By J. KELLY NESTRUCK
Saturday, August 17, 2019
A newspaper is no longer just a newspaper, of course.
Now it can be a website, a mobile app, a video channel or a podcast. But can it tell the news in the form of musical theatre too?
Reprint is an evening of three short new musicals inspired by photos and clippings from The Globe and Mail archives that opens for a run this week at the newspaper's new King Street address, up in its glamorous 17thfloor event space overlooking Toronto.
This the first edition of a new musical development residency called Launch Pad from The Musical Stage Company and Yonge Street Theatricals (produced in association with The Globe this time around) intended to invest in up-and-coming musical theatre creators and to seed new shows.
Globe theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck donned his Newsies cap and spoke to members of each creative team as they were getting ready to go to press with their new shows.
What Goes Up Music by Colleen Dauncey Lyrics by Akiva Romer-Segal Book by Ellen Denny The Globe and Mail inspiration: A 1977 article by Paul McGrath headlined The Frisbee and the Soul.
What did you find in the archives that inspired What Goes Up?
ROMER-SEGAL: Our initial inspirations were black-and-white photos from the late seventies of recreational life on the Toronto Islands, which led us to the discovery of the sport of competitive freestyle Frisbee - which really blossomed on the islands at that time. That led us to this article, The Frisbee and the Soul, as well as interviewing actual members of the Frisbee community from that era.
Is What Goes Up set to do for flying discs what Starlight Express did for roller skates in musical theatre?
DAUNCEY: When we first saw videos on YouTube and started reading about freestyle Frisbee, it looked like a really interesting topic, but now that we've been working on it and talking to a lot of people in the Frisbee community, it is so much deeper than just what it looks like from the outside. It was really fun to dive into all the details and try to tell this story authentically, but also with a lot of fun eighties music.
The angle and tone of the McGrath article is quite amusing, and enlightening in a way: "Given the respect that was instilled in those who grew up in the sixties for things that do nothing but do it beautifully, the success story of the Frisbee from pie plate to industry is fairly normal ..." ROMER-SEGAL: Yeah, the big surprise to us about the sport was the mindfulness and almost meditative quality that came with freestyle Frisbee. Even the people who are still doing it just recreationally, that's sort of the main thing that they get from it other than fitness and community. We tried to really engrain that into our show.
Will we see some Frisbee choreography in the show at this stage?
DAUNCEY: Yeah, absolutely we will have choreography to the extent that we can within this short rehearsal process and inside of a glass building. But it is wonderful that there's going to be a view of [the] Toronto Islands from The Globe and Mail Centre, so you can see exactly where the show takes place.
Fangirl Music and lyrics by Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston Book by Nick Green The Globe and Mail inspiration: A photo by Boris Spremo of a crowd of teenagers screaming at a Beatles concert at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1967.
How did this 1960s photo inspire a musical ... about YouTube?
JOHNSON: Barb and I are huge Beatles fans and thought maybe we would write about the phenomenon of Beatlemania - and then we met with Nick Green. He arrived with this amazing idea to instead investigate contemporary teenage fandom, which is a phenomenon that exists predominantly on YouTube. It's a kind of crazy Wild West right now, because we're in the juncture where the last generation of adults who lived without the internet is raising the first generation of teenagers who have never lived without it.
What kind of plot did you come up with to interrogate questions of fandom today?
JOHNSON: Well, one of the things that blew our minds the most when we started researching is there's the YouTube stars, and then there are the second level of YouTube stars, who are stars because they run fan pages. So our show focuses on a girl named Michaela, a teenage girl who runs a successful fan blog devoted to a YouTube star. She is sort of a minor celebrity online and then the show follows what happens when she meets her idol in person.
JOHNSTON: Nick has talked a lot about how there's a whole world of the most famous and rich people and nobody knows it exists except for the people who are directly involved. We really wanted the piece to be something that would shine a line on that, but not judge.
You both have a lot of musicaltheatre creation experience, but you also have a side project: You perform in Wannabe, a Spice Girls tribute band.
JOHNSTON: It's been a useful thing that we've drawn on when writing. We'll be in an event where people will just start grabbing at us or start screaming, and you realize that they're not listening or watching, they just want to go nuts. There's that George Harrison quote, "The world used us as an excuse to go mad." I feel like that's so insightful of all fandom.
Cygnus Music and lyrics by Anton Lipovetsky Book by Steven Gallagher The Globe and Mail inspiration: An Aug. 16, 2003, page of photos and reporting by Sean Fine about the Northeast blackout.
What was it that caught your interest in The Globe's coverage of the blackout?
GALLAGHER: It was a photograph that we saw of two people sitting in Riverdale Park overlooking the Don Valley in Toronto and the sun was setting and the buildings [in the distance] were really dark.
There was something mysterious about what was about to happen.
Sometimes, you know, in extreme circumstances, people let their guard down.
LIPOVETSKY: There's something about being forced into a presence with all the lights and electricity gone, distractions gone, that I thought would be interesting for a musical.
Were either of you in Toronto at that time, or in an area where the blackout took place?
LIPOVETSKY: I was in Vancouver.
GALLAGHER: I lived in Cabbagetown and what I was struck by was that, instead of widespread panic, there was a weird sort of camaraderie that happened. You know, the corner store was giving away freezies and people were actually on their front porches, sharing glasses of wine and cooking barbecues together because they had to get rid of the food they were worried about going rotten.
It's like the Toronto Come From Away. Anton, what does the blackout sound like in your show?
LIPOVETSKY: I was really inspired by the angsty kind of ennui of the early 2000s. Like the music of Aimee Mann: introspective, folky, pop songs. I thought that was kind of perfect for the blackout because it's an acoustic sound.
But it's evolved into its own thing, like any musical that I've worked on.
What can you tell me about the story that you've put together?
GALLAGHER: Well, about a month before the blackout happened, gay marriage became legal in Ontario - and so that plays into the story a little bit. There was a lot of change happening in the city at that time and a lot of real excitement, but a lot of people may have gotten married because they could. Anton and I were also really interested in how difficult it is to make a connection when you live in a large city.
You two were connected with each other through the Launch Pad program.
LIPOVETSKY: We were a match made by The Musical Stage Company. We live in different cities, so it could have been a struggle to stay connected, but we have a great relationship online.
GALLAGHER: I send him full book scenes by text and he'll send me whole lyrics for songs, and we go back and forth for hours by text.
It's really amazing being not in the same space, but sort of in the same space, as well because of technology that didn't exist in 2003.
These interviews have been condensed and edited.
Reprint runs August 19-22.
Tickets available at musicalstagecompany.com
From left: Colleen Dauncey, Akiva Romer-Segal and Ellen Denny are the brains behind What Goes Up, which takes inspiration from a 1977 Globe and Mail article about competitive Frisbee on the Toronto Islands.
Fangirl, from Barbara Johnston, Nick Green and Anika Johnson, draws on a 1967 photo in The Globe showing a crowd of teenage fans screaming as The Beatles perform. Green suggested using the piece to investigate contemporary fan culture.
ABOVE, TOP: DAHLIA KATZ
The Globe's coverage of the 2003 Northeast blackout served as a launch pad for Anton Lipovetsky and Steven Gallagher's Cygnus. Gallagher lived in Cabbagetown at the time, and remembers being struck by the 'weird sort of camaraderie that happened.'
FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL