Working in the Theatre: Under Construction – Polyphone

[music] [ghost noises] [evil laughter] Hush now, these shadows set no mortal free, hush now turns come to spill the blood of thieves Blood on your hands I see [drums] [music] [evil laughter] Chester, my bowels. Come on now, Bernadette, you’re trippin
on my boots. If we don’t create new work, what are we
going to have in the future? Because everything was once a new work. Every year we have some new story to tell
because time just happens. A lot of theatre majors are like, ‘well
I have a certain number of dream roles – like I want to be Jo in Little Women, or I wanna
be Elphaba in Wicked,’ but they don’t know that like, oh, maybe there’s going
to be a new Elphaba that you don’t even know about that’s going to be born. [song] Every morning I wake up in my pink canopy
jewel encrusted bed, in my hampton’s beach house…. Musicals get written, they get read, and then
there’s this sort of no-man’s land, you know, what do we do with our musical now? You’re gonna spend $50,000 to put up some
big musical in the spring. What if you took that $50,000 and gave it
to artists who are trying to write new musicals? What would happen? [song] I feel a little insecure. Welcome to
my paranormal….. When you give young people and unproduced
artists the opportunity to tell their stories, it’s radical, because their stories are
the ones that haven’t been told yet. Song: Destined to be famous. My exceptional
style… Polyphone is a festival for new musicals at
the Merriam Theatre and the Arts Wing Theatre in Philadelphia. It’s the entire student body of U Arts working
together, whether that’s on stage or on crew, and we all work together to create these
new pieces of musical theatre that composers bring in to incubate here. A lot of theatre students get out of college
w/out ever having made new work. And as someone who makes new work myself I
am really excited about creating a generation of artists who are really excited about interpreting
new work, and in some cases even divising it with the authors. What better way to learn how to perform in
a musical than to write your own musical and perform in it? A lot of what I’m trying to do with Polyphone,
and with my students is give them the opportunity to explore how they want to tell their stories
with music in a really open way. [music] I’m so proud of you all that are doing these
shows, it’s been really incredible. How are you feeling? Tired? [laughter] [song] Rain in the basement, you’re pitchin’
your tent, whispering puppets say you have no friends. Un-knot your laces so you won’t fall down,
grab your bells and your whistles let’s kill killer clowns. Musical theatre was something that always
brought me great joy. It was something that I wanted to do because
it just made me happy in every aspect of myself. [song] almost as bad as my shoulder blades
that are rubbing away, since I forgot… Singing really brings this sense of empowerment. [song] I’m reliable, I’m invincible It’s such a wonderful way to get a message
across in this way that will stick with you better than if I just talked to you. [song] Yes the next thing you want me to be
is quiet… [applause] Music has this thing that’s universal for
every brain. The fact that was can use our bodies as the instrument to sing and get messages
across with words and just with instrumentals. It’s just so neurologically incredible. I’m curious what you all got from the story
of this song. I got that you were stuck in this relationship
that was so like crazy and manipulative that it was best to compare it to a circus or a
circus act. Do you have any questions for us? Just I mean like, it is worth continuing this
song? Yeah, it’s a great song, and the lyrics
are really open. Polyphone was how I kind of broke out into
U Arts because it was my freshman year when they first started it and I suddenly got cast
this big role in Cesar’s new musical, The Elementary Space Time Show, and it just went
“poof” in the best way possible. [piano] [indistinct chatter] In the past, we’ve done a combination of
new musicals and old musicals, but this year it’s four completely new musicals, all in
different stages of their development. And the actors are ready to take the 40 new
pages you’ve written, or the five new songs, and just roll with it. Initially it’s supposed to be like a stripped
down version, but all of these musicals are very very staged. It’s the next step for all these musicals,
so maybe they did a scripted reading previously and now they’re here doing an off book reading
with students who are very willing to delve into this work. I’ll admit I was very resistant to some of
the feedback from the students, but the students were not afraid to critique the book, so we
actually made a lot of changes based on some of their thoughts, took some of their suggestions,
questions that some of us older more jaded so-called artistic professionals wouldn’t
even consider. By actually getting your hands dirty and making
a musical, you learn way more than I’ve learned from reading many many books about
it. Scene one… 2, 3, 4 [song] Runnin running, run away. Running running running, run away. I am traveling down an…. Running, run away. How’s that sound? Cool. Folk Wandering was such a wonderful experience
