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Alexandrian Composing Music for Local Theaters

The intense eyes of 23-year-old Alexandria native Aaron Forbes look out on the world from a slightly different perspective than most. Here is a young man who prepared for life through home-schooling which he refers to as "exploring various areas of interest as deeply as the interest carries me." He is now making a name for himself in the world of local theater — as a composer.

He has composed the accompanying musical score for productions of Scena Theatre in Washington, the Washington Shakespeare Company in Arlington and the Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre in Woodbridge. However, his most significant compositions have been for Paata Tsikurishvili's productions for Synetic Theater which are award-winning, music-intensive pieces blending acting and dance with visual and aural spectacle.

Forbes began making music by playing around with his parents' piano at age 5. His aunt, Annabel Sager, taught him some of the rudiments of basic composition and he learned even more from his uncle, opera singer Charles Williams, who is a voice instructor at the Levine School of Music in Washington. He says, however, that he is mostly self taught.

From piano, he graduated first to electronic keyboards and then to his instrument of choice, a "work station" capable of taking samples of sounds and manipulating them in multiple ways.

He tells of the day his father walked into his room, heard music on his speakers and asked what radio station he was listening to. His father confirms the story and says it was the sampled saxophone that caught his ear and that he was "blown away" by the fact that it was not only Aaron's composition but that it was a computer-generated manipulation, not a live saxophonist.

But what is the connection between his musical activities and theater? He comes from a theater family. His mother is the Artistic Director of the Young People's Theatre that performs at Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre in Woodbridge and his father is the Master Carpenter and Technical Director at Classika Theatre in Shirlington.

Aaron says he was introduced to theater at about age 12 or 13 when his mother suggested it as another avenue for exploration in his self-schooling. Later, his father put him to work on some of the projects at Classika and he has come to enjoy high rigging — the work of attaching lights and set pieces to the rigging above a stage.

"He's a very talented guy," said Tsikurishvili, who got to know him and heard some of his music when the Synetic Theatre for which he is artistic director joined with Classika. Forbes sometimes plays his own recordings when working backstage and Tsikurishvili was intrigued by what he overheard. He suggested that Forbes try to come up with appropriate music for Synetic's new production of "Faust" and said the style he came up with would work well for the show. Tsikurishvili describes it as "a sort of punk rock/gothic style," adding that "he understands doing music for theater — that it must help tell the story." Later, Tsikurishvili turned to Forbes for a second show, Frankenstein." For that show, Tsikurishvili used music by Forbes and by Konstantine Lortkipanidze.

Later, Forbes ran the sound board for the Washington Shakespeare Company production of "Equus." Artistic Director Christopher Henley said, at the end of the run of "Equus," Forbes gave the cast and crew members CDs of some of his music. When the company began preparation for Shakespeare's "The Rape of Lucrece" Henley asked the director, Sarah Denhardt, to meet with Forbes because "I thought it would be a good fit, and it was." He produced a score for that production in very quick order.

Since then, Forbes has been asked to compose incidental music for Scena Theatre's production of "The Balcony" which played in the Warehouse Theatre in Washington, and "Appointment with Death" at the Lazy Suzan Dinner Theatre in Woodbridge. Other commissions may be just around the corner.

Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.