5/12 – 5/28 | “I Carry Your Heart With Me” Opens at Third Avenue Playworks (Sturgeon Bay, WI) as part of the World Premiere Wisconsin Festival!

a new one woman show
at Third Avenue Playworks (Sturgeon Bay, WI)

feat. Karen Estrada as ‘Esther’
directed by Jacob Janssen

MAY 10 – 28, 2023

Wednesday, May 10: Pay-What-You-Will Preview
Thursday, May 11: Final Preview
Friday, May 12: Opening Night

Wednesday – Saturday evenings at 7:30pm
Friday matinee May 19th at 2:00pm
Sunday matinees at 2:00pm

A world premiere!

Esther Shannon (*Karen Estrada) is a government stenographer working for the US Air Force during the tempestuous Vietnam War. Lonely, conflicted, and haunted by voices from her past, Esther finds herself smack dab in the middle of a troubling investigation.

With plenty of twists and turns along the way, Jennifer Blackmer’s taut, suspenseful mystery packs a real emotional wallop at the end. This new play will be presented as part of World Premiere Wisconsin, an inaugural and ambitious statewide festival celebrating original works.

I CARRY YOUR HEART WITH ME is part of World Premiere Wisconsin, a statewide festival celebrating new plays and musicals from March 1 – June 30, 2023, presented by the Ten Chimneys Foundation. To learn more visit www.worldpremierewisconsin.com.

For More info on Jennifer Blackmer and Karen Estrada, please visit TAP’s website: https://thirdavenueplayworks.org/i-carry-your-heart-with-me/


Director: Jacob Janssen
Production Stage Manager: Kelsey York*
Set Design: Alex Polzin
Costume Design: Kärin Kopischke**
Lighting Design: Colin Gawronski
Sound Design: Brian Grimm

** denotes union members

Community Partner Program – Door County Farm for Vets

TAP has founded a wonderful tradition of partnering with local community organizations on each show of their season. All of the ticket sales from the pay-what-you-will preview show goes directly to the community partner. In this case it is Door County Farm for Vets, and truly needed and amazing organization whose mission is to eradicate veteran suicides through farming. I love this so much. What a needed cause and what a fantastic approach.

Since 9/11 we’ve lost roughly 5 times as many veterans to suicide than we have in combat. It is massive problem that needs to be tackled and supported!

From DC Farm for Vets website:

DC Farm for Vets is a rehabilitation farm that provides education and services to Veterans entering into agriculture. This service includes several different programs.  We have an available community gardening program along with scheduled training tailored to the specific time of the growing season. Our training program entails regenerative agriculture, sustainable chemical free produce production, livestock, and cherry and apple orchards.  We believe in Growing while Healing. 

The specific objectives and purpose of this organization is to work towards the elimination of veteran suicide.  We accomplish this through teaching skills of sustainability and consumption of nutrient dense produce and livestock.  Being able to grow your own food gives you a sense of control over your life and it is incredibly rewarding. Every dollar that gets donated to DC farm for Vets we donate back to our veterans or the community giving our veterans the opportunity to serve something bigger than themselves once again.  

Here’s how you can support:

Notes on the Sound Design and Score

“I Carry Your Heart With Me” Poem Cue (Curtain Bow) by Brian Grimm (feat. Emma Cifrino)

As always, there is the potential for some spoilers when talking about my design for the show, so reader beware! I’ll be honest, this was maybe the most difficult play and stressful Tech process that I’ve been through. Most of the time I show up to Tech with all of my cues composed, recorded and mixed – already arranged in my Qlab session with best guesses at timings and fades. But this show was a tough nut to crack. I spent 3 weeks working on melodic themes for the different characters and emotional moments. I would compose a theme and develop it into a cue, only to listen back to the recording while reading the script and thinking… hmmm – that’s not quite right. I think this is the most material I’ve ever developed and then immediately scrapped during the rehearsal and design process for a show.