as a songwriter. Getting to collaborate on pieces that just
needed like finishing touches or maybe little additions. Mike Brun, one of the main composers was in
the room most of the time, and having them in the room to be able to ask questions about these characters and also learn that there really is truly no wrong answer. We’re really honestly leaving our fingerprints
on these characters. We started rehearsals about two months ago,
and all of Polyphone went on a huge retreat and we got to talk with our casts and with
other casts about the thesis of Polyphone and why new voices are important and it was
a really great two days to get to explore new musical theatre and all of the new musical
theatre that we’ve been putting on this week. I have a collaboration partner, Savannah Sousa,
and we are currently writing a musical right now, and it’s called Retrograde. [song] My fist wrapped around your little finger,
the sea breeze blowing through my curly hair. I walk alongside you, copy your stride, for
every two steps of yours I’m taking five. Daddy’s little girl, we knew from day one,
Mom she was there, but we had more fun. The class has really helped me explore who
I am as a songwriter and a creator. It’s all about discovering the rhythm of
the words and how that fits into the tone of the music. [song] When you are little you can’t see
how small you are. This world is designed to keep people like
us… As a composer I like to bring work to life
by analyzing the lyrics I’m given and creating atmosphere and structure, so that the audience
kind of can follow along with the music. [song] Lost any chance of whatever Dads and
daughters do. [applause] Wow. Cool. What do you think? The structure is kind of wonky, like it’s
not a real traditional structure, and I wanted to know if that was confusing as the listener. No.
Why not? It’s just more emotionally complex, so I
felt foreign, but also taken care of. It works, but it’s unconventional. I don’t know how this is positioned within
the show, but I prob would not call this a lullaby, because it gets a little intense
at the end, I mean I don’t think I would be sleeping. The ‘all of this other bullshit in between’
is that like not a cliche but is it too vague? It’s a miss-stress. ‘Bull-shit in between,’ and I think when
you have a song and you sing a line, and every time you sing the like you’re like ‘but-’,
that’s the line you should change. A lot about songwriting and writing musicals
is being tolerant of chaos for a really long time. You’ll work on a musical for eight years
and it’ll still be a mess, and you have to be willing to tolerate that mess. Because if you can do that year after year
after year, you can really get around to making some great work. You want me to ask him if I see him? Ok. I don’t want anybody to relax about anything. I still don’t think we’ve conquered the
show. I still think the show is beating us. I actually think if you guys kill it, tonight’s
the night we’ll own it. Rather than being like ‘what’s happening?’
which was what was going on Tuesday night, I think you guys have the potential tonight
to go out there and be like, this is our show, and for you to be in charge. Cool, thanks guys. [applause] Go over your mic tracking please! Why am I so nervous? [indistinct chatter] In places – here we go [song] Brother won’t you follow me, oh brother
won’t you come. We can have the holy ghosts, the father and
the son. Folk Wandering is all about how history plays
into the fabric of America, and how we as people need to search for the messages that
have been left for us in our pasts, so we don’t repeat the negative parts of history. [song] Something’s gonna happen oh, the minute
that we leave. The way we learn the things we learn, oh,
we learn them as we grieve. Let us go, let us go, Lord please let us go. We’re trying to train citizen artists – an
artist who is not just viewing themselves as a craftperson, but that is actively engaging
in the community that they’re creating. The community of the town they’re in, of
the University they’re a part of, and the group of people that they’re bringing into
a room to tell a story. [song] You’re the sunrise flying high above,
guiding me through the day and watching over, you’re the beauty I’ve been dreaming of,
every night I wondered when you’d come and save me, you’ve saved me. I have like a community theatre in my hometown
that I did a lot of theatre in, but I was really interested in doing just music, because
I was in a band in high school. It was actually not until I found out that
Cesar was in a band and he started writing musicals with his band that I thought maybe
I can put these two things together. [song] I can only be thankful, thankful to
you, thankful to Marietta. You’re in a class with all of your friends,
so it’s a very comfortable and vulnerable atmosphere for you to be able to share your
most personal work and get some very genuine comments from it. When I look into your eyes I see everything
I need, everything to me, you are. Perfectly paired we are, and I can only be thankful,
only be thankful to you, thankful to Marietta. In the new musical workshop class, we really
dig deep into the words to make sure we’re getting out the exact meaning that we’re
trying to say, and so the feedback is really helpful with that because it could be one word like
