It’s A Wrap

Post-show depression is what happens after the final curtain of a show drops and may last from anywhere from a week to several months. It’s the feeling almost everyone who has worked on the show gets after it’s over, realizing that all the time they’ve put into it has finally come to and end.

With 13 the Musical, post-show depression hit out actors like a truck. Our cast and crew grew so incredibly close to each other that it was hard to realize that the show was over and that they would no longer be seeing each other every single week. Phone numbers were exchanged, hugs were given, tears were shed, and promises to hang out soon were sure to be kept.

A show like 13 is one that brings people together, regardless of who they are. It taught us how to be better people and not take people at face value; to understand that everyone is an individual and has to be treated as such. It taught us humility and patience, that people sometimes mess up. That’s human nature. What’s not instinctual is to have the ability to forgive and heal – that part comes from the heart. 13 taught us to look into our hearts and figure out the person that lies inside of us.

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Well, Technically…

Tech Week.

Every actor, director, and member of the crew dreads this week before the show. Around the theater, it’s commonly called ‘Hell Week’, and appropriately so. This is when everything starts coming together all at once – sets, lights, sound, costumes, and the cast begins full run-throughs if they haven’t already.

Why is it so important to have a Tech Week? There’s quite a few reasons. If you wait until the last minute to put microphones on people, there is a high chance that something will go wrong. One night, it took us almost an hour to get everyone situated with their microphones – no way we could’ve done that opening night. It usually isn’t until Tech Week until an actor realizes that they can’t make that set change and switch costumes for the next scene at the same time, so the stage manager has to reassign the part.

Some shows will have a Dry or Paper Tech, which is where the crew goes through the whole show without the actors. The tech crew may also do a Cue-to-Cue, in which they run through all of the light and sound cues, skipping the dialogue in between. This can be extremely helpful when figuring out a difficult change in lights or sound when the actors don’t need to be present. When the actors are called in, it is called a Wet Tech.

Every person who knows theater knows that Tech Week is the most draining period, especially for the actors. Lead actors are almost constantly working, and ensemble actors may have lots of periods where they are just sitting around. People are tired, hungry, and pretty much no homework is being done whatsoever. Everyone is frustrated and tense, but the cast and crew has to keep in mind that this is the final leg in the rehearsal process. When everyone works together, Tech Week turns from Hell Week into a great bonding experience that is sure to be remembered for years to come.

 

Rhythm with Rizumik

Several members of our 13 team are involved in DMR’s a capella group, DMajoR. With a full cast of voices, we are missing only one piece: a beatboxer. Beatboxing is “a form of vocal percussion primarily involving the art of mimicking drum machines using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, and voice”. Fortunately, we and the rest of the cast of 13 were visited by Rizumik, a professional musical artist. We began by playing a few warm up games as we got to know each other, then he showed us how to make the sounds of a simple drum kit and put them together. Finally, as a group we created a beautiful improvisational a capella piece.

 

Q: Tell me a little about what you do.

I am an artist. Performer, actor, dancer, musician. Within music, I connect mostly to vocal improvisation and rhythm through beatbox mainly, but also through percussion and tap dance.

Q: When did you begin to take an interest in the arts?

That started really early in my life. I think I’ve always had an interest in arts, since I was a kid. I was one of those kids that started drumming on things at home and being very influenced by some stage shows like Stomp, Blue Man Group, Tap Dogs, Cirque de Soleil, etc. But arts have always been a big thing in my life. I’ve always learned how to appreciate arts from a young age, any kind of art – visual arts, painting, dance, acting, all of it.

Q: Did you know you wanted to do this as a career when you were younger.

No! No, I did not. I just felt a big passion and a lot of interest in relation to artistic things but I never really formulated that thought of “This is what I want to do with my life. This is where I want to be.” I was just so passionate about that, and I guess I projected that to the universe in a way through my passion that it ended up happening many years later.

Q: When did you decide that you wanted to do this as your career?

That’s an interesting question, because truth is, I didn’t really decide. I was still connected to the area of my major, which is advertising and marketing, and the universe just brought me the opportunity to work as a professional artist in a show called VocaPeople which was going to open Off-Broadway in New York. That’s what led me to become a professional artist and do this full-time.

