Devised from Voltaire

Produced by Santa Cruz Shakespeare

When SCS's Artistic Director Mike Ryan called and asked if I would devise Voltaire's Candide all I knew about the 18th Century novel was that Bernstein had written an opera of the name and that it was a satire. Then I read it. I was delighted, then I was disturbed, then I laughed, then I was angry and then I was moved. I decided to honor Voltaire by honoring nothing. 


photos by Jana Marcus

Casting and Diversity

From day one, my cast of young actors were hungry to satirize our world and were bursting with ideas. But we immediately realized we had a problem. SCS's young company in 2017 was made up of six white actors and one Asian-American actor, but Voltaire's novel talked about South American colonialism, slavery and race. We could not responsibly portray these parts of the story. So we decided to add the very discussion we had about race, gender and representation to the play. We also called out the lack of diversity in our audience (which they accepted with a knowing laugh).



Stealing a page out of Brecht's book, we wrote music to tell the most brutal aspects of the story with a song about syphilis in the style of upbeat children's educational music; a cabaret song about a woman's rape, enslavement and dismemberment; and a love ballad about how women are forced to use their sexuality to get control of their lives. I was exceptionally lucky to have talented multi-instrumentalists and singers in the cast. 



Voltaire's novel shows a particularly bleak world for women. Both of the main female characters have been raped and brutalized by men. Additionally, the female ingenue, Cunegonde is written as a satire of the romance novels of his day and is little more than a "puppet." We went further, having a male actor puppet female actors interchangeably and ending with a rebellion w