It took me 3 weeks to realize that the reason all of my melodic material did not feel right, is that the character Esther is the melody! Because it is a one woman show, I needed to sink further into the background; purely be the accompaniment support and let Esther drive the show, let her be the melody. It was soooo different than doing even a two actor show. That is something I did not anticipate.

So the weekend before Tech, I made a HUGE design pivot and developed the idea of recording many variations of long tones. It was a tricky assignment – the director Jacob made it clear that we’d probably want sound under most of the show, but it couldn’t be melodic, and it couldn’t be rhythmic… hence the tones. But it made sense because we had the concept of there being fluorescent light tones for half of the play’s design – and these musical tones could be the color of the storytelling world outside of those fluorescent and cold deposition spaces.

On that Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before Tech (starting Wednesday) – I recorded Emma Cifrino on viola, Greg Smith on clarinet and bass clarinet, and myself on cello and guqin zither (individually) running through “the gauntlet” of tones. I’ve done this before on my own, it’s intense, so I definitely understood the process and what I was asking of these fine instrumentalists. I’m so glad Emma and Greg were down to complete this process. It wasn’t random notes, I created a scale built out of all of the notes needed for each chord progression and melody that I had developed throughout the whole process (even if I thought we were scrapping it). We went one note at a time, recording 5 styles of that note. Long straight tone, no vibrato. Long tone with vibrato. Crescendo to a sting. Sforzando to diminuendo. And my favorite, wobbly oscillating pressure dynamic pulsing long tones! Greg was a total champ, because we ran through the whole process on Clarinet, and then picked up the Bass Clarinet and said… ok here we go again. And then he went on to perform Carmina Burana with the Madison Symphony Orchestra later that evening … WOW!!

I made sure to have every player record every melodic theme as well, just so I had my bases covered for Tech. Even just my melodic and tones libraries were quite extensive for this show – because I knew I’d just have to build most of the cues on the spot. Jacob and I really couldn’t judge what would feel right until we were in the room and tried things out. So it was a slow, brutal process to build cues on the spot, and not at all my ideal scenario. Let’s just say there were a number of all nighters that needed to happen. This is something I try to avoid at all costs these days (by being over prepared), but that just shows you how different this show was and how much needed to be built, created or refined even outside of tech hours.

Besides the melodic and chord tone libraries, I had built up an even deeper library of Military Sounds from the Vietnam war including AK-47s, Air Bombers, Rocket Launchers, and very importantly the Huey Combat Helicopter. I also recorded the forced air heat sound from my vents at home, and the intensely loud buzzing of each fluorescent light in my basement. From these fluorescents and vent sounds I created many variations of tone clusters and chords that created a framework for the sonic tonal texture of the show (which I then replicated with the acoustic instruments).

Throughout the show, you’ll hear the Huey Helicopter as an intense heartbeat. You’ll hear Air Bomb drops and Rocket Launchers as a forced air vent rattling in the corner. You’ll hear Bass Clarinet as the persistent buzzing of the deposition room fluorescent lights. You’ll hear musical themes for the Military, and each individual character in the show. You’ll hear the USA’s actual Military Jazz Band playing dance party music. You’ll even hear clapping from a 1960’s video of people applauding for the IBM Selectric II World Champion Typist who could type 180 words per minute (deep cut!)!! You’ll also hear the iconic music sounds of the 1960’s! My absolute favorite era for popular music! This was one of the huge discoveries that Jacob and I made late at night trying to crack the code of this play. It’s been so much fun to revisit the music of that era, the music I grew up on. If you like this music of the late 60’s, you’ll enjoy the preshow!

Honestly, I felt like I came prepared for 4 different versions of this play, and none of those versions was the show we ended up doing!! So this one was a big learning process for me and I’m glad I had everyone record those melodic themes, because we ended up using most of them! Thank you to the whole production team, Karen, and Jacob for your patience with me on this tech. I know it was stressful for you too, and I appreciate your grace to let me figure out each cue on the spot.

The final two music cues in the show are two of the best cues I think I’ve ever composed and produced. I’m really happy with how those turned out (you can hear the “Poem Cue” above).

