Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible as a High School Musical

A high school musical that we wouldn’t mind seeing: Canterbury High School in Ottawa has staged a movement piece to Arcade Fire’s second album, Neon Bible, and they’re taking it to the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this summer. The Neon Bible Project is a modern day parable set in a futuristic world where the rapid advancement of technology has a devastating impact on society. Flavorpill spoke to director and long-time drama teacher Paul Griffin about the show’s plot and why the Montreal indie rockers’ music translates so well to the stage.

Flavorpill: How did you come up with the idea for the show?

Paul Griffin: I’ve always wanted to work with the music from Arcade Fire, so I just came up with this idea that what we might want to do is a movement piece. I feel like the music and the words are open enough to interpretation that you can make your own story, and not be far off from what’s going on in the songs.

FP: What’s the play about?

PG: It takes place in a kind of futuristic landscape. Western society is struggling along, lacking energy. There’s this corporation called the Mercury Corporation that appears out of nowhere and says, “We can change your lives.” Their scientists have created this pill which allows people to not sleep, therefore increasing their ability to work. In order to sell the pill to the population, they need to find a figure head, a person that everyone trusts. So they find this young girl who does her job well, but starts to mistrust the corporation — to see that it’s really quite evil. She tries to convince her father that they need to leave; he says no. He gets seduced by the corporation, so she just leaves.

In the second half it’s 10 years later, and a dsytopian landscape. Everyone’s existing in tribes now, and there doesn’t appear to be a Mercury Corporation. People are scrapping, struggling to survive, somewhat like [Cormac McCarthy’s] The Road. This female character is now in one of these tribes. A scout comes and says, “I think we’ve found the safe zone,” so a group tries to reach this place, only to discover it’s a kind of Venus Flytrap set up to ensnare people. All along the Mercury Corporation really just wanted the energy, to suck the energy out of people as much as possible. And then the whole play ends with the fact that she’s actually a drone in this company, and she’s been having a little nap while listening to Arcade Fire. The whole thing has really been a dream, in which she realizes she needs to wake up her life a little bit.

FP: How did the songs themselves help determine the plot?

PG: We listened to the music and lyrics a lot. When I say we experimented, it was always with the music as the background to that experimentation. And even just noticing how much connection there was between the songs; it’s very much a cautionary tale, the lyrics are like a warning.

FP: What is your relationship with the band in regards to this project?

PG: Well Richard [Reed Parry] graduated from here so I’ve talked to him, I’ve known him through the grapevine of Canterbury for fifteen years. We talked early on, but I didn’t really want to bother them with what we were doing.

We’re quite thankful to the band and to Richard because we wouldn’t have been able to do this, I wouldn’t have felt at all easy doing this, if we hadn’t gotten the OK from the band and from their management. I really admire them for being a band that says, “this is kinda cool.” Another interviewer talked to Richard, and he said that he really likes how things circle around in art. He was intrigued by that, and I’m just appreciative that they’re a band that is open to that sort of thing.

A look at the rehearsal process: