Seasons of Love

Isn't it Janus who faces both forward and backward at the same time? Nice trick. Well, I guess you can just think of this as Janus in July.

I don't experience New Year's Eve and New Year's Day like the rest of you. To me, the change of the calendar year just means my fall break is over and I get to go back into rehearsal. No, it's this time of year that's the meaningful time for me, that gets me all philosophizin' and shit, having just closed one season and preparing to launch the next season -- our twenty-third! It's a time to think about what we do and why we do it, and how well we're doing it, and about whether we are serving our community as we should, by addressing the issues that matter to us all.

As someone recently pointed out to me, New Line's last season was the Season of the Misfit -- Andrew Jackson in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Diana Goodman in Next to Normal, and of course the greatest misfit of them all, Charles Bukowski in Bukowsical. All three shows set the misfit against mainstream American culture (though more subtextually in N2N), with three very different results. As is usually the case when misfits are protagonists, all three shows are stories about survival. As I said in a recent post, Bukowski was a black belt in survival, but all three of these characters are definitely survivors.

The season before last also featured three misfit protagonists, but that season was more about the Hero's Journey, the quest to discover the hero's road in life -- the Youth in Passing Strange, Cry-Baby Walker in Cry-Baby, and Rob Gordon in High Fidelity. These were more coming-of-age stories. I suppose you could describe Jackson, Diana, and Bukowski that way too, but I think their stories are much more about sheer survival. Two seasons ago our theme was the breakdown of the fundamental institutions of our country -- marriage in I Love My Wife, the social contract, politics, and gender in Two Gentlemen of Verona, and education, religion, and the family in bare. Although again, I'll admit to some cross-season overlap, as Cry-Baby is also very much about the breakdown of institutions.

I never set out to have a theme for the season; it just happens. I don't usually even recognize it until well into the season. I guess whatever three shows I choose are about ideas that are already swimming around in my head. I guess the shows that best explore those ideas are the shows that seem most interesting to me at the moment. And in a subconscious way, I think that also gives our season a sense of unity, even though I may not initially know why.

I just realized a couple days ago that next season has a theme too -- the created family. The traditional biological family is no longer the only model in America, and all three shows next season are about small groups of people that come together, though choice or by force, and how those created "families" survive or not. What happens when people are thrown together under stressful circumstances? Night of the Living Dead, Rent, and Hands on a Hardbody offer us some insights...

Along with some insights about our society and culture in 2013...

Night of the Living Dead is set in 1968 when complete nuclear annihilation was a real possibility. The story's zombies can stand in for any existential threat, whether that's thermonuclear war or a terrorist attack, but these characters face almost certain death no matter the metaphor. Or worse. They have created a family unit out of necessity, but it is inherently dysfunctional because its only foundation is suspicion and fear.

Rent is set in the mid-1990s, right in the middle of the AIDS epidemic, when some communities were being decimated by this plague. The threat of death is not as violent in Rent, but it's still palpably there. And here, a community of outcasts and sexual misfits form their own created family. There is also plenty of dysfunction here, but fate turns a different way than it does in Night of the Living Dead. Both shows deal with death and with crisis, but they take very different paths.

Hands on a Hardbody is set today, during one of the greatest economic crises in our history, when so many people's lives are still being wiped out -- and when a truck could mean survival instead of homelessness. Like the other shows, the stakes here are very high. This family is only temporary, but bonds are formed, loyalties made, and we see real connection between some of the contestants. This family won't dissolve through death; it's not meant to survive this moment.

These three shows are very different, with very different music, set in very different times and places, and with very different things to say about America and family. In Night of the Living Dead, these characters' families are all presumably dead. In Rent, these characters have all left their biological families to form this new one. In Hardbody, the family members of some of the main characters are present onstage.

But in all three shows, the rules have been changed on these people. What used to be true is no longer true. Most of these characters would be right at home in Jason Robert Brown's brilliant, abstract musical Songs for a New World:
But then the earthquake hits...
Then the bank closes in...
Then you realize you didn't know anything...
Nobody told you the best way to steer
When the wind starts to blow...

How will they navigate these new and uncharted waters? And will they reach safe shores?

That's the story we have to tell...

And it's also the story of everyone working on these shows and everyone who will see them.

A new adventure begins...

Long Live the Musical!
Scott

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