Special Shout Outs

In the end, the true star of this show is Karen Estrada who is absolutely fabulous in this piece of 1,000 transitions and micro-moments. I think audiences will love the performance she gives in this show. What a feat to memorize and perform and hour long show alone, all by yourself. So many lines!!! I could never, ever, ever do that. This performance really highlights Karen’s wide range as an actress. Not only that but she kept us all laughing deep belly laughs throughout tech, which I absolutely needed to keep me going! I hope you can come see the amazing work that Karen has put into this show!!

The other star of this show is Colin Gawronski‘s light design and how it interplays with the beautiful scrim paint job by Alex Polzin. The combo of those two elements is GORGEOUS. It’s like a watercolor painting and I love it. It’s worth coming to this show just to see the different worlds that Colin and Alex have created together with their designs.

Congratulation on the World Premiere to playwright Jennifer Blackmer and for building such a dynamic world for us to play in. It is a whirlwind of a play, and there is just so much contrast and emotion to dive into. I want to know more about her mother, who is the inspiration for the stenographer character Esther who is transcribing all of the Vietnam non-com depositions. I’m glad I could be a part of your premiere!

Thank you Thank you Thank you to Emma Cifrino (viola) and Greg Smith (clarinets) for performing and recording on this score!!! I love how both of your instruments support the story and add color to this world. The recordings turned out great and you both killed it in the studio sessions!

“Birds of North America” (Third Avenue Playworks) Original Soundtrack Release with donation links to Door County Environmental Organizations

click album art to play the soundtrack!


BY ANNA OUYANG MOENCH, dir. Jacob Janssen

OCTOBER 2 – 30, 2022
Donate to TAP! → here

John and his daughter Caitlyn are birders. As they scan the skies over their backyard in a suburban Maryland looking for elusive birds, years go by. Relationships begin and end. Children grow up and parents age. The climate and the world change in small and vast ways. BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA takes a close look at the relationship of a father and daughter over the course of a decade as they struggle to understand the parts of one another that defy understanding.

Anna Ouyang Moench is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. Her plays have been produced at the Geffen Playhouse, the Playwrights Realm, East West Players, InterAct Theater, and many other theaters across the country and around the world. Anna is a 2020 Steinberg Award winner and the recipient of a Gerbode Special Award in the Arts commission for a new play that will be produced at Magic Theater in 2022. She has been commissioned by NAATCO for a new play premiering in 2021.

John played by C. MICHAEL WRIGHT
Caitlyn played by DEKYI RONGE

Director: Jacob Janssen
Assistant Director: Doug Clemmons
Production Stage Manager: Kelsey Brennan York
Set Design: Maddy Yee
Costume Design: Kärin Kopischke
Lighting Design: Colin Gawronski
Sound Design: Brian Grimm

TAP partners with the amazing Open Door Bird Sanctuary!

The Open Door Bird Sanctuary raises avian awareness and inspires coexistence with the rich natural world of Door County, of Wisconsin and wherever you call home. We are a private non-profit 501(c) 3 organization and the only facility of its kind in the area. With 34 acres of pristine land with hiking trails, wildlife viewing and our birds of prey, we offer a unique combination of environmental and wildlife education as well as being a destination for both Door County residents and tourists alike. Our visitors are all ages offering just as much awe and inspiration to adults as to children. Highlights are:

  • Feature live raptors for educational observation for Door County school groups, service clubs, senior groups all year round both on site and off.
  • Engaging environmental education through interactive, live behavioral demonstrations
  • Shelter to injured raptors (birds of prey)

In addition to having live birds in the lobby before our first preview performance (see video above!!!), Third Avenue PlayWorks also hosted an Environmental Roundtable in their theater space with local climate and environmental organizations. I think this was an incredibly smart and creative way for TAP to be involved with community building for positive change. This event highlighted the subject matter of the play, while using the Arts as an impetus for public discussion as well as nature preservation networking and education. I’m excited to see how TAP continues to engage with their local Door County and Sturgeon Bay residents! We need the Arts to be an active agent of social change, to be a space where the community can come to learn, reflect, empathize, reconsider, experience multiple viewpoints, and be inspired to get involved. Theatre has a unique power to spark important conversation around intense topics that are often avoided at family gatherings or among friends. I highly encourage you to donate to these environmental organizations in Door County to help make a positive change during a time of pivotal climate crisis. I believe in Arts Activism and have been lucky to be a part of many productions which raise awareness about important causes & lived experiences. It doesn’t get much bigger than the decisions we face and the actions we must take concerning global warming.

