"God bless the child who can stand up and say, I've got my own." - Billie Holiday
As expected, 2018 has been a year of innovation for the drum corps community. Corps have continued to push the boundaries of artistry and achievement and have found new ways of bringing life to both the field and the audience. Above all, #dci2018 has been a year spent showcasing the tribulation, the power, the experience of the individual; and The Bluecoats have drawn from the past, both personal and iconic, to embody the artist, as quoted by Billie Holiday, “who can stand up and say, I’ve got my own.”
We spoke with Mike Scott, current Business Development Manager for The Bluecoats, regarding the corps, the season, and the show. Scott was happy to share the process and development of their currently undefeated 2018 production, Session 44. The production explores the vulnerability of the creative process through the artist’s experience and the profound idea that “[it] delivers art from the writer’s table to the audience chair…[so] performer and audience alike can celebrate the shared nature of the musical experience.” Using Billie Holiday’s iconic song “God Bless the Child” as a vehicle to drive this idea, The Bluecoats marry a handful of seemingly unrelated artists to show that the discord we may at first encounter is really a reunion of shared artistic experiences.
And All That Jazz.
Each year, the Bluecoats design team is sent on a week long retreat to put together next year’s production. It’s a time, as is true for many artists, for the team to collaborate, brainstorm, and be inspired by a place away from home. The retreat that inspired Session 44 happened in New Orleans, a city teeming with jazz, art, and the shared experience we see on the field this summer, though no one really is certain that is why the Bluecoats are so jazzy this year. In truth, Session 44 is an homage to the Bluecoats’ roots. Founded in 1972, the corps was once the jazz corps of DCI. The team chose Billie Holiday’s iconic song to be the recurring theme of the artist’s experience. The song appeared on a record simply titled “Session 44.” This could have been her 44th visit to the studio or the 44th take of the song. No one is sure. And as coincidence would have it again, Holiday passed in 1944. It was not until later in the design process that the team realized this season marks the 44th session of the Bluecoats’ membership in DCI.
"Our show designers are some of the best music listeners I know." - Mike Scott
But twists of fate aside, “God Bless the Child” was chosen for its iconic, fragile, and accessible nature, and the team built their repertoire around the larger idea of Holiday’s message. Scott expresses that “our show designers are some of the best music listeners I know.” The repertoire is eclectic and diverse, seemingly unrelated, creating "so much discord throughout the show.” But Scott explains also that each artist is iconic in their own right. “We come to the term ‘jazz’ in very different ways that it can seem discorded in a way.” But that discorded melody is the same melody that unifies these artists and their experiences, and the same melody still that allows the 2018 Bluecoats to individually express their own “artistic experience” on the field for audiences each night.
You’re going to want to sit for this one...
While in New Orleans, the team was inspired by the vision of a jazz club: crowded, eclectic, busied with people of all walks of life...and filled with chairs. Scott explains that the field as a whole was designed to be “an abstraction of a performer’s home or journey.” The show designer wanted to manifest that idea when bringing this dream world to life, and that is how the iconic stacks of chairs everyone is talking about came to be. As should be true with any artistic experience, the 4th wall should not exist. Performers and audience alike should participate together in the shared celebration of art.
"They expect nothing of you. Give them everything." - Samuel Crawford, 2018 drum major
The chairs are that “breaking of the 4th wall,” as performers can sit, the audience sits, and the chairs are manipulated in a way that drives that idea forward. The field is transformed into an abstract of a jazz club through these impressive series of chairs called “sculpture chairs,” and the aggressively large and chartreuse chairs we see moving about the field “help to elevate [this] idea.” It’s unique too that in terms of iconic art, Holiday expresses that the greatest can stand on its own. The design of Session 44 can stand on its own 2 -- well, maybe 4 -- feet.
What Goes Unseen…
It’s true that the chairs steal the stage for Session 44, but the Bluecoats have deliberately designed each facet of their production to create cohesion amidst the musical discord. These are elements that may be easy to miss, but we wanted to shed light on them for audiences to see, appreciate, and take part in.
The color guard. It goes without saying that the Bluecoats 2018 color guard is unbelievably talented this year. But what makes their performance particularly unique is their return to jazz in its original state. The guard has embodied the sassy, upbeat nature of “raw, unabashed jazz dance.” Their feet follow the high energy, syncopated rhythms of the show. To watch them perform is to appreciate how they have really internalized that ability to be “so connected to another art form.” They are something you don’t want to miss!
This year, the Bluecoats color guard is wearing the Ever-Jazz performance shoe and Ever-Dri gloves by DSI.
Performer autonomy. The chairs add not only general effect to the production, but also prime performance opportunity to the individuals manipulating these props. The set demands members to be individual. Scott explains that it allows them to be “alone and in their own stage...can be in a character for a minute.” Yet while this is generally “effective,” it can prove a challenge to any performance ensemble. Scott elaborates: “Performing together is one challenge. But what do you do with those moments that aren’t choreographed?” To watch any individual at any moment of Session 44 is to receive an original, organic perspective on that artist’s experience. They can own their own production. The chairs, in that regard, are an invitation into the world of each performer. Performers hold the responsibility to put on a solo performance as purposeful as the macrocosm they are a part of.
The Icon. Holiday’s iconic melody can be heard throughout the show, particularly in the end. The recurrence of this theme is something small and seemingly insignificant, but a heartbeat that drives the idea that to stand on one’s own is to find comfort in one’s own skin.
Bluecoats this year are wearing the MTX marching shoe and the Ever-Jazz performance shoe. Scott explained to us that the switch from the Viper to the MTX was solely a costuming decision. The design team looked at the shape, sole, stitching, and more of each shoe, and found that the stitch pattern and overall architecture of the MTX best matched the suit look the corps is sporting this year.
For the color guard, the decision to wear the Ever-Jazz was for its flexibility and durability. “This shoe has the magic ratio,” Scott says. It provides both control and flexibility, allowing the performer to move with ease. Its durability lives up to the rigors of the activity from start to finish.
DSI is proud to sponsor the 44th session of the Bluecoats and thankful that Mike Scott took the time to share the design team’s artistic experience with us. We wish them the best of luck in the last month of tour, and hope they continue to inspire their audiences with a show that can “stand up and say, I’ve got my own.”