an ‘and’ or ‘it’ that pulls you out of the world completely, and so that feedback really helps
to make sure that you are saying exactly what it is you want to say. I want Terry to be that very cartoonish, like hopeless romantic sort of guy, almost comedic like he’s not a realistic person, but I
want you to feel the song as well, so I’m just wondering, is it too cliche or is it
like you know… yeah. It’s a tricky situation because it’s kind of
like the man telling the woman you know of you’re never gonna turn away from me, and
obviously it’s a love song and it’s supposed to be sweet, but there was something that
caught me this time that was just kind of like well… I kind of thought that at first but then I
looped back to the beginning because it’s like if I ever let you down you can walk away,
but you’ll never walk away because I’ll never let you down, I understood that. I also think, like, in context that might stick
out a little less because the character of Marietta is like hiding a secret, and so he’s
trying to really like let her know that everything’s gonna be okay. When we tell stories about romance, we are
necessarily telling stories about our values and about who is invisible and about what
is okay in the world, right? We’re proposing, but my question for you
and for the song is, when you say you want this guy to be this comedic cool guy, I didn’t
know that from this song, and I feel like I should. But you know I’m always trying to get you
to insert more chaos into your work, and I think the pattern of niceness and friendliness
is maybe an armor, you know? Right? Maybe? I don’t know… I say that because I have that armor too,
and a lot of my impulse is always to be like my work is so friendly you know? And it’s suspicious because you’re like,
what’s behind that, or why? The biggest lesson from the class I’d say
is to learn the rules and then break them. [vocal exercises] Happy closing! Last year I was involved as music transcriber
for a show called the material world, and that consisted of writing the sheet music
for the entire musical. This year my position is a bit different,
I’m the associate music director and the pianist for the show, so my job this semester
was writing a lot of the music for the show as well as playing piano for it. Martha Stucky and Anyssa George have really
had a specific vision on the show, and to work with them and be with them every step
of the way on this process has been really fun and also really challenging. Say they want u to write a song about not
being able to lock up a freak, but they have no idea how the song is going to go, they
have no idea what they want it to sound like, and that’s really where the students’
role comes in. We are asked to generate those songs and give
them to Martha and Anyssa for them to then revise for the full production. Alright, good luck and don’t fuck it up
on three! One, Two, Three, good luck and don’t fuck
it up! [song] We are freaks and we don’t care, we
are freaks, check out my derriere. We are freaks and we don’t care, we are
freaks, check out my new mutant hair. I got a fabulous armpit, he’s got a fabulous
armpit. Got a fabulous hangnail, he’s got a fabulous
hangnail. Got a fabulous coccyx, he’s got a fabulous
coccyx. Hey! We are so fabulous. People complain a lot about what shows come
up on Broadway and they say oh they’re all just star vehicles and adaptations, and I
think there’s an incredible opportunity for musical theatre to be a place of innovation
and a place of telling the story of right now and of many many diverse peoples. We don’t hear enough from trans folks, we
don’t hear enough from people of color, we don’t hear enough from women, and it’s
not for lack of these people putting the art out into the world. They are. [song] There were years and years where I was
here and I wasn’t me but then again I was, and sometimes it doesn’t feel real, but
it happened Normativity is a musical that’s fighting
for queer normativity and representation. [song] Someone wrote a story… someone wrote a story. It follows the story of a lesbian book character
who was given an unhappy, tragic stereotypical ending, and so she comes to life and decides
to fight for the story she wants and the story she deserves. It shouldn’t be a big deal to have wealthy
academic black characters in a musical, and unfortunately it won’t stop being a big
deal until it’s normal, which is kind of ironic because I definitely preach about diversity
a lot, and in some ways I wasn’t including their use in the sort of possibilities of
diversity. Especially with new musical theatre and new
pieces of work, these pieces of theatre have really important messages that are being woven
into all of the audience minds without them even consciously realizing it. Will you take the picture for us? Most people don’t want to start their work
because, oh no what if it’s gonna be bad, and you can’t edit before you write you
just have to start. It’s gonna be a rocky road, but it will
get to the big explosion level you want it to if you just keep working on it. You’re all studying theatre in high school,
and thinking about going into theatre in college, well what did you think? It’s really awesome! Loved it.


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