Pages from Michael Butler's Journal


"Passion, Piety, and Power" The three words I love to use to describe POPE JOAN.

People often ask me how I got involved in the POPE JOAN project that's occupied so much of my time these last few years.

It all began in 1995 with David Zak, Executive Director of Bailiwick Repertory in Chicago. He wanted to create a Michael Butler Musical Festival. His idea was to mount four new musicals each year at Bailiwick and have one weekend where they would be shown to prospective producers and investors. I thought the idea was great, but it just never took off. David was faced with moving and restructuring problems that were really tough to handle, and these took priority.

But one day he called and said that he had a show for me to consider. Would I come to a reading? It was shortly thereafter that I heard Christopher Moore's POPE JOAN. It was love at first sight. The reading took place in the studio space at the brand-new Bailiwick. The very next day I started negotiations with Susan Lersch, Christopher's agent. These meetings were friendly and very constructive as we we put together the format for a working relationship.

I knew from the start that POPE JOAN was a dynamic, positive force. It has a spirituality which grabs you and never quite leaves. It is as if a message has been given to us to pass on through a musical. And it is a wonderful storyteller's evening. One can almost imagine sitting in a cold, medieval castle, wrapped in furs by a roaring fire, as a crone spins this tale of passion, piety, and power.

Set in the Europe of the Dark Ages, we tell the love story of John/Joan with God, hand-in-hand with her sensual, lustful love affair with Louis II, the powerful, arrogant ruler of France. Louis is initially is attracted to Father John as a man. The love for Father John felt by Lucius, a young acolyte, creates further cross-gender passion. Throughout this story, the piety of Joan and her deep religious and very human experiences are set against the machinations and power plays for the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy itself.

Heady stuff all this is! Knowing that the story of Pope Joan continues to survive, notwithstanding the disclaimers of the Roman Catholic Church, fascinated me and gave it real status as a serious myth. The combination was too much to resist. We have pursued refining and augmenting that story through an initial production, the author's public workshop,and most recently, a private workshop with our director of choice, Tom O'Horgan.

We plan to have another workshop in Manhattan in the fall and then to put POPE JOAN into full production for spring of 1998 in New York City.

For more information about this musical, visit The Pope Joan Workshop Web.

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