Donate to these local Environmental Organizations here >>

Soundtrack Notes
I’ll preface everything by saying that I was deep in the throngs of my first Covid viral infection when I composed and recorded the entirety of this score. The day I recorded the initial cello transcriptions of bird calls (heard in the pre-show) was the first day I showed symptoms. The night I recorded the “magical leaf drop” cue on ‘hammered’ guzheng, I was in a completely delirious fever pitch, just hammering away! So it’s a minor miracle that any of this score was finished in time (recorded over a 10 day period) and that the recorded material even turned out to be usable!

In most productions I’ve been a part of, there has been a lot of underscore. This comes from the style of composer I am, the type of productions I’ve been asked to participate in, and what those directors wanted from me. For “Birds of North America”, there was a different type of underscore and a new type of challenge. The director Jacob Janssen really wanted to utilize music for transitions only, as we marked the passing of time in measurements of years between each scene. The focus within the scene however was just the two actors, their father-daughter relationship and the natural environment they were set in while birding.

There is a rich tradition around the world of creating music from birdsong and I was glad to join in the fun of that genre on this project! To start with, I collected recordings of the bird calls of each species mentioned in the play and then started transcribing those calls and songs onto cello. I slowed the tempo and pitched the calls way down in order to fit them into a listenable and recognizable song structure for our human ears. The initial round of these translations can be heard stretched out even further to glacial climbs in the meditative pre-show music (more on that below). Jacob felt that these initial transcriptions sounded too sad and slow when played on cello alone, that we needed more energy to be infused into each transition. The subject matter of Climate Crisis, Political Factioning, and Dysfunctional Relationship were already so heavy that any music seeming too slow or sombre would drag us down instead of lifting us up and into the next scene.

Jacob and the actors Dekyi Ronge & C. Michael Wright did such a fantastic job of finding humor and layered nuance in the production to balance out these weighty topics, that I needed to match and support that energy. It all created more enriching, complex storytelling. To achieve this energy I added in a plucked instrument, the 21 string guzheng 古筝 ancient Chinese zither. I partially chose this instrument because it has such a lively, powerfully bright tone that fills a room, but it also has the ability to bend pitch behind the bridge of each string. These pitch bending capabilities allowed for better birdsong emulation than most other plucked instruments. Between the bowed cello and the plucked guzheng zither, I felt that we had the energy balance we needed and two complementary instruments that could support the dynamic of the characters on stage.

Anna Ouyang Moench specifically advocates in her script for open casting of the daughter character Caitlyn as either white or multi-ethnic. In TAP’s production of Birds, Caitlyn was performed by the bright and engaging Dekyi Ronge, who’s heritage is Tibetan & German. Dekyi explains that, “[I]t’s a gift anytime a writer encourages casting that expands who we get to see on stage. It not only shows us that stories don’t have to look or feel one way, but it also offers employment to artists who may otherwise fall through the cracks of some of our more traditional casting practices.” Representation matters very much in culture and the arts. Though that discussion has become a recent focal point of casting, programming, and employment; I think we’re still in the opening phases of making those improvements and making them last. Through her casting notes on pg.1 of the script, Anna Ouyang Moench, who is multi-ethnic, opens a doorway to that discussion from the very beginning of the casting process for any production of this play. That being said; theaters, film companies, commercials, etc shouldn’t need such a prompt for that to be the standard practice in casting.

