Shane Snow talks song cyles and the challenge of theatre co-ops

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Not Another Musical Co-op presents Songs For a New World, August 12th to the 29th at the Pacific Theatre.  GayVancouver.Net had an opportunity to check-in with co-director Shane Snow about the show, song cycles, the challenges in finding an audience and the even bigger challenge of putting on a show as a co-op production.  Plus we meet the actors.

Shane Snow

Songs for a New World is Shane’s second show directing for this group and his first experience co-directing.  He shares the director’s chair with Sara-Jeanne Hosie, who recently choreographed the hugely successful production of Altar Boyz for the Arts Club Theatre Company.

Tell us about your upcoming show Songs for a New World. It is described as a “a theatrical song cycle” – what does that mean and what can audiences expect?

A song cycle is a group of songs composed to be heard in a specific order.  They are usually connected by a common idea, or experience.  Concept albums like Brian Wilson’s SMILE, or Green Day’s American Idiot are a few examples of song cycles in popular music.  Pink Floyd made tons of them.

Songs For a New World as a “theatrical song cycle” takes the concept album and brings it to life for an audience.  The songs are about moments of transition, that life changing second when a decision is made.  Each story is a snapshot of a human experience; the actors become different characters in different places and different times for each song.  It will be like watching the most intense three minutes in these people’s lives but with singing and dancing.

We’ve married Jason Robert Brown’s powerful lyrics and harmonies with contemporary choreography.  I’m hoping we’ve created a truly memorable and entertaining piece of theatre.

Composer Jason Robert Brown once said about the show – “It’s about one moment. It’s about hitting the wall and having to make a choice, or take a stand, or turn around and go back.” Can you elaborate on what he meant?

The songs are all connected by that exact moment.  The critical second in a person’s life where they make the revelation that forever changes how they see the world.  The moment where your whole outlook changes.  We have all had these moments in our lives … I’m assuming all, but if not all, at least most.  The realization that you’re in love.  Or not in love.  Or that you don’t like girls … the big ones.  Songs for a New World is about what people do with these revelations.  Do they fight for what they know to be true?  Or do they get crushed by it?  The songs are full and exciting to watch.

Why Songs for a New World? Why not a more traditional musical?

The music is fun to sing, and the stories are fun to explore.  I think JRB has written a compelling show that is appealing to actors because it is constantly changing and so full of intense harmonies.

There is also a small cast, which is a definite consideration for a small company.  More traditional musicals often have large casts with choruses and the like which are expensive to produce, which is why you only see them at larger companies like the Arts Club or Playhouse.  Touchstone did Little Mercy’s a few years ago, but that was also a small cast show.

For me, I like song cycles, or reviews because they are like blank canvases to put whatever we want on.  There is no typical or set staging, audiences never know what to expect, and there is a liberty to treat each song as a separate entity.  It’s fun to create so many different worlds in a single show.  SFANW is the most well crafted song cycle in musical theatre.  It’s been a treat to work on.

Songs for a New World is a pretty intensive piece musically, covering a lot of different musical genres, how do your actors prepare for such a diverse show?

The actors in this show are all accomplished professionals.  Most of them have spent the past few months climbing a barricade eight times a week.  It’s a tough question, because I don’t know how they prepared for rehearsal.  All I know is that they have been awesome to work with, along with Sara Jeanne Hosie, my co-director.  Because each song is so different from the one previous, we have tried to create an individual aesthetic for each piece.  SFANW can be presented with people sitting on stools singing the score, the music is fantastic, but we’re presenting it as a series of mini-plays, with lots of fast changes and contemporary choreography.  The actors have been fantastic in taking it all in.  I’m sure it must have seemed intense at times.

Tell us about your cast – looks like you have some heavyweights from the local musical theatre community. Is it tough finding actors willing to do a show in the middle of summer?

When actors do a co-op they have to be more than just willing to do a show.  They have to really want to do it.  A co-op is a group of professionals that come together to work on a specific project.  They aren’t theatre companies, like the Arts Club or Touchstone.  There are no auditions, it’s just a group of people that want to do a show.  It’s like a profit share.  When everything is paid off, we start to get paid.  Until then…

It’s true though we do have a stellar cast for this show.  I am amazed daily in rehearsal.  Being still relatively new to directing professional actors, I feel lucky to get to work with such talented people.  They are finding remarkable things in rehearsal every day.  I’m really proud of what we’re about to put up.

You are back at Pacific Theatre again this year. With the theatre set-up the way it is, with the audience on two sides, do you find this an additional challenge in staging the show?

There are definitely staging challenges presenting a musical at the Pacific.  With the audience on both sides there is no way to have the whole cast facing front; no one position that an actor can find stillness for extended periods.  The space requires that we keep the show moving, the pictures constantly changing.  Because there is no “front” almost anything goes.  We’ve utilized every angle in an effort to make sure that everyone in the audience always has a clear view of the story being told.

This is the second review style show I’ve directed at the Pacific.  Last year’s The World Goes ‘Round featured a lot of circular movement, and this year I’ve tried, with Sara Jeanne, to create a more linear look.  The characters are always moving forward, encountering an obstacle, then changing direction at sharp angles.  Staging at the Pacific makes my brain work in a different way.  Imagining how pictures will look from every possible angle.  It is a challenge I’ve been looking forward to attacking again after the success we found with last summer’s production.

Sometimes it can be a struggle to fill Vancouver’s live theatres but the summer has got to be especially hard. This is your second year with a summer production, are you worried about finding an audience?