Q: What does your job encompass?

I do a lot of different things, but I’m a freelance artist. That’s the best definition for what I do. Within that, what ends up happening is that I have my own projects and groups like a group called The Whole Time with two other people; we do improvised concerts and we teach workshops. I also teach on an individual level, that’s also why I’m here in Charlottesville to teach private lessons and to do my workshop, which I did yesterday. I perform solo sets, I perform with other groups, different groups and ensembles. I record for people’s tracks and I do some studio work as well.

Q: Do you have a favorite specific type of art that you like to do?

It’s tough, but I would say singing, then acting, then dancing, even though singing and acting are way up there, because I do like to mix them both. And in a lot of my work, I…like to create dynamics and exercises that mix improv theater and improv singing. In acting I like a lot of comedy and character work, and that just comes for me naturally. If you see one of my solo shows, I do have different characters throughout the show. I just come up with certain personas that lead to the music in a certain way and have some sort of interaction with the audience.

Q: Are there different styles of beatboxing?

As far as beatboxing goes, it’s like each person has their own style and has a unique way to produce and reproduce sounds because we’re all unique due to our body shape and our creativity. You can adapt to any musical genre and style, but within beatbox itself, technically, there is each beatboxer’s style, so it’s a very unique thing. That’s one of the things that I really like about it, is that it gets really personal in that sense. It’s your beatboxing, and you won’t be able to sound like your neighbor beatboxer because he’s a different person, and even if you do the same sounds they’ll sound different. When you do a rhythm with those sound, you’re going to use your musical sensitivity and musical culture and he’s going to use his. So it’s always different, and that’s a cool thing.

Q: As a beatboxer, do you have any specific warm ups that you do?

When I teach workshops, my warm up is a mix of theater, dance, and singing. I like people to be in their bodies, stretch a little bit, connect with their bodies, warm up a little bit so that you’re not tight and stuck to something. There’s some singing things in the sense of working your jaw and [buzzing your lips], very vocal things to warm up your voice and your lips and your vocal apparatus.

Q: What is your advice for others who wish to step into this career?

My best advice would be for people to not be afraid of trying new things and playing and experimenting…we are our own worst enemy. People tend to get too much in their heads or they tend to lack confidence, they tend to think that they’re not good enough , they can’t really be doing this or they shouldn’t really be doing that. I just say, play. Play with what you have, play with life, interact with people around you. Connect with them and connect with the things around you. Be present in the moment because that is how you are going to be authentic and genuine and truthful to your art.

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Rizumik and our cast

 

Brad Bass Visits DMR (Again)

You know that uncle that comes to family reunions and brings his tiny dog and ridiculously amazing dance expertise? No? Well, the DMR family has someone like this. He’s Brad Bass, and yes, he did bring those things. He worked with the ladies on a cheerleading number, and with the gentlemen on a completely different dance style. He provided great feedback on our show, which opens in one week. During this busy visit, I was able to snag Brad for a quick interview.

 

Q: Did you learn to dance growing up or did you learn as an adult?

Here’s a funny story…well, not really funny. It’s kinda sad. I always danced growing up. In my house, I made up routines, I did all sorts of things. So my mom tried to sign me up and get me in dance classes, and the dance studios in my hometown wouldn’t allow boys to dance. The first dance class I ever took was when I went to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York when I was eighteen.

Q: Were you ever teased as a boy for liking dance?

I think I hid it from people. [They would’ve] for sure. I grew up in the deep south, and boys were supposed to be farmers and sports players; meanwhile I wanted to do cartwheels and pirouettes.

Q: What is your favorite role that you’ve ever gotten?

Playing Hughie Calhoun in Memphis was my favorite role. It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was vocally an extreme challenge, physically a challenge, emotionally a challenge, and you know, you combine all that. And he’s onstage almost the entire show. It was really difficult and super rewarding.

Q: What was it like getting cast in your first Broadway show?

Wow. Getting cast in my first Broadway show is interesting, because I got cast in the Chicago company of Wicked, and that was like being on Broadway, really. It was the same production, just living in Chicago. I did that for a little over a year and then they brought me to the Broadway company. So I was 26 when I made my Broadway debut. And I was, you know…dream come true.

