Local theatres go outdoors and stay in with lineup of summertime musicals
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
When David Brush walks down Fifth Street in the Historic Oregon District, he takes note of a few things:
One of his favorite restaurants for ethnic food: Thai 9.
The Color of Energy Gallery that sits just around the corner from Encore Theater Company where Brush is the co-founder and artistic director.
And, of course, the overall atmosphere — the people, the energy — is what keeps Brush coming back for more, hopeful that some day, just maybe, Dayton will see “eight more streets just like it.”
But above all of the culture that makes up Fifth Street lies what Brush has deemed the “future of Dayton.” The electricity that runs through the brick-lined streets and a liveliness that translates into one common thread: Art.
“As Dayton struggles to find its new identity, we’re screaming — we are the new identity,” Brush said of the Dayton arts scene. “We’re it.”
That fresh perspective takes shape in the upcoming “2011 Festival of New Musicals,” presented by The Human Race Theatre August 5 through August 7 in The Loft Theatre. In addition to two musicals, Love Makes the World Go ‘Round: The Songs of Bob Merrill and Play It Cool, Human Race will partner for the first time with Encore Theatre Company (ETC) to present Pump Up the Volume.
“We’re seeing new musicals really developing their voices,” said Kevin Moore, producing artistic director at Human Race. “They’re molding this material to fit their own voice, and finding a way to relate it to society and what it is today.”
The Human Race festival is the end result of several weeks of actors, writers, directors, musicians and producers working through the required process of creating original musicals. Each actor is as important to the process as the writer who brings his material to the table. The same goes for each and every person who is along for the ride — there is not a written-in-stone product when the professionals come into the workshops. Writers are open to changes as they see actors perform their material onstage, musicians make alterations where it’s deemed necessary and actors take line changes when certain words just don’t make the cut.
“We’re very eager to do this –– we all want to develop this stuff,” said actor Ray Zupp, who will play Malcom in Pump Up the Volume. “We get to say, ‘I was part of that’ — and that’s pretty cool.”
In addition to the three musicals at The Loft Theatre, ETC will present The Consequences, a new indie-rock musical, at Courthouse Square this week, August 4 through August 6 at 10:00 p.m. The show follows two high school friends who meet again 10 years later and begin to examine how their lives have changed since they last saw each other.
“It’s about lost love and getting to confront that person,” said actress Amy Geist who will star in the three person musical with J.J. Parkey and Alex Carmichal. “Most people don’t get to do that and in this show they actually get to.”
Geist said one of the most exciting aspects of the process is not only being a part of the creative work that goes into creating a musical, but having an opportunity to show Dayton “what we have here.”
What Dayton has is room for an artist to breathe, said Marty Casella, who is the co-writer of the book on which Play It Cool is based. Unlike big cities such as Chicago or New York City, Dayton offers a creative team an opportunity to create without being judged or interrupted — space to make changes, even screw up, while keeping the end result in mind: Make new art.
“You can go to regional theaters and people still take chances — and that’s great,” Casella said. “There is hope for the future of new theater — and thank God there are places like Human Race where we can make that happen.”
Sitting at a round table to discuss the upcoming performances, Brush nods his head in agreement as he hears Casella say this.
“All of these little regional theaters cheer,” said Brush, shaking his fists in the air. “There is hope!”
This time around that promise comes in the form of Casella’s Play It Cool, a jazz musical set in 1953 where “men couldn’t dance with men and women were expected to know their place”; Encore’s Pump Up the Volume, a rock musical based on the popular 1990 movie; Love Makes the World Go ‘Round, a “revusical” by Duane Poole that contains the hit tunes by Merrill, who created music for Funny Girl and Carnival; And then there’s The Consequences, whose music alone is a surefire way to shake things up.
”It’s not just about the material,” Brush said about this year’s lineup of talent. “It’s about the way audiences see it — the way it’s presented.
“I keep saying this and it’s probably a bit bold, but this is the beginning of a new Golden Age for theater and it’s happening here, right now.”
Bold? Maybe. But what else can be expected from an era of artists who walk down the streets of Dayton and see a canvas?
Bold, brash and brand new, baby. We say keep it coming.
Reach DCP freelance writer
Caroline Shannon-Karasik at