2011/2012 SEASON americanrepertorytheater.org
COLLABORATING ON UTOPIA
ANNIE DIMARIO SPEAKS WITH FUTURITY CO-WRITERS CÉSAR ALVAREZ AND MOLLY RICE, AND DIRECTOR SARAH BENSON
MOLLY RICE: The project appealed to me because there was room for a vast, multi-disciplinary collaboration. We have a visual artist and a drummer/inventor as well as the musicians involved. And Sarah—a visual director—is very much part of the development. This project excited me because it spans a lot of different areas.
AD: How did you come on board as the writer?
MR: I saw the show at Joe’s Pub and thought, I’m going to work on that. I’m a singer-songwriter and I played in bands for many years. Music was my first love before I became a playwright. The show at Joe’s Pub didn’t have a lot of script. There was definitely an arc throughout, and some lovely language. The music was fantastic, so as a concert performance, it was very strong and interesting. And the gaps made it intriguing for a writer, because you wondered what could fill them in. I met with César, and we connected over the idea of expanding the range of possibility between music and theater.
SAMMY TUNNIS IN FUTURITY.
ANNIE DIMARIO: FUTURITY encompasses so much: history, science fiction, imagination. Where did the idea come from and how did it develop?
CÉSAR ALVAREZ: I grew up in North Carolina and Georgia, and I have always been interested in the Civil War. I was driving through Virginia and I always think about the Civil War when I’m in that area. And this idea just popped into my head—“Wouldn’t it be funny to make a Lisps concept album about a Civil War soldier who’s a science fiction writer?”
AD: How did it then move from being a concept for an album to a staged production?
CA: People have always told us we should write a musical, and as the story started to evolve I realized it wouldn’t really fit into an album alone. Against my better judgment, I presented an early version of the musical as my MFA thesis at Bard. After that we got
a call from the Zipper Factory [a New York performance venue], and next thing I knew we had booked this little no-budget workshop of the musical. There was action, costumes, choreography, but it was a mess…nevertheless it sold out. I was shocked by how interested people were in what we were doing. So we booked four nights at Joe’s Pub [in New York], and by that time we had a rinky-dink script. By the end of the Joe’s Pub run, people started saying, “We want to see this on a bigger stage.” Then Sarah Benson and Molly Rice got interested in it, I think, because it didn’t come from a typical musical theater incubating process. It came from the art world and from the indie rock scene.
SARAH BENSON: I’d heard some of The Lisps’ music, and then I started hearing about the project from people in all these different worlds -- theater, music and visual art. The show has an interdisciplinary feel, which I’m always excited about. And I fell in love with the story.
AD: It sounds like a lot of people who are really good at what they do reached just outside their fields of expertise to collaborate. Was the rest of the band on board?
CA: Not right away, but it didn’t take long. Sammy [Tunis, Lisps singer who plays the character of Ada Lovelace] is an accomplished and talented actress. But it’s weird, to be in a band, and all of a sudden someone’s saying, now we’re going to play these songs in a narrative and perform them as a musical. But when they saw the songs come together and form the story, they were on board. And Sammy got really excited because it’s the coming together of her two loves, being in a band and acting. And our drummer Eric [Farber] got super involved in building the mechanical percussion instruments which embody the invention at the center of the whole piece.
That’s also where Ada Lovelace came from, because I was looking for a character for Sammy. In the original draft of FUTURITY, there were all sorts of cockamamie ideas about historical figures, like Rutherford B. Hayes and Thaddeus Lowe, the inventor of
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Woody Sez PHOTO: SAM HOUGH
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