Q: Do you like dancing more than acting or singing, or is it the same?

No, I don’t like dancing as much, because my body hurts! All the time. I really like acting first, and I love to sing, but I think if you’re not a good actor, who cares?

Q: Do you prefer working behind the scenes as a choreographer, or onstage as a performer?

I prefer working behind the scenes. The older I’ve gotten, the less I like to be in front of a group. Helping create something is my way of being a part of it without actually having to have my face on it.

Q: Do you prefer working with children or adults?

I prefer working with young adults. By young adults I mean 11 to 18. That’s my favorite group of people to work with. The reason is, young adults are very receptive and willing to try anything. And once they enter college…they’re not as fun to work with anymore. I teach at a university. There is a sense of entitlement that follows everybody. I [also] like working with professionals.

Q: Tell me a little about The Collins Boy.

It is a musical that I’ve been developing for the last two and a half years with my writing partner, and it’s based on a true story about a woman in 1928, a single mother whose son goes missing. It’s at the height of the LAPD [Los Angeles Police Department] corruption scandals that went on. Five months into him missing it gets national attention, and the police say “We found your son”, and when they bring him home, it’s not her son. She tells them “That’s not my son”, and they tell her it is, and she has to take him home. She actually took him home. She tried to will herself into believing it was her son and she couldn’t do it because she knew it wasn’t her son, [so] she goes to the police and says “I’m not caring for this stranger”, and a lot of stuff happens.

Q: What made you want to write this story?

When I read about this story, it spoke to me. I think musical theater is a heightened form of storytelling. To tell a story through music, it has to somewhat be fantastical, for lack of a better word. This story was so unbelievable to me that…it sings. It sings. A lot of people think that, oh, a story about a missing kid? A musical? But it works. It sings. The emotions, the heightened emotions…even the story itself. It’s unbelievable, and that’s why I think it works.

Q: Why is musical theater so important to you?

Musical theater, I think, saved my life. As a 13-year-old boy, discovering musical theater; as a 13-year-old gay kid, who didn’t know how to be himself, I immediately felt like [in] musical theater, I belonged somewhere. It completes me, as a person. A lot of people don’t get it. I just think they’re dumb. A lot of people say, “Oh, I don’t like musicals”, and I immediately think to myself, oh, so you’re just not smart enough to get it. I always wanted to be on Broadway, and I did it, and I became very disenchanted with the theater and left New York. And now writing musical theater, has, in turn, saved my life all over again.

Q: What is your advice for others who wish to step into this career?

I have two pieces of advice. The first one is…if there’s anything that you love doing just as much as singing, acting, or dancing, go do that other thing. That’s my advice. If you want to sing, act, or dance more than anything else in the world, then that’s what you have to go do. If you like working with animals just as much as you like singing, then you need to go and work with animals because you’ll get a paycheck being a veterinarian every week, instead of living on pasta with no sauce and peanut butter crackers because you’re broke as a joke. But if you are willing to be broke as a joke just to be singing at an audition and 6am, waiting in line, then that’s what you’re meant to be doing for the rest of your life. That’s my advice. If you love something just as much as you love theater, go do that other something. That’s my first thing. Second thing is: stop comparing yourself to other people, and start competing with yourself, and no one else.

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Me and Brad Bass, 2016

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Brad Bass working with the ladies on Opportunity

A Little About Archie

When Jason Robert Brown was in the process of writing 13 the Musical, he knew he wanted a show combining teenagers and musical theater. However, he thought early on in the writing process that something needed to happen: he “realized that a 13-year-old boy with Duchenne would be terrifyingly poised between a fairly conventional if limited life and the onset of a serious diminishment in physical ability…I really wanted him to function as a reality check for the other characters, a sort of conscience. Most importantly, I didn’t want him to be noble and pathetic, like Tiny Tim; I wanted him to be annoying and complicated and unpredictable – in short, a real teenage boy.”

What is Duchenne? Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is one of nine main types of Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disease that weakens the muscles due to a lack of dystrophin, an important protein that keeps muscle cells intact. DMD affects primarily boys, and symptoms will show between the ages of three and five. At a young age, children may have trouble walking, and typically, they will need to be in a wheelchair or use crutches by age twelve. Many patients die before their 20th birthday as the muscles weaken tremendously, the spine weakens and contorts, compressing the chest cavity. Because of this, the respiratory system then fails, and the patient is unable to breath.

