I wrote the adaptation the summer of 1977 but did not get
a chance to test my supposition until spring of 1983, during my second
year as a Mellon Fellow in Art History and English Literature at Cornell
University. I had the very good fortune to meet Evamarii Johnson and
Robert Gross, young professors in Cornell’s Theatre Department.
Evamarii directed the play and Robert played Tilly Lally, the narrator
and owner of the tavern in which the action is set. The rest of the
cast was made up of talented undergraduates and two graduate students.
The music, 21 songs arranged for voice, piano, and flute in the 18th
century ballad mode and central to the play’s meaning and success,
was composed by the flautist Margaret LaFrance and performed by her
on piano with Maura Malarcher, one of her students, on flute.
Island was performed in Cornell’s
Kaufmann Auditorium, 7-8 April 1983, as part of “Blake: Ancient
and Modern,” a two-day symposium (8-9 April) at Cornell featuring
lectures by Karl Kroeber, Morris Eaves, Albert Roe, Peter Kahn, Robert
Essick, John Stallworthy, Reeve Parker, and myself. For the symposium
I had organized three exhibitions, Blake, Illustrator and Poet
at Olin Library, The Art of Illuminated Printing at the Art
History Gallery, and Prints by Blake and his Followers at
the Herbert F. Johnson Museum. Cornell was awashed in Blake events
that spring, but of them all, I am sure the exuberant performance
and music of An Island in the Moon stole the show. Its success
enabled an encore presentation on 11-12 May in Cornell’s Drummond
Studio, which we videotaped with two cameras each night. I edited
the 3/4” videotapes for Ithaca Public Television, which aired
it on 2 December 1983 and a few other nights the following spring.
The tapes were then transferred to 1/2” videotape for home and
classroom showings. And that is the state in which the performance
had remained for nearly twenty years. Now, with the advances in digital
technology--and the assistance of Todd Stabley, multimedia consultant
at UNC's Center for Instructional Technology--I am able to rebroadcast
the play. The present Website includes the entire 48-minute video,
audio and video clips of each song, dramatis personae and credit pages,
and the text of the adaptation with illustrations of key scenes. I
am delighted to once again introduce students to this humorous and
satirical side of Blake, a side little seen or known but present in
one way or another in nearly all his literary works.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill