Working Hard For The Funny – Tripod Edition (Or…. Dungeons and Dragons, Video Games, and knowing your audience)

When you think of musical subject matter, is anything ever really off limits? Having to pay to urinate, people who’ve tried to kill the president of the United States, Jerry Springer, Imelda Marcos, mental illness, you name it. There’s something for everyone. So with that in mind, remember this sentence: A musical will reflect the decade in which it was written.

Related to that, let’s consider yet another matter we all deal with, whether we are aware of it or not. That concept is generational issues, and the luggage (NOTE: NOT “baggage,” but luggage) that those bring with them. Add this to your inspirational sayings: What you say to someone is based in your generation, and how they hear and receive it is based in theirs.

So when writing a musical, it would seem that in order to reach a broad audience – or perhaps instead, to narrow in on a specific demographic of people – writers would need to keep both those concepts in mind, would they not?

Recently, NMT blogger Maddi Ostapiw wrote some entries spotlighting the musical theatre scene in Australia. In one of them, she discussed some shows currently being written and in production, and the look of the future of musicals Down Under: “Perhaps shows like these are key to bringing in bigger audiences and showing them that they should be proud of the musicals created at home.” Good on ya’, Australia! Your future looks bright!

And today, there is a perfect storm being “created at home” in Oz – one that combines superb musicianship, heightened creativity, generational understanding, and comedic storytelling brilliance, and that consistently reaches out past a usual targeted audience.

Have you met Tripod?

If you are new to the Tripod world, bookmark and go there when you’re finished here. Until then, know this – the Australian act known as Tripod is recognized all over the world as comedians, songwriters, actors, and performers, and they got their start in musical theatre.

(And oh yeah…btw…these guys are listed as part of your Listening List…)

“When I was a lad,” said Scott “Scod” Edgar, “I did Man of La Mancha, and Big River at Uni. That’s where I met Yon.” Yon, whose real name is Simon Hall, along with third member Steven “Gatesy” Gates, comprise the ARIA award-winning trio.

“In Metropolis, I was the scientist, Warner,” said Yon. “I used talcum powder to make my hair look white. I had a death scene. When I fell to the ground, there was a big puff of talcum powder.”

No strangers to theatre adventures, these gentlemen have written several musicals, and they even have the Edinburgh Fringe under their belt. One of their earliest works, Tripod Tells the Tale of Tosswinkle The Pirate (Not Very Well) – produced what is to this day one of the, if not the, number one fan favorite song in Tripod history – “Ghost Ship”:

Watch this video on YouTube.

In 2010, Tripod debuted Tripod Versus The Dragon – a musical adventure about playing Dungeons and Dragons. When they premiered the show in the US, of the 300-ish member audience, maybe 30 were there because they were Tripod fans. The rest were in attendance because of the subject matter.

There is a saying that you should never confuse success with significance. But in Dragon, the fellas had both.

“The main ‘broadway-ish’ thing about our writing is the way it occupies a fairly wordy, brainy space – that’s just years of writing comedy songs where it’s so about language and words,” said Edgar. “The thing I enjoy is getting the words to have a rhythm and jump that serves the jokes but also serves as kind of a musical instrument in itself.”

Their latest work gave the world This Gaming Life – a musical telling of their lives growing up through the constantly changing medium of video games. And this time, instead of their usual use of guitars and occasional trumpet, they were accompanied by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The score was orchestrated by the Grammy-nominated composer Austin Wintory, whose music can be heard in games such as Journey and The Banner Saga, just to name a few.

“My folks say This Gaming Life sounds Sondheim-y,” said Yon. “I think the way he conveys character and tells stories with his songs is pretty great.”

So bravo to new material, to new concepts, and to knowing your audience, while at the same time, continuing to hold to true and tried forms, rich histories, and in a sense, dancing with the one you came with.

When asked about their favorite musical of all time, Yon said West Side Story, while Scod said Sweeney Todd. So no wonder Yon’s family thinks The Gaming Life sounds “Sondheim-y.”

In today’s world, it’s quite the challenge to not only hold people’s attention, but also to reach their hearts, make them laugh, keep them connected, and deliver a memorable experience.

If you’re ever looking for a stellar example of “working hard for the funny,” then you’ve found it in Tripod.

Good on ya’, boys!

Watch this video on YouTube.

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