Here’s the thing about Archie: He knows he has DMD. He knows people ignore him because of his disease and his crutches. He knows he’s going to die. But he doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, he uses this to his advantage – need a date? Let it slip to Evan that he’s dying for a little bit of sympathy to get him to do what he wants. And of course, how could anyone say no to a boy with a terminal illness? Getting tickets to a horror movie is a breeze. Archie doesn’t see his disease as a disability, and neither does the audience. The audience does not see Archie, the dying, crippled boy; they see Archie, the manipulative, sarcastic teenage boy. The see Archie as a person, the way Jason Robert Brown wanted him to be portrayed.

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An Afternoon with Dan Elish

Last weekend, our cast had the amazing opportunity of meeting Dan Elish, the writer of 13 the Musical and the novel that followed after it, 13. Before we started our first stumble-through of the show, we sat down with Dan and asked him questions about the writing process of 13. He told us about how he developed some of the lead characters, giving our actors a different idea about how to realistically play their roles; among other things, he shared his experience working with Jason Robert Brown, who wrote the music for 13, and the development from the idea of a child-run cast and band to getting it on Broadway. I was fortunate enough to be able to personally interview him; his answers are below. You can check out his website at www.danelish.com for more information on his other works.

 

Q: What is the first piece you remember writing?

The first real piece I wrote that was any good that I really cared about was a musical in college (I went to Middlebury). The show was a G&S inspired spoof of Paul Bunyan that I wrote with a friend named Paul Shoup. (I was always a fan of certain Paul Bunyan stories as a kid). The show was performed at Middlebury and went really well which made me want to do more. I don’t really write music anymore but that was my main thing back then so I wrote the music and lyrics and Paul wrote the script. 

 

Q: When did you realize writing was something you wanted to do with your career?

I got interested in writing almost overnight. My senior year in highschool I put on an old record of Ella Fitzgerald singing Rodgers and Hart songs and go hooked on musicals and decided that I wanted to write shows in college. Which I did. College is a great place to experiment in the arts – act, write, or whatever. Then after college, I reread Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which got me interested and motivated to write fiction (for kids mostly). 

 

Q: What is your favorite piece that you’ve written and why?

Well, my favorite book might be my first, a kids’ novel called The Worldwide Dessert Contest. I also like a grown-up novel called Nine Wives which I’ve turned into a musical called Mann…And Wife. That might be my favorite in terms of musicals because it’s based on my own story. But of course, I love 13 which is certainly the most well-known thing I’ve been a part of. 

 

Q: Tell me about the process of writing 13 the Musical with Jason Robert Brown.

Jason is an amazing, brilliant guy. And nice guy to work with. We had fun coming up with the plot together. Usually I would write a scene then he would write the song that went with it and in the meantime change a lot of the scene (because the song would invariably be different than what I had thought). So we really co-wrote the book to 13. I would write a draft, he would tweak it and write the song, then I would tweak what he had done. Musicals take SO much rewriting, it was something of an endless process that look over five years. And eventually another writer, Robert Horn, joined us, too. Directors also contribute to the writing by guiding the script in the direction they feel it should go.

 

Q: Do you like writing independently, or collaborating with other people, and why?

I enjoy writing with other people. Musical Theater is an art form where the product is better when people collaborate. (The list of good musicals written by one person is very short: The Music Man, The Last Five Years and maybe a few others). I enjoy people and it’s fun to work toward a common goal and not be responsible for everything. Of course, there are disagreements but usually they work out over time. My other career, writing books, is very solitary. But even that was a communal element because I invariably share my work with my wife and a few friends who offer friendly advice along the way.  

 

Q: How is writing a musical different than writing a book? Which one do you prefer?

For some reason musicals take forever to develop. Part of that is economic. It costs so much money these days to put on a show. Commonly, it takes time between the steps of the process, the workshops, readings, and rewriting. There’s a lot of waiting in musical theater! Still, seeing something you’ve done on stage in front of an audience is a real thrill and I do like working with other people. Writing books is more solitary but rewarding, too. It feels harder to write a book – writing prose takes a lot of effort (for me). Every single scene, description, line of dialogue is in your hands and it can be a lot to juggle. I rewrite a lot and go over what I’ve done again and again, but again, it’s a thrill to finish something and then to see it in print. 

