Crafting an Audiovisual Song Cycle from Red Cross Guidebooks

Heidi Rodewald is the Tony Award-nominated and Obie Award-winning co-composer of the 2008 Broadway musical Passing Strange. Her newest project, A Lifesaving Manual, samples words and phrases from Red Cross Lifesaving Manuals published over the last century and composes them into an audiovisual meditation on aid, safety and care.

The multi-layered music elegantly fuses Rodewald’s pop and rock sensibilities. A Lifesaving Manual contemplates how caring for each other and our world is also caring for ourselves.

Describing the development of the work, Rodewald says that, “It means everything to me to have this piece presented by CAP UCLA. It feels like home. [Former CAP UCLA Artistic and Executive Director] Kristy Edmunds is the one who just came out and asked me what I wanted to make, and I let her in on the very early stages of this piece. And as an artist in residence there, the origins of the piece were created.”

Although the seeds of this work predate the pandemic, it takes on new resonances in light of recent events. “Being able to work on this piece over these past two years has kept me hopeful,” Rodewald says. “I was able to focus on the beauty of how people help other people, animals and the environment. And on how we all try to do our best to make big, necessary changes in the world to make it a safer place for every living thing.”

“The language of lifesaving in the book is universal and poetic,” Rodewald explains. “The instructions, the words themselves are beautiful and heartbreaking and sometimes funny. The piece gives guidance for doing the right thing, the inclination to help when someone is in need, and brings out the best in our human nature. And, most importantly, how to not drown while keeping someone else from drowning.”

In times of crisis and uncertainty, art can remind us of the importance of taking care on both a personal and social level. As one Red Cross water safety guide puts it, “The problem of saving a person’s life does not end when the rescue is completed and the victim brought to shore. Indeed, it is frequently merely the beginning.”

A Lifesaving Manual premieres on CAP UCLA’s free online channel Saturday, May 7 at 6PM. It will then be viewable on demand for two months beginning Monday, May 9 at 6PM.