HOT SUMMER NIGHTS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
1. What inspired you to write this show?
DRIFT is a deeply personal work, written before, during, and after my marriage ended, chronicling my own turbulent journey through divorce and child custody. My now former wife and I bought an apartment in Harlem in a last-ditch effort to save our marriage. Unfortunately, we were too little too late. Obviously, there were many painful aspects to our break up, but through it all we vowed to keep our young daughter’s best interest at heart, no matter the cost. When the dust finally settled on our divorce, I was living in Brooklyn. The dream apartment was sold, and I returned to Harlem for the first time in over a year to collect a few remaining items. Empty save for a few boxes, a rolled up carpet, and my piano, I walked through the various rooms, sorting through drawings and photos.
Not unlike Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are”, I felt the whole apartment transforming around me as I experienced the ghosts and memories of a life that was now gone forever. It was through those moments when I fully realized that what could have been would now never be. That experience was the inspiration for my having written the original concept album, which then grew into the theatrical version being produced by Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy.
2. Have you revised the script based on audience and/or critical response to previous workshop productions? If so, what changes have you made?
Absolutely, but less so because of audience and critical response, and more because of how the piece itself has evolved. As the album was written throughout that year-long experience, there was a natural arc that lent itself to theatrical story telling – there was a beginning, middle, and end. So Album became Concert Version, Concert Version became Show, and it’s continued to evolve into the Concert Musical we’re presenting this month in North Carolina. So in many ways we’re returning to our roots by weaving in characters and story with those original eleven songs, plus an additional eight or so more I’ve written since. The Concert Musical format lends more theatricality to a stand-up-and-sing concert version, but this is not a Book Musical in the conventional sense. The music has always been the foundation for the show, and the feedback I’ve received at every turn has been enormously gratifying. From fans to traditional theatergoers, I continually receive emails, messages, and postings from people around the world to whom the music has spoken and has had meaning. So though it’s a personal work about a very specific experience I went through, the impact of those emotional moments – anger, sadness, and hope — has proven to be universal.
3. Briefly summarize the show’s PLOT in your own words. Please explain the SITUATION at the start of the show and how the various CHARACTERS fit in.
DRIFT is a memory musical that book ends at a single moment in time. A man, David, enters the now empty apartment he once shared with his wife and daughter. As he moves around the room, he’s flooded by memories of happier times, as well as the less happy times that eventually eroded the marriage. These vivid memories flash him back a year prior to the moment when he moved out of the apartment. As we move forward in time, we meet the rest of our characters, including David’s soon to be ex-wife Laura, and a group of other men who’s shared experience guide David through the roller coaster of his emotions.
David goes from the highest highs to the rock bottom lows, eventually gaining peace, understanding, and perspective on the new relationship with his wife and daughter. Our musical ends just as it began, with David in the apartment, with insight and understanding of who he was, who he became, and who he has to be.
4. What MAJOR CHALLENGES does staging this show present to you as playwright — and to your cast and creative team?
In writing a traditional piece of musical theater there are rules pertaining to songs and storytelling structure. Though I’m not exactly a traditional musical theater composer, and DRIFT isn’t a traditional musical, these rules are crucial in character and plot development. The show is rooted in the emotional honesty of certain moments, so part of our challenge is how to wrap our narrative around those musical moments to tell the story and advance the plot. It’s also a completely sung through rock score, so our actors and musicians need to be able to handle a tremendous amount of physically and emotionally challenging material in a short (two week!) rehearsal window. The above also presents unique challenges to the audience. Though there are characters and story, the storytelling itself is based on an outpuring of memories and fantasies strung together, so it isn’t always linear. Audiences need to be prepared to immerse themselves in the work and go along for a thrilling ride!
5. Why did you choose to bring DRIFT to North Carolina in particular Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy? How did you come to collaborate with Lauren on doing so?
Lauren Kennedy and I knew of each other, but didn’t really officially work together until she sang on my album “37 Notebooks” in Early 2008. We got on so well, that when the time came to find someone to helm the big DRIFT concert benefit at BB King’s in NYC last November, I immediately thought to ask if she wanted the gig. I just had a feeling Lauren would bring that wonderful, confident energy to the work. After the huge success we achieved in New York, bringing the show down South
to really work on it felt like a natural transition for both of us.
6. You and Lauren Kennedy have lined up a very diverse cast for this show. How difficult was the process? Were there people you just knew were a MUST for this work?
Well, its always a tricky situation when you cast, but we’ve gotten lucky. We are very fortunate to have both new and old blood in this production (which itself was completely reborn last Fall). Christian Campbell is a dear friend and extremely captivating actor and performer. Throw a Dave Barrus, Sean Jenness, and some wonderful local talent into the mix and you have a diverse and exciting production.
7. Please name YOUR CREATIVE TEAM:
- Show Producer: Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy
- HSN Producers: Lauren Kennedy, Alan Campbell, Hilary Russo, Adam Twiss & Andrea Schulz Twiss
- Director: Lauren Kennedy
- Musical Director: Jeremy Schonfeld
- Associate Musical Director: Julie Bradley
- Set designer: Chris Bernier
- Lighting designer: Chris Bernier
- Costume designer: Shawn Larson
- Projection Designer: Vincent Marini
- Choreographer Matthew-Jason Willis
- Sound designer: Leanne Heinz
- Stage manager: Christine Rapp
- Assistant Stage Manager: Chris Wallen
- Original music by: Jeremy Schonfeld
- and lyrics by: Jeremy Schonfeld
- Other: Additional Written Material by Craig Pospisil
8. Please name YOUR CAST:
- Dave Barrus (Thomas)
- Christian Campbell (David)
- Sean Jenness (Mike)
- Michelle Kinney (Woman 1)
- Yolanda Rabun (Woman 2)
- Gregory Dale Sanders (Justin)
- Andrea Schulz Twiss (Laura)
- Melvin Tunstall III (Peter)
9. Please describe the SET:
David’s apartment, very sparse. Suggested details for various other locations, but all very moveable and open
10. Please describe the LIGHTING:
Lighting and multimedia play a vital role in DRIFT. We have fantasy lighting, concert lighting, and multimedia (video and stills) that will be used throughout the show.
11. Please describe the COSTUMES:
12. Is there ANYTHING ELSE about this show — or this production — that it is important for the audience to know ahead of time? If so, what?
Being honest, with this type of subject matter means putting true moments of raw emotional expression onstage. I don’t water down these moments, so I wouldn’t necessarily suggest DRIFT for a those who are bothered by forceful language or sensitive subject matter. Other than that, DRIFT isn’t like anything you’ve seen before.
Sept 12-20 at 8PM, Sundays at 3PM
The Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell Theatre at Barton College, Wilson
Sept 23-27 at 8PM, Sunday at 3PM
The Kennedy Theatre at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Raleigh
Tickets: $22-$18, Discounts for Senior Adults and Military (with Valid ID)
***SPECIAL $10 STUDENT DISCOUNT RATE (with Valid ID) ***
For Tickets 1-866-811-4111, or visit www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org