 

Q: What is a common problem you find during the writing process, and how do you overcome it?

I guess the most common problem is finding a great idea. A person can work and work and be brilliant but if the core idea isn’t very good it’s going to be difficult to make something great. So if I get an idea for a book I try to make sure it’s truly worthwhile before I get too far into it. Of course, it’s often hard to tell how good something can be before you’ve worked on it for a while. So part of writing is experimenting with different stories and sticking with the ones that feel worthwhile. 

 

Q: How do you deal with rejection?

Not well! Rejection is a BIG part of life in the arts. Everyone at every level deals with it all the time. The arts is a very up and down career – big highs and big lows. It’s hard but I try to be zen about it and just go with the flow. My most recent kids’ novel which I love and worked very hard on was rejected over 20 times. It was very disheartening to say the least. Then about two weeks ago, an editor accepted it and it’s going to be published. It was bizarre but obviously I’m happy. The key is to believe in what you’re doing and try as hard as you can not to take it all too personally. If you’re an actor or a writer or whatever there are lots of talented people vying for what you want. It’s a cliché, but you’ve got to believe in yourself and stick with it. I don’t know anyone who deals with rejection all that well. The key is to keep working and find new projects to get excited about. I also find it’s wise to have several different things going at once so that if one thing falls apart, you can re-focus your energy on one of the other ideas. 

 

Q: What is your advice for others who wish to step into this career?

Just go for it but make sure it’s what you really want to do. If you think you’ll be just as happy being a doctor or a lawyer, that could be a more lucrative, steadier life (maybe). But if you love it there are lots of ways to make a career in the arts work. One piece of advice: try and find a way to make money that’s not connected to your acting or writing – a money job that you like is nice. I still teach piano.
          Remember this: as you get older you will meet people who are partners in law firms and are climbing the corporate ladder. Don’t let yourself feel jealous of that – yes, they may have a steadier income, but you have freedom and an interesting, creative life. Not to mention, no office to go to every day.
          One more thing: be nice to people a long the way. Just have a good, positive attitude. You never know who you’re going to bump into again down the line who can help you out. It’s happened to me. Work hard, be positive and stick with it, be patient, and good things will happen. 
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Me and Dan Elish
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Our Cast of 13 with Dan Elish

 

 

What Does 13 Mean?

The number 13 means different things to different people. For bakers, it’s their own dozen. For customers, it’s an extra donut. Triskiadekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. This might stem from Friday the 13th (the fear of which is paraskevidekatriaphobia], which is considered an unlucky day. The day a person turns 13 is the day they step into being a teenager, and before they know it, five years has up and gone and they’re suddenly an adult, which means they need to make the most of their teenage years.

Around the world, 13 has different meanings. In America, 13 is an unlucky number. This stems from the fact that the ancient world considered 12 to be a perfect number. 13 was simply one digit off and didn’t fit into the months of the year or the clock. Also, when Judas came to the Last Supper, he became the 13th member and later was found out to have betrayed Jesus. However, different cultures have different superstitions. One of these superstitions is that in China, many people consider the number 13 to be lucky. Why? When the number 1 is in the tens place, it sounds like shi, the Mandarin word for ‘definite’. The number 3 sounds like life, living, or birth. So, put together, the number 13 is pronounced shisan and has taken the meaning of ‘definite life’ or ‘assured growth’.

Some people ‘can’t wait for 13’. Peer pressure peaks when children are trying to find themselves, experimenting with new haircuts and styles. Braces and glasses together are a definite no-no, and anyone who doesn’t consistently get A’s is considered dumb. But the outcasts stick together, and their bond can show others that nothing is more important than loving yourself and others. The transition from preteen to teenager is an extremely hard one, but when people work together, it creates a beautiful, thriving community that supports and uplifts every one of its members.

13 the Musical follows preteens as the try to find their place in a world that seems against them. Through their terrific singing and energetic dancing, they tell the story of growing up in a small town and learning from their mistakes in a beautiful way.