Watched, acted in, & directed musicals? Try writing one...
While other students rose early for nine-to-five summer jobs, Brian Cavanagh-Strong '09 shaped his own schedule. Sometimes he worked late into the night, piecing together ideas and fiddling with storylines.
He could set regular hours, he says, but writing a musical doesn't always mesh with an eight-hour workday. Cavanagh-Strong has been planning the musical, his summer Mentored Advanced Project (MAP), since last spring, when the Grinnell Singers Tour prompted him to start thinking about writing one.
He has played the piano for nearly 16 years and taken many music classes, but this is his first attempt at composing a full-length production. "I love musicals," he says. "I've seen more than 30 of them, I've been in them, and I've directed them. Now I'm trying this."
He regularly meets with his advisor, John Rommereim, professor of music. They're both music men at heart, but when they meet, they generally discuss the characters and the plot rather than the score. "Theater comes first in a project like this," Rommereim says. "Why is this character singing this? How does it advance the drama? We've been feeling our way through those questions together."
Cavanagh-Strong has known his cast for quite awhile. Early on, he approached the three men and three women -- Katherine Jarvis '09, Tyson Stock '09, Nate Redman '09, Jaysen Wright '09, Sumana Shankar '10, and Kelly Bosworth '10 -- and asked them to join the project.
"I decided I wanted to have specific people involved in the creation process," he says. "I'm essentially writing songs for them, which is good because they can sing stuff they're comfortable with."
The musical takes place on a Greyhound bus, where the lives of six characters -- a bus driver, an old woman, two friends, an embittered commuter, and a young drug user -- intertwine. Rommereim says the songs, like the characters, vary immensely. The audience can expect a few raunchy numbers, a sunny ensemble piece, and, according to Cavanagh-Strong, a not-very-happy ending.
Cavanagh-Strong intends the musical to go up in November, allowing the actors enough time to rehearse after the score is completed. "I want this to be a low-key experience," he says. "I have fabulous musicians and singers. Even if I wrote a mediocre musical, I would be very excited to be doing it with them."
He hasn't made firm decisions on dialogue and staging, but Cavanagh-Strong says the musical will be "pretty contemporary." "It's not Rogers and Hammerstein," he says. "No one will say, 'I feel a song coming on!'"
The process is not without its challenges; writing a musical is, after all, a huge endeavor. The production will contain 14 songs in all, approximately an hour and a half of music; the usual composition MAP aims for around 15 minutes of music.
"It's difficult trying to figure out what to do next, being organized enough," Cavanagh-Strong says. "I want it to be as put together as possible, but it's the first thing I've ever done like this."