Workshopping ON THE EVE – Week #1: New Show, New Key Signatures

I am thrilled to be able to share an exciting experience with you all – a real life look into the creation of a piece of new musical theatre! The MFA program at San Diego State University is collaborating with La Jolla Playhouse to workshop a new musical, On the Eve, to be presented on November 20th. See the BroadwayWorld article here.

This indie-rock musical was conceived by Michael Federico, Shawn Magill and Seth Magill, with the married couple writing the music and lyrics. In describing the show, I think the creators sum it up nicely: “While there is no proof, it’s pretty clear that On the Eve was conceived after The Threepenny Opera and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure spent a questionable night together. The result is a classically influenced indie-folk-rock musical in which band members play for their lives right alongside the actors, with percussive step-dancing as the sound of revolution.” And as for the plot, here is the synopsis that accompanied the staged reading at the NAMT Festival in October: “As bombs explode outside, a theatre company staves off impending apocalyptic doom by performing a sci-fi musical about Marie Antoinette’s first time-traveling hot air balloon. As the dictatorial Talking Man turns the story into a celebration of stereotypes, the company fights back. Soon the play bleeds into reality, reviving hope for survival.”

Where does SDSU come in? This upcoming workshop is not the first staged reading of this production – that happened in 2011 in Dallas, Texas (my hometown, ironically!). It then moved on to a 10-show full production at a small Dallas theatre in 2012 and a larger scale premiere in 2014. It received so much buzz from the Dallas community that it caught the eye of the programmers at the NAMT Festival. They asked the writers to create a one-act version (basically a highlights version) to premiere at NAMT for backers, producers and companies such as La Jolla Playhouse. Because we are focusing our efforts on doing a staged reading of the full version, there is less emphasis on staging, props, costumes and scenic elements. Our director, Stephen Brotebeck, is helping us work on character development and clear storytelling in order to show the writers and producers what works well and what could use improvement. (I will discuss the pros and cons of this process in my next piece.)

The first thing my colleagues and I had to do was learn the music. In this instance, the band Home by Hovercraft (led by Shawn and Seth Magill) recorded most of the pieces from the show onto an album called Are We Chameleons? This album helped us learn the style of the show and the vocal quality with which to perform the songs VERY quickly because we could just listen to the piece on demand. It also helped those singers who are audio learners rather than visual learners to be able to pick up their parts more quickly. We ran into a snag right away: issues with key signatures – especially on my songs. I am playing the character of Simone/Caroline, who is typically an alto while I am a true soprano (a mezzo soprano at my lowest), and the songs were simply too low for me to sing at my best. Thankfully, the creators were flexible and let my professor change the keys so they sounded better in my voice. Changes like this one are important, even in a staged reading, because our job is to show the production off to its full potential. My vocal range should not stand in the way of a piece being shown in its best light. As compared to other readings and workshops I have done, the music rehearsals actually were fairly easy on this piece! The hardest part for me was to put away my classical training/musical theatre voice and get into the style of an indie-rock band.

Watch this video on YouTube.

The official music video of “Lie in Your Bed” by Home by Hovercraft – one of the songs in On The Eve!

I can’t wait to keep you all updated on the workshop process! Comment below or email with any questions you’d like answered! 

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