“Who has the right to script their own story?” This is the question that French and Music double-major Paul Hardin has been asking himself for over a year now, as he fine-tunes the script of Spectacular, a musical theater production which he hopes to see performed on campus by the end of his senior year. The idea was born in a COLL 100 seminar which Paul took during his first semester on campus: having always had a passion for drama and history, he enrolled in Prof. Pacini’s “Spectacular Politics” course on political theater and the theatricalization of politics in early modern France. Here Paul discovered Le Cid, a classical tragedy by Pierre Corneille (1636), and he was moved by the cheerless destiny of a princess whose personal happiness has to be sacrificed to the social duties associated with her rank. The plight of this noblewoman inspires the plot of Paul’s new musical, which he sets a full century later, in 1745, when notions of individual rights and hopes of personal fulfillment are finally emerging.
Spectacular follows the intertwined ambitions and desires of a provocative young playwright (Nicolas) and a newly married (fictional) princess, future queen of France (Léonore). The Dauphine, as she is called, is inspired by the revolutionary theater she sees: she who had grown up watching Corneille’s Le Cid now finds a much more exciting behavioral model in Nicolas’ Pygmalion. In fact, just like Nicolas and his inevitably censured work, she too is fighting to assert her own agency and to script her own life. All this provides plenty of emotional drama, but, as the title suggests, Spectacular is also rich in meta-commentary about theater and the inspiration it provides. This argument is strengthened by Paul’s understanding of the work of French historian Jeffrey S. Ravel, who has traced the emergence in the eighteenth century of an increasingly autonomous and demanding French theater public. Spectacular thus weaves an important third character into its story: a rowdy Parterre (personification of the pit) who contests royal authority and the conventions it upholds. Monarchic policing notwithstanding, the Parterre too develops a voice and agency of its own, in this case to criticize and then select the royal theater’s repertoire.
Paul started work on the script for Spectacular during an independent study with Prof. Pacini in the Spring of 2020. He has now completed and workshopped the full text through a theater-writing class led by Prof. Tanglao-Aguas in the Department of Theater, Speech and Dance, and over the course of next year he will be working with Prof. Hulse in the Music Department to compose the musical score. Why do all this work? Paul explains: “I always like sharing stories that people haven’t necessarily heard of — and doing it in through the medium of my choice: that’s something that I’m really passionate about. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have such showy material: it makes for great musical theater.”