Saturday, June 13, 2009

Prognosis: Death! Character Themes

Themes for recurring characters can bring a great element in to a long-form show. Here are some we put together for Prognosis: Death!.

In the last instalment about Prognosis: Death!, Impro Mafia's long form improvised show, we talked about how character themes can contribute to the immersion of a story.

Dan from Impro Mafia has been hounding me relentlessly to record a medley of the themes from P:D!. (Well, ok, he's asked me twice. Lay off, man!) I finally got around to it, and just in time, too - the second season of Prognosis: Death! is right around the corner.

Some of these character themes were pretty well-formed during the first season. Others were still on their way, especially where I was still getting to know the characters.

Here's that medley, along with a breakdown of how it maps to each of Prognosis Death's characters.

Listen to Prognosis: Death! Medley

or download it from
Listen to P:D! Theme by Tim Wotherspoon

or download it

Intro: A piano-only interpretation of Tim Wotherspoon's excellent theme music.

Best Damn Doctor: Dr Burton Mangold (played by David Massingham) is the hospital's uberdoctor. Patients rarely die on his watch. And when they do - the drama!

Mangold's music is an upbeat triumphant march, very heroic. I must admit borrowing a fair bit from Captain Hammer's opening number in Dr Horrible for this.

Meanwhile, At The Nurses' Station: During the show, as one scene finished, the narrator would call the beginning of the next scene, priming it by introducing the characters and the location. The Nurses' Station was a great spot for some of the characters to meet, gossip, and console over impossible relationships, unaware that the latest supernatural threat to St Love is on the rise.

The Leggy Avenger: Nurse Lotte Buble (played by Natalie Bochenski) has been with the hospital for a long time. Things never quite go her way, but she soldiers on. Buble has a variety of unusual skills (one of which comes from the audience at the start of the show), including a doorframe repair person and a masked superhero.

Buble's theme is mostly upbeat, bittersweet, and resilient.

Love Theme: Dr Mangold and Nurse Buble's simmering tension often seems hopeless, as they set their feelings aside to deal with the latest crisis to hit the residents of St Love. This theme, or variations on it, often appeared when Mangold and Buble had the stage to themselves.

Faith and Donations: Reverend Thistlewaite (played by Wade Robinson) was the name of a variety of members of the cloth that appeared in different episodes, all with different countries of origin but somehow always named Thistlewaite. Jeremy Thistlewaite. Jeremy Von Thistewaite. Jeremy McThistlewaite. These Thistlewaites seemed to die. A lot.

Three Seconds Behind: Dr Ludwig LeStrange (played by Dan Beeston) is the hospital's mortician. He doesn't have very much to do, thanks to Dr Mangold and the low mortality rate at the hospital. Dr LeStrange is introverted and outwardly calm, but hides all manner of emotion and tension. He has awkwardly formed hand gestures; due to a bizarre time travel accident, his fingers are three seconds behind the rest of him.

His theme music is sad and discordant. This is the theme music I figured out first. Sadly, I recently discovered that Dr LeStrange's theme works very well as backing to Britney Spears' Hit Me Baby One More Time. Sigh.

Hunting for Doilys: Dr Harold Dean (played by Luke Allan) is the hospital adminstrator, and Dr Mangold's arch enemy. Dean schemes to scrimp and save every penny to generate more profit for the hospital. Healthy people aren't profitable, so Mangold's prowess in the operating theatre runs counter to Dean's agenda. Dean is always looking for a way to take Mangold down.

Dean's music is a nice counterpoint to Mangold's, similar in tempo and feel, but with a descending minor chord structure vs Mangold's ascending major chord structure.

Will Have Ten Cats: Dr Melody Carmichael, Intern (played by Amy Currie) is the youngest staff member at the hospital. She is good-hearted, somewhat naive, and tries to do the right thing. (Well, until the first season finale where, possessed by Satan, she orchestrates the death or downfall of nearly every other character. St Love is a complex place.) Scratch the surface and her ambition to be a great doctor shines through.

Melody's music is positive, a little oblivious, and happy.

Finale: The finale music, again based on Tim's theme, has a chord progression with a ring of finality and triumph. I avoided the temptation to use it early, and saved it for the very end of the last show of the first season.

Sadly some of the cast didn't have recurring theme music.

Michael Griffin swung in to support roles for whatever story was on, playing every part imaginable - a giant vampire kitten, a dying psychic child, a mafia enforcer, up to Rick Cocksteady (the one doctor better than Mangold).

The director and narrator Greg Rowbotham got on stage for the last show to play the angel Gabriel, sneakily encouraging a fallen Mangold to get back to the hospital and make things right again.

Mike has challenged me to come up with theme music for Thistlewaite, and for each of the villians that make an appearance this season. I accept your challenge, Mr Griffin.

I'm pleased that the show is returning for a second season at the Brisbane Arts Theatre. For Prognosis: Death! Relapse I'm sharing music duties with Nathan Howard, a fellow improvising musician here in Brisbane. I hope this show is as much fun for him as it is for me!


Robbie Ellis said...

The P:D theme is very similar to the theme for WIT's Young and the Witless - both you and Jamie Burgess (muso for that season) have distilled the essence of soap opera themes!

And there's a fancy term for recurring character themes: Leitmotifs.

Young and the Witless 1 was a generic day-to-day soap opera, YatW2 was set on a cruise ship, and YatW is set at "a Wellington Regional Hospital". Haven't noticed any Leitmotifs in Jamie's playing, though there are different moods associated with the characters.

- CEO/Chief of Medicine/Boss: Dr Robert Robertson. Very blokey Aussie guy brought in to run the place. Fond of nicknaming everybody.
- Dr Alexis Redburn: Former Acting Boss. Very bitter towards Dr Robertson. Not very loving and sensitive.
- Dr Rosemary Slaughter: Very forgetful. Sometimes forgets she has kids. Longtime friend of Dr Redburn.
- Dr Pierre St-Bernard: Head of Pathology. Eccentric. Half-Swiss. Fairly particular about his chocolate bar from the vending machine.
- Max McCoy: Paramedic. Quick as a flash. Pumped up and ready to go. Best friends with LJ Hooker.
- Morgan Nuessbaum: Male nurse. Very meek. Union rep. Likes cats.
- LJ Hooker: Bubbly hospital receptionist. Wants to train at night school to become a nurse. Is often dumped on by the higher-ups of the hospital.

Tim Wotherspoon said...

Hey everyone,

I'm compelled to inform you all that my last name is Wotherspoon, not Witherspoon.

Hope you're all well.

I'm relapsing the theme music right at this moment. Not changing it significantly, just re-recording a few parts and tidying it up.

Kris, you and your medley-making causes me to blush with a guilty sort of satisfaction. Stop it. Get along with you now... :)

Kris said...

Tim - Oh no! I've corrected the spelling of Wotherspoon. I should know better, people spell my first name wrong all the time.

Glad you enjoyed the medley, and I hope I didn't trample on that melody too much :) Looking forward to hearing the season 2 theme!

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