The pairing of the Western cello and the Eastern guzheng are in part a response to this multicultural casting call of the show, but in a subtle way. As the script isn’t constantly calling attention to race or hinging on it, the focus remains on the two characters’ relationship, politics and their connection to the global climate crisis. Because of this, I didn’t make the main focus of my composing about fusing the cultural traditions of each instrument with one another. They simply became musical tools focused on telling the story of this particular relationship via birdsongs.

The opening theme of the show is one place where I did specifically bring together east/west influences into a single piece on purpose. It has a folk /bluegrass/ mountain music style – harkening me back to my time spent at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. It is purposefully meant to invoke the feeling of “Americana”. But the actual pitch/interval theme, playing techniques, and pitch/rhythm is derived from the energetic erhu 二胡 Chinese fiddle birdsong style. These are some of my favorite pieces that I’ve learned on the erhu (which I studied in Hong Kong); they are thrilling and so fun to play! I utilized this catalogue of erhu technique and style to translate the story’s birdsongs onto the cello.

There are other influences from my studies over the years that appeared in the music without me intentionally trying. I think it speaks more to the fact that after all the years of playing these instruments, listening, studying the music, the history and learning many styles, certain elements have naturally become part of my musical language & vocabulary. A few moments include the drone and slow cello melody of the pre-show emulating the sound of a Indian Classical Alap introduction to a Raga performance (there are a number of sarangi style moments with the glides, but slowed waaayyyy down). That wasn’t my original vision or aim for the pre-show sound, it just sort of turned out that way. More Indian Classical music influence is found in the closing theme “1,000 Birds” part 1 and part 2. In these pieces, which use my Sarangicello, I’m playing an interpretation of the Eastern Towhee bird call at a lively tempo. When I listened back to the recording, it started to remind me of a Jor (or Jod), an exciting rhythmic pulsing section at the end of an Alap (still unaccompanied by tabla), in something sounding like Raga Hamsadhwani. It isn’t a Jor, but it gives me a similar feeling and it’s technique has quite the same exciting effect, with the “guzheng wing flaps” even reminding me of an Indian Swarmandal accompaniment harp. These are techniques that I learned from my guruji, sitar master pandit Sugato Nag (Kolkata, India).

An influence from listening to and learning about Japanese and Korean court music styles can be heard on the alternate cue for Scene 7, the “apocalyptic mix” as Jacob called it! The ensemble textures with the flute on top really remind me of those styles when I listen back, especially with the sound of the percussive punctuation mark at the end. I really love how traditional Japanese and Korean music utilize space and highlight a singular moment with their percussion elements. So there you have it, some unintended, but nonetheless present influences that crept their way into this score!

Each musical element you hear is some translation of birdsong, from the melodies to the little rhythmic motifs. It all sources from those particular bird sounds heard throughout each scene of the play – and I’ve put the main bird calls in the track titles for each cue!

For the environment texture in the background of each scene (not heard on this album), I recorded hours of nature sounds at Owen Conservation Park near my house in Madison, WI. Owen Park has beautiful trails that stray between woods and natural Wisconsin prairie hills. The wooded trails connect into the neighborhood where I lived while recording this score, creating these wonderful fingers of forested pathways between backyards. There will be a 2nd release of this album coming out next year (2023) with the sound design elements and bird calls from each scene included. But to start with, I wanted to release only the original music as it’s own listening experience. I’ll give more specific notes on the arc of the internal sound design elements for these scenes with the release of that future “Sound Design Edition” of the album… stay tuned!

When There Were Glaciers” Pre-Show music listening guide

Because all of these music cues are transition music, they are quite short! That was one of the biggest challenges of the show and a very very useful exercise for me, as I tend to stretch on when it comes to composing a piece, or improvising, or even teaching… or writing…long sentences! But one place I knew I could intentionally spread out and do something big was in the pre-show while people were taking their seats and settling in before the performance. From the moment I started working on this production, I knew I wanted to make a pre-show piece where you just sat with a wall of glacier. Before we moved into the times of man-made climate change in the play, we could start in the time of glaciers.

