In Hundred Days, real-life married couple Abigail and Shaun Bengson (the duo behind Ars Nova's The Lucky Ones) detail the story of how they fell in love and embrace life as if they only had 100 days to live. The New York Theatre Workshop cast was made up of Colette Alexander, Abigail Bengson, Shaun Bengson, Jo Lampert, Dani Markham, and Reggie D. White, who reprised their performances for the cast album (available at GhostlightRecords.com).
Below, Abigail and Shaun share their thoughts on and the process behind their eclectic score.
Our wedding vows! It feels like a good letter of introduction to the show, with a lot of the big musical elements that we’re playing with throughout. It starts out with a big wail and then when the full band pops in you get this blend of cello, accordion and bass synth together. It took a while to get the right feel but when we decided to put it to that chugging train beat the whole song snapped together.
“My Skin Is Made of a Thousand Doors”
We liked positioning this song here, second in the night, so right away you get a little sense of some of the range of music you’ll hear: the layered choral lines and poetic/abstract lyrics.
“I Will Wait For You”
This is one of the more “musical”-y songs in the show. We like how the Shaun verses and the Abigail verses weave together. It’s also a satisfying third song of the show for us, a nice mid-tempo kinda thing. We’ve always thought of this show in terms of its set list, and needing the music to feel like it’s landing at the right moment and is also surrounded by the right pairings on either side.
“Marching in the Wrong Parade”
One of my favorite kinds of music is folk punk, I just love that combination of super fast drums, high energy and acoustic instrumental lines. When Abigail and I fell in love I had to bail on one of my best friends and we were in a folk punk band together, so it felt right that this song be in that style. Jo Lampert is our beloved sister and has been working on this show with us since the beginning, and she is just such an inspiring singer to get to write for. She always finds her way into the music and makes it her own.
“Lie Next to Me”
We wrote elements of this song separately while we had to spend a couple weeks apart from each other. If you can’t tell from the fact that we wrote a whole damn show about our relationship, we really don’t love being apart, we just do better when we are together. We actually managed to make it through the first three or four years of our marriage without spending a night apart from each other, so when we finally were pried apart for a little chunk of time by work we were both pretty pathetic about it.
“The Drop” is when we first introduce the fully electronic sound of the drum pads and the weird synth textures and all that. The show moves between waking and dream worlds and the music leads us through those portals. Also, we happen to really like making weird electronic beats and sounds and it’s exciting getting to play with those textures here.
This was actually one of the first bits of melody that we wrote when we started working on this show. There was a time when it was a longer and more involved piece of music, but we liked the starkness of doing it a cappella like this. And Reggie sounds so beautiful!
Part of the development of this show was making a kind of concept album version with our Z Space band (plus Colette Alexander, from this cast!) at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco with the engineer/producer Jay Pelicci about four years ago. When we put together “Lift Me” for that record we stripped it down to just an acoustic guitar and two layered recordings of Abigail’s voice. When we then went to make this version, to be performed live in the show, we had Jo Lampert sing the second of the Abigail vocal tracks and it’s really exciting to us the way they interweave and trade off with each other.
A big part of figuring out how to tell this story was finding new ways to weave the text and the music together. We like how the driving 7/8 beat ramps up the intensity as the idea for the hundred days “game” is formed. The music here is actually the bridge from a song that was cut from the show. The other thing that is nice about having worked on the show for so long is we’ve built up a pretty ridiculously large body of tunes and now we’ve gotten to pick and choose the best bits.
We’ve been working on this show for over a decade and this song came pretty early on. We did a very early workshop of it with our friends in Seattle who had a theater company called The Satori Group and we wrote this song in their International District loft space. Sometimes you have to really wrestle and beg and plead a song into existence, but this one came into the world pretty fully formed. It’s been tweaked and we’ve experimented with some different arrangements to it, but the version you hear today is more or less what it was that first day we wrote it in that little loft.
“The Years Go By”
This song was only 60 seconds long in the original Z Space production, and our dear friend and movement director Sonya Tayeh convinced us to turn it into the full version you hear here. In earlier versions of the show we tried to create “the game” on stage, to walk the audience through the actual things we would do to make 100 days feel like 60 years. But we found in the end that it was more interesting to just leave space for people to bring in their own imaginings about what such a game might feel like. Better to try and be expressionistic about it, which is what the show does now through this song.
This is another moment of text and music interweaving. It was Geneva Harrison and Dani Markham, our drummers, who introduced us to crotales and we love the crystalline quality of them when they are bowed at the start of this piece. We had a melody that we had written on piano and we likewise really love what Colette did with it on the cello. The sound of the cello can be so stunningly beautiful that it actually requires quite a bit of discretion when it’s given lead lines so that it doesn’t pull too much weight or focus, and we were very happy to get to feature it here.
“Three Legged Dog”
This song is about all the anguish and rage that the voice can carry in moments of despair. It’s one long ramp up in intensity from beginning to end, with screaming, keening, growling, even some yodeling. This is another one that took a while for the arrangement to come together but it’s now my (Shaun’s) favorite bit of music in the show. The chant that Reggie sings at the top represents the incessant circular trap that your thoughts can find themselves in when you are truly at the bottom of the well.
“The Long Goodbye”
Little fun fact with this one: It is based off a melodic motif from “The Years Go By.” It’s supposed to musically be like a curdling of that dream. You can hear it most in the little guitar riff in the intro, but it carries through the song.
This is the first song we wrote together and it’s still one of our favorites. It’s had a long evolution, we’ve recorded it four or five different times over the years and you can hear how it’s changed and also how it’s stayed the same. It actually started nominally as a Christmas song and it won Best Christmas Song in a small online folk magazine like seven years ago so, yeah, we’re basically super famous.
“What Else Can We Do?”
This was the last song we wrote. We got into the last weeks of rehearsals and previews at New York Theatre Workshop and there was still something we were hoping to say with the end of the show that wasn’t quite coming across. This a moment to shake it out and celebrate, to say yes we can never know what the future will bring, but we’re not gonna let it keep us from living.