NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Described as "a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical," the hilarious “[title of show]” opens April 20 at Stephen F. Austin State University as the final 2022-23 Mainstage Series presentation of the School of Theater and Dance.
With music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and book by Hunter Bell, “[title of show]” is about Jeff and Hunter, two struggling writers, who hear about a new musical theatre festival. However, the deadline for submissions is a mere three weeks away. “[title of show]” follows their journey through the gauntlet of creative expression, and is, above all, a tribute to musical theatre and the joy of collaboration, according to Kristen Blossom, assistant professor who teaches acting, voice and musical theatre at SFA and the musical’s director.
“‘[title of show]’ brings us back to the heart of theatre, which is ‘play,’” Blossom said. “As artists, we often take ourselves incredibly seriously, and sometimes that can be to our detriment. I think satire is healthy because it provides a safe place to laugh at yourself. This musical is about two people writing a musical, and that premise sets us up for a lot of questions: ‘Are we writing for art?’ ‘Is art a springboard for fame?’ ‘But would fame mean that we're sell-outs?’ These are all lines taken from Bowen’s song ‘Two Nobodies in New York,’ which is about our two characters trying to figure out why they're writing this musical.”
As Jeff and Hunter, with the help of friends, begin a conversation about what to write for the competition, Jeff suggests they write about what to write about. They make a pact to write up until the festival's deadline, and they dream about the show changing their lives. “[title of show]” – taken from the space on the festival's application form which asks for the [title of show] – follows them through this crazy endeavor. In the span of 90 minutes, they write and perform their show at the festival and learn lessons about themselves as people, friends and artists.
As the play unfolds, it takes the audience into the writers’ imaginary world of ideas for the play and then back to the demanding and sometimes grueling reality of getting an idea off the ground.
“As a director, I'm playing with reality and imagination and how to combine the two,” Blossom said. “Every time the characters sing, they go into a very creative place where anything could happen. Then, when the song ends, we go back to the same stark lighting in an NYC apartment, and that sort of jerks us back into their reality as struggling artists.
“The play is meta in that we acknowledge the audience watching us, and we acknowledge that the play is being written as the actors speak it,” she said. “Our student actors are presented with a big challenge of allowing a unique, organic honesty to drive their performance. Can they say these words that are written in the script as if it were their first time to ever speak them? That's the goal of most acting techniques, and it's fundamental in this specific piece.”
Blossom said people who love TV, movies, plays, musicals and “all things pertaining to the entertainment industry” will enjoy “[title of show].” We really explore the miscommunications and conflicts that arise during the creative process. We especially explore the experience of juggling the initial integrity of your piece of art with the difficult task of promoting your own work, which I think is hard for artists and creators. Being your own representative is extremely taxing, because you're constantly trying to prove that your ideas are good. This play will resonate with everyone who has ever worked in a creative team to get an idea off the ground.”
Blossom said the “clean version” of the musical was chosen, meaning that all the material that might have been inappropriate for some audience members has been rewritten by the playwright and lyricist.
The word “enjoyment” is used a lot in “[title of show],” Blossom said, adding that if people are not enjoying what they are doing, something needs to change. “[title of play]” deals with that challenge as it pertains to theatrical performance, but the lesson is there for everyone in all aspects of life.
“It's really tricky for theatre types to find that balance between perfectionism and enjoyment,” she said. “Artists would do well to remember the childhood feeling of playing without pressure or criticism. I hope we can all remember a time in our lives when we didn't demand so much from ourselves, and we shared our hearts with one another unapologetically and without judgment.”
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, April 20 through 22, and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23. General ticket prices are: adult, $15; senior (62+), $10; youth (high school and younger), $8; SFA faculty/staff, $8; non-SFA student, $8; and SFA student, $5. For ticketing information or to purchase tickets, call the Fine Arts Box Office at (936) 468-6407 or (888) 240-ARTS, or visit https://www.finearts.sfasu.edu/events/2023/04#2082. For information about the play, call (936) 468-4003 or visit sfasu.edu/theatre-dance.