When it comes to artistic competitions, it doesn’t get more epic than Joe Basque’s new play The Battle of Battles, opening this week at The Shelterbelt Theatre.
“The Battle of Battles is a true story set in the renaissance in Florence, Italy at the turn of the 16th century. Florence convinced Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci to paint murals in their government hall to see who the better artist was,” Basque said.
Basque got the idea to write the play after he came across a very peculiar passage in a da Vinci biography. The competition was organized by Machiavelli to divert people's attention away from a lengthy war that Florence had been marred in. After all, who wouldn’t want to see two of the world’s greatest artists, both very different and very brilliant, compete against one another?
“You’ve got an older, established famous artist. You’ve got an up and coming young artist who’s trying to take his position and commissions…There’s just so many aspects to these two characters that create so much conflict,” he said.
The rivalry was so heated that at one point, da Vinci petitioned and won a motion to put a pair of brass underwear over Michelangelo's David. With no love lost between the two characters, Basque said that dialogue between the two almost wrote itself.
He started work on the piece almost 10 years ago. After researching and finishing a draft, the show was given a staged reading at the Shelterbelt last year, which earned a Theatre Arts Guild nomination for Best Special Event. After the reading success, Shelterbelt requested to do a full run of the show for the current season.
Once rehearsal began, Basque made some final tweaks and changes and then let the cast and director Daena Schweiger work their theatrical magic.
“I’m not an actor, but I’m also not a believer in making actors get a couple of new pages of script everyday through tech week,” Basque laughed. “I think they should have a script in place that they could start working with quickly.”
He spoke of how helpful it was to have the director and cast give ideas and tweaks to script as the rehearsal process went on.
“As a writer, I’m looking at this from the overall story,” he said. “The actors’ are looking at it as individual characters...and they will catch things about the story or the character that I don’t really notice, that do need to be corrected. It really is helpful to have that collaboration.”
In the end, Basque said he hopes people realize that the state of the world’s affairs then and now are actually quite similar.
“There is not a whole lot of difference between these artists 500 years ago and who we are today. Nothing has changed in 500 years,” he said.
He also hopes to shed some humanity upon some of the world most historic figures by showcasing the flaws that each of them have.
The Battle of Battles runs April 17th through May 11th at the Shelterbelt Theatre. For ticket information call 402-341-2757 or visit www.shelterbelt.org
Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to firstname.lastname@example.org