When students need to take an extra class in order to meet the minimum number of credits for the semester, they may opt to take an easy class or one that interests them. E. Daar, a Baruch College junior, decided to produce a musical.
The plan to create a workshop series for the first act of Faust was not a grand scheme in any way, shape or form. While Anton Kurdakov, a senior, often considered writing a musical, it was Daar’s need to take a sixth class during the Spring 2018 semester and her choice of creating the musical as an independent study that finally pushed Kurdakov to begin working on the music and lyrics.
“The first act took about two months to write,” Kurdakov said in an interview. “That’s very very fast because I had 60 pages to write, and I had to write it all in about five to six weeks … I essentially had to write a page and a half per day. Eli was calling me every week and making sure I stayed on track.” Daar is often referred to as Eli.
Kurdakov explained that the reason why he decided to adapt Faust in the first place was partially because of his long-term relationship with the literary piece, in the form of the plays Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe and Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
“Faust is my favorite literary work of all time,” Kurdakov said. He explained that it was the book that started him on using literary analysis. “I really loved the narrative overall. I liked the idea of someone being so smart and so dumb at the same time.” Faust is a story about a man who makes a deal with the devil in order to get a long life.
“One of the reasons that I also wanted to write it was because this story has been adapted so many times, and it’s been adapted terrible every single time. So, I was like, if everyone else got it wrong, maybe I can get it right. Maybe I can do justice to my favorite story.”
In the beginning stages of the writing process, Kurdakov collaborated with Ruthie Ostrow, a junior with directing experience, on setting up the narrative structure for the musical. Ostrow was able to help Kurdakov refine some of the biggest ideas for Faust’s storyline before the writing process truly began.
Kurdakov’s version of Faust has one major change that sets it apart from previous adaptations: rather than setting his story in Germany during the early 1800s, he decided to place it in modern-day New York City. While the storyline still follows the general narrative, and contains the same characters as the original Faust, Kurdakov wanted his adaptation to be less sexist and not include some other issues he had with the play.
“Once I felt comfortable enough that the outline was good enough, I started to actually write the piece itself, both music and lyrics,” Kurdakov said. “Sometimes it would happen like — I would write six minutes of music in the span of two hours, and then I wouldn’t be able to write lyrics or any text for like the next three or four days. It was consistent, but it was also very on and off at times. All of it was written between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.”
After about six weeks, Kurdakov was done with the music and lyrics for the first act of Faust. The production team included Daar as producer and stage manager, Ostrow as director and The Ticker’s graphics editor Stephanie Mesquita as assistant stage manager. During its weekly or biweekly meetings, the team put Kurdakov’s work through several rounds of edits.
The ultimate goal of the independent study course and the workshop series was to produce a performance of Kurdakov’s first act for an audience and receive feedback that would help improve the first act and guide the forthcoming second act.
After several weeks of workshopping and rehearsing, Faust made its debut in Baruch’s Skylight Room on the night of April 26 to an audience of about 30 people.
Overall, Faust was able to impress for what it was — a musical written in the span of six weeks by a graduating college student.
The characters written by Kurdakov show a lot of potential for growth in the second act. Mephistopheles, for example, is one of the most memorable yet vulnerable characters in the production.
On the one hand, the character is able to fit into the devil stereotype — sassy, bold and unafraid to speak the truth. The character, played by Kelsey Gondek, points out what other characters are afraid to point out, and carries herself in a confident manner.
However, because the devil fits this preconceived stereotype so well, the character is vulnerable to being forgotten.
Faust, too, is a puzzling character. Throughout the act, one often feels sorry for the titular character, played by Nick Magnati. While he has a seemingly successful career as a freelance musician and others look up to him because of that, it often seems like the job does not make him happy.
He lacks confidence and battles suicidal thoughts. When approached by Mephistopheles, Faust seems attracted to her because, unlike him, she oozes confidence. In certain moments, audience members could see themselves in Faust, but his character is not explored deeply enough to build a serious relationship between him and the audience.
Despite these flaws, however, the first act of Faust is still a memorable sight with a lot of promise for what the next acts could bring.