'All possibilities exist at once': 'Entanglement' is a musical about dating and quantum theory
“Improv has been my life for the past 32 years,” says Asaf Ronen. In the past few decades, the closest he’s come to scriptwriting is his work on devised plays such as Rock n Roll Purgatory. That changed with his new work Entanglement: A Musical About Intimate (& Quantum) Relationships, which is not just a fully scripted piece, but also a pretty complex one — it's a full musical with a complex structure.
Ronen says the process of writing and directing Entanglement was a bit intense and personal compared to those earlier devised works. “Writing it all down, this is what it looks like -- this is all the stuff that’s in my head,” he says. “But I think it still has a little bit of that improv sensibility to it.”
The musical is heavily influenced by Ronen’s longtime interest in quantum theory. “I’m the type of person who carries an idea in his brain for about five years before I commit any of it to any medium whatsoever,” he says. “The fascination with quantum theory – which is at the heart of this musical about relationships – that’s something I carried for a long time. And during the pandemic, a lot of my friends were [saying] I have all this free time but I’m not doing anything with it. I should be writing more. And so I started some writing groups, and that got me to start committing this to paper.”
Entanglement uses quantum theory to explore interpersonal relationships, Ronen says. “We see two people on a first date,” he says, giving me the play’s elevator pitch. “And during that first date, they can’t help but think back to all their other relationships… all the voices from past exes, from their parents, from their friends, all these things that influence how we manuever through the dating scene. And so they constantly get triggered into these flashbacks. And so they’re both given, by this ambassador of the universe, the ability to jump back in time, which they use to reset the date every time it’s going badly for them. Not knowing that the other person is doing the same thing and they’re basically undoing each other’s work.”
Not a musician himself, Ronen knew he’d have to have some help if he was going to write a full-on musical. That’s when he reached out to Alexandra Smith. “We had worked together in musical improv, and I thought Alex would be great to work on this with me,” he says.
“It was the first time anyone had asked me to write music with them,” Smith says. “And so I think I was a little hesitant at first, with that imposter syndrome. But I was so excited by the idea – I thought the story itself was so relatable. And I wanted to connect with it, and so for me it was actually a pretty big leap, and I was so excited from the get-go, after I got over that initial anxious hurdle.”
Composing music for a show about quantum entanglement and infinite possibilities was a distinct challenge for Smith. “I mean, putting quantum physics into music is definitely the most thought-provoking question to ask yourself while writing the music,” she says. “So it did lead to a lot of style changes and genre changes even within songs, so we’re playing around with different moods and emotions to kind of work with this endless possibility idea.”
Crafting the storyline for Entanglement involved some complex planning, but Ronen says the musical is still steeped in his decades-long dedication to the art of improvisation. “The idea of it definitely is improv-infused,” he says. “I mean, improv for me is very quantum, because you step out onto the stage and all possibilities exist at once, which is the exhilarating thing about improv. It’s also the scary thing about improv, that all possibilities exist at once and you have to pick one. And I feel like that reflects on dating as well. All possible variations of any date can exist – you can see so many possible ways a relationship could go. But you don’t really have control over that. You just have control over this moment and what path you start down. And Niels Bohr talks about how, when you do that, all the possibilities collapse into one. And so there was that very kind of improv-infused idea that allows me to go anywhere, which definitely made the structuring of how to do that on stage harder to do. Just the idea of resetting constantly and where do we need to jump next and how does this all string together into, ultimately, what I want to say about these characters and where they end up at the end. Which I think is ultimately hopeful but with a big question mark.”