There is always a worry about finding an audience.  Especially when our paychecks are directly related to how many people come to see the show.  There are so many things that can impact how many people come to see a show; people are more likely to check it out if it’s raining for example.  I hate to say it, but I’m hoping for a cloudy and rainy August.  I’m confident that what we’ve created will be compelling and exciting to watch, and I think that goes a long way in getting people to come out to see a show.

Reviews have a lot to do with it too, as little as artists want to admit it.   Last year we were getting audiences less than 50 people for our first few shows, and when the glowing reviews came out the show was almost instantly sold out.  We had to turn people away at the door every night.  I was amazed and very thankful that there are people out there that can encourage the public to go see live theatre.  Even more thankful that the show they chose to see was ours.

I really am proud of what we are creating right now.  I’m hoping we find similar audiences as last year; this show is going to be fantastic.

Tell us about Not Another Musical Co-op. What’s with the name and why has it been a year since we last heard from you?

As I mentioned before a co-op isn’t really a company.  It’s just a project by project organization.  Last year’s name was Another Musical Co-op, this year we’re Not Another … it’s mostly a joke.

There are more co-op productions in Vancouver than any other city in Canada I think.  I’m not sure why that is, too many actors, not enough work maybe.  I’m sure there are lots of reasons groups of actors feel they want to put up their own productions in addition to working at the larger companies.  I’m glad for it though.  I wouldn’t have been able to get the directing experience I have without this kind of contract.  I have no idea how one gets to direct at the larger companies, and it’s good to be able to showcase how I see theatre and whatnot, get the old name out there, ect.

It’s been a year since we last did a show because there is no one that works all the time with the company.  There are a lot more logistics to running a theatre company than there are to running a co-op.  I’d like to eventually be able to start a small theatre company in this city, but talk about the stresses of finding an audience.  I enjoy the freedom that project based work has.  I was excited by working with this particular group of people, on this particular show.  It really has been a joy.  I don’t know if that joy would be there if I was trying to run a business at the same time.  Unfortunately I’m not a great businessman, but I sure can get people to sing their hearts out.

What’s next for Not Another Musical Co-op? Will Vancouver audiences have to wait until summer 2010 for your next show?

Not Another Musical Co-op will probably not exist after this show is over.  There are a bunch of rules with Actors Equity (the association theatre actors belong to) regarding how many projects a Co-op can do, how many people can be involved and the like.  There’s a ton of paperwork.  All stuff not really related to this project, or this article.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to direct more often though, so maybe you’ll see my work on larger stages someday soon.  We all work with companies around the city, so keep an eye out during the theatre season.

Meet the cast of Songs for a New World:

Daren Herbert Born and raised in Bermuda, Daren Herbert is a performer on stage and screen. He has trained and worked on stages across North America as well as internationally. He has worked on screen opposite the likes of Kimberly Elise, Beyonce Knowles and Eddie Murphy, to name a few. Some of his credits include, Dreamgirls (2006), Close to Home (CBS), Kyle XY (ABC Family), Smallville (CW) and Roland Emmerich’s upcoming 2012 (Fall 09). Daren also has an LA Drama Critics Circle Award and an NAACP Theatre Award Nomination for his appearance in the Los Angeles Premiere of Michael John LaChiusa’s The Wild Party. Most recently, he performed in Royal City Musical Theatre’s A Chorus Line and a developing project in Los Angeles.
Alison MacDonald Last summer, Alison MacDonald had the good fortune of co-producing/performing in the smash hit The World Goes ‘Round and she is thrilled to be back in producer land! Favorite theatre credits include ‘Dee-Dee’ in Suds, ‘Marta’ in Company (Arts Club), ‘Emily’ in Emily, ‘Martha’ in The Secret Garden (Gateway), ‘Dorothy’ in The Wizard of Oz (Chemainus), ‘Beth’ in Little Women and ‘Gertrude’ in Seussical (Carousel). Currently you can catch her on the barricade in the Arts Club Theatre’s production of Les Mis and this fall she will be yodeling as ‘Lucille Starr’ in the new Canadian musical Back To You: The Life and Music of Lucille Starr (Musical Theatreworks). Originally from Alberta, Alison has her Theatre Studies Performance diploma from Red Deer College and is also a graduate of the Canadian College of Performing Arts.
Jennifer Neumann Jennifer Neumann is thrilled to be embarking on another amazing journey with Alison MacDonald! She feels very fortunate to able to say she’s co-producing Songs for a New World.  Jennie was most recently seen as ‘Maggie’ in RCMT’s A Chorus Line. Before Songs for a New World, you can find Jennie singing on the barricade in the Arts Club’s Les Miserables. Her other credits include; The World Goes Round (Another Musical), West Side Story (RCMT), ‘Sour Kangaroo’ in Seussical for which she received a Jessie nomination for TYA Outstanding Performance (Carousel), Gypsy (Arts Club), The Wiz and Children of Eden (Exit 22). Living the Dream!
Jonathan Winsby Jonathan Winsby is over the moon excited to be a part of Not Another Musical Co-op’s Songs For a New World. Some of his favorite credits include: ‘Gaston’ in Beauty and the Beast, ‘Paul’ in Company, ‘Chris’ in Miss Saigon (Arts Club). He’s also worked across the country with such companies as Chemainus Theatre, Magnus Theatre, Drayton Entertainment, and the prestigious Stratford Festival. You can look forward to hearing Jonathan on the barricade in the Arts Club’s highly anticipated Les Miserables.

Songs for a New World
Pacific Theatre, 1440 W 12th Avenue, Vancouver
August 12 – 29, 2009

Wednesday – Saturday @ 8pm, 2pm matinees on August 22nd and 29th
Tickets $23.50 – $28.50 available at Tickets Tonight online or by calling 604.684.2787

Visit http://www.songsforanewworld.ca for more information.

 

 

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