates its own dialogue. There are elements of Western music and elements of traditional music, and the musicians find a way to make it work. In the end, these audiences recognize both parts because they are exposed to things that are American, while they also recognize their own instruments and traditional rhythms. It's very powerful."

When composing for the stage, Teasley tries to bring his international collaborations to the process. "Whatever I am doing, I am composing for the text, but the inspiration is coming from remembering playing with Anasheed in a refugee camp in Palestine during Ramadan or these 50 kids that risked their own safety to come play with me in Iraq during Ashura, when music is prohibited. It's my goal to find a way to share that and have it become part of a dialogue with the text."

To make his work come to life on stage, Teasley insists that the presence of a strong director is essential. "Any acclaim that I have garnered as a result of the limited theater work that I have done is very much recognition of my collaboration with Allison Stockman," he says.

Indeed, Teasley is more like any other actor reacting off of the performances of his castmates than a traditional pit musician. "There is probably more variation than there usually is when live music is being performed with theater," he says.

"Except for a few songs that I've written for other people to sing, I don't show up with any music at all. What I try not to do on stage is change the time at which I'm going to play, but I do try and tap into the innate rhythm in which the line is being recited. Sometimes the energy is different from performance to performance. My goal is to make the lines themselves sound like music."

To accomplish that goal, Teasley underscores practically the entire performance. "For me it's more mentally exhausting than some of the other performing I do," says Teasley, who also has a new CD of his theatrical music called All the World's A Stage, being released in conjunction with the run of Metamorphoses. "However, one of my other projects is setting silent movies to music. Since there's no dialogue there, I'm playing full out for an hour and 10 minutes. That's really exhausting."

Click here to see Tom Teasley performing "Oresteia Furies Dance" from his new CD All the World's A Stage.


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