In this solid ambience, you hear glacial cello drones mixed with icey guzheng string noises that give off frozen mists as the glacier cracks, settles, and calves. The piece is chronological, a historical timeline. When there are big dramatic guzheng chord strikes, it signifies an important natural environmental event in history – a change in the course of our planet’s trajectory. We also get to hear all of the original cello transcriptions of birdsong (stretched out even sloowwweeeerrrrr) to guide us through each epoch. For each slowed down cello-bird song, I then doubled and tripled the melody, playing in real time with the slowest bows I could muster! Matching all of the slowed down glides and slides was a very fun challenge. When the birdsong-cellos first enter around 3 minutes in, it represents the origins of life, such as plant and animal species appearing on earth. Life goes on for a while, and then around 10:45 we hear the first build of plucked guzhengs which lasts for about 2 minutes, symbolizing evolution, the proliferation of different species and the beauty of Nature’s design. These plucked builds over the drone in combination with the cello melodies was something I had envisioned from the very beginning of the project, but I didn’t get to edit it all together until one afternoon before our first tech runthrough. It occured to me at some point (before I recorded it) that these textures would end up being very reminiscent of the harp and orchestra builds found in John Luther Adams’ monumental 2013 orchestral work “Become Ocean“. After this revelation, I chose not to run away from the idea, but instead to run faster towards it. How perfect was this similarity to a piece that is also about Climate Change! Now it could be my little homage to this great work and to what it represents.

Close to the 14 minute mark we have the entrance of Humankind, with a very questioning melody, in tension with the droning world around it. Our questions and self awareness stirring us in directions that would ultimately separate us out from the rest of the animal & plant kingdoms, though by our own fabrications. At 19 minutes we have another bubbling guzheng build, nature reminds us of it’s beauty and power in answer to our questions and teaches us. Shortly after (about 22:40) humankind rebuttals with the emergence of Industrialization, looking to its own intellect for answers instead. The ominous, dark horn and strings chord brings with it pollution and the start of our Climate Crisis. At 22:30 we hear our first electricity zings, further advancing our technological transformations. Our new melody that begins around 23 minutes is mechanical sounding, repeating the same note again and again like a factory line and ending in a rising siren sound. At 26:25 with the final siren rise, we have been warned, Modern war has arrived. After 27 minutes there is more agitation in the environment, we continue changing the earth for what we think we need, while ignoring what it needs. Take, take, take.

Around 28:30, the “mourning dove” melody appears. It’s beautiful and sad. We are seeing the wonderful benefits of modern medicine and technology in our societies, but we are starting to understand the cost of our developments, and what effect we are having on the earth. Some mourn, some ignore. 31:20 we are out of sync with the earth and what it needs, we are trying to sync up our priorities. Left vs Right vs Left vs Right vs Left vs Right. But eventually these sides come together to create a beautiful swell into a singular moment of understanding at 33:05, and finally we are working together.

With the entrance of the flutes at our moment of unity, we have a light shining hope on us. Maybe, just maybe we can use all of our technological advances to help solve the problem we have created. For the next few minutes there are two futures brewing, one of beautiful hope and one of ugly conflict.

It leads us into the beginning of the end of the piece. At 35 minutes we have once again the swelling chords of humankind in the strings and horns signifying our present time. They are not as ominous as the first industrial chords, there is more beauty and complexity here. Placed in a crucial moment, we must make the choice to finally act in reversing our damages and changing our ways to preserve our planet… or to send ourselves on a path to final extinction, taking everything else down with us. The final cadence at 37 minutes lingers on an unresolved note, what choice will we make?

At 38 minutes, the earth is left resonating, but the glaciers are gone.

John Luther Adams “Become Ocean” performed by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra

Album Credits

Brian Grimm – Violoncello, Sarangicello, Guzheng
Greg Smith – Concert Flute, Alto Flute
Composed, Performed, Recorded, Mixed, & Mastered by Brian Grimm
2022 (c) & (p) GrimmusiK Records

album art by Nik Garvoille

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Brian used Jargar Superior GC and Superior Dolce AD strings on his cello for this album.
Sarangicello was tuned cgad’ for these compositions, using gut strings.