Interview by Brittany Kay
What started out as a classroom project became something “much bigger than anyone could have ever conceived.” A team of five artists spent more than a year creating a dramatic musical that is sure to be a must-see at this year’s SummerWorks Performance Festival. I sat down with creators, Victoria Houser, Emily Nixon, Drew O’Hara, Zach Parkhurst, and Jake Vanderham to discuss their upcoming show, And Now the End
Brittany: Talk to me about the show? What are some of the major themes or messages that come out of the story?
Drew: The show asks the question, “What would you do with the time you had left, if you knew how much it was?” A definite major theme, which we didn’t intend on having, was love. There’s also hope and survival, as you see these characters under this magnifying glass that is the end of the world and you just watch how they deal with it.
Emily: You never see the outside world. You only see the characters indoors referring to how the world is disintegrating, outside, how it’s completely falling apart. What you are actually seeing on stage, is the relationships between the characters contained away from that. You see how the world disintegrating has affected them and their relationships.
Drew: One of the primary questions that the play asks is “What is it that keeps us going? Why do we keep going?” One of the major answers that we found is each other. That’s why relationships and love became such a big part of the show.
Victoria: Another important question that it asks is, “What would we become at the end of the world? What would humanity become and also what is revealed about the people you thought you knew?”
Brittany: What was the spark that ignited the inspiration for the story?
Victoria: It started as a class project at Ryerson Theatre School. As a class we came to a consensus that we were going to go away and write something about the end of the world. We left with our separate ideas and came back to present. At the end of it all, there were five of us left and it just so happened that the five of us were all working on two characters each, aside from Drew and Zach who wrote their characters together.
Drew: It was also partly because of our creative performance teacher, Sheldon Rosen, who noticed that there was an unusually high amount of musical people in our class – not musical theatre people – but people who have an aptitude for music. He proposed the idea of trying to write a musical, which is not typically done at Ryerson. We’re an acting school. It’s not our main focus.
Zach: It certainly became that way!
Drew: You start with a book of course, and then the music… Yeah… It’s a musical!
Victoria: Is it? Did you know that yet? Do you need to write that down?
(Chuckles table round)
Brittany: I mean having a strong foundation of a dramatic story with real characters underlining the music is such a positive feature and is sometimes missing in musical theatre.
Zach: Exactly. The fact that we’re all actors is something that’s really benefitted us in that way. We’ve been able to write for actors. Especially having great casts in the room and in every step of the process has been helpful because we can go away and think about what works and what doesn’t. Having been on stage, we know what’s helpful to them and hopefully we can write better scenes because of it.
Emily: When we were inviting people onto the project, they were presented with the book and the first decision, on whether they wanted to be part of it or not, was off of whether they connected to the book or not and then they heard the music and went “Oh My God, this is amazing!” As writers, it’s nice to know that the book is strong in its own right and is what in fact opened the doors for us.
Drew: Let me also toot Jake’s horn for a minute because we are blessed to have him with us. He is not only an incredible dramatic writer but also an incredible composer. Something really special about how the show was created was Jake’s involvement in the writing of the book and then shifting into the composing. All of the music comes directly from the page and directly from the characters that he knows so well.
Brittany: So much of this show is the music. Jake, as composer and lyricist, talk to me about the development of the music.
Jake: In order for the music to be effective, it has to come directly from the book, from the story and from the character’s dialogue. A lot of the lyrics are word for word some of the text that the characters say. What’s amazing, is how much of our speech and conversation is musical in its essence – it has music to it. When you can find those moments in the script and then fill it with more music, it makes it so affective. The music heightens the moment. It elevates the mood. It’s essentially a fast track to the heart.
Drew: What a quote.
Jake: Sometimes you don’t need words. Sometimes I can see the musical underscore hit the actor and open them up completely.
Brittany: So there has been a lot of development of this show. I just want to talk about the process that has gone into it.
Jake: So it started with a book. Once we knew we wanted to make it a musical (which was a choice that we knew all along) as the composer, I waited as long as I could for the book to come together. We knew we really wanted the book as a strong foundation. I took it and identified what places could be better expressed or heightened through music. Songs replaced text. There’s a lot of back and forth between that. Then we put it into other peoples’ hands and voices and it’s been very valuable having the actors that we’ve had in this process. With two different casts, we’ve been able to have a lot of voices and a lot of opinions and feedback…and so it’s been very…what’s the word…
(Table round laughter)
Jake: It’s been involved.
Victoria: There also came a point where we couldn’t finish it until we had bodies and actors to play these roles.
Drew: Not that it’s finished…
Victoria: No, it’s not finished by any means. We couldn’t really go any further until we had people there because… I don’t know… after working on a project for so long you get trapped in this voice that you’ve created in your head of these people, and it was so helpful to have other people come in and give a completely different take on what you’ve put on the page.
Jake: We brought on our director, Esther Jun during the workshop process that was the Ryerson New Voices Festival. And as dramaturge as well.
Zach: Esther has been instrumental. Before, when we were writing this, the five of us would just dramaturge each other, but that would take five hours. Having one person who became super familiar with the script and music was really beneficial. She was really a key player in the development of our show to where it is now.
Victoria: She still is. We’re still doing rewrites as they come.
Jake: The average musical takes ten years of workshops and productions and the only way it gets better, is by doing it. We’ve been very fortunate in the stretch of six months to have had the opportunity to do the show twice.
Drew: What’s really special is that it came from the collective brain of five people and that has been really amazing to be part of, because it’s much bigger than any one of us could have conceived. I think that development goes back years and years because we all came from a really strong bond of friendship and years of knowing each other… bizarrely intimately.
Emily: Theatre school.
Drew: (Shrugs shoulders) Theatre School. Having all of that behind us, made it easier and in some ways harder for us to discover a collective vision.
Victoria: Having a diverse group of people working together has made for such unique voices because, naturally, we’re all five different people and there’s no way we could sound the same on paper.
Emily: Something that has been really special for me about this process, is that we’re in this absolutely wonderful position where we’re working with people like Tamara Bernier Evans and Troy Adams and Esther Jun. I just remember so much of this process was us between classes, sitting in the hallway, trading and editing scripts and sharing things whenever we could.
Brittany: To state the obvious, there are five of you. What were some of the challenges of working and creating with such a large group?
Drew: I don’t talk to Victoria anymore.
Drew: We all fight all the time.
Emily: It’s true!
Victoria: We’re all friends and we’re all friends still. We all know each other so well that when we get into an argument, we know it’s going to be okay.
Drew: It’s almost like family getting together at Christmas and your uncle is being an asshole and you all fight and say terrible things to each other.
Zach: And you’re sister’s drunk.
Drew: And someone needs to put her to bed. You’re at each other’s throats, but it’s all rooted in love. We fight all the time, but it’s always been in the interest of the project.
Zach: In the words of Drew, everyone’s been on Team Good Show.
Emily: We all love the project so much. We’re tied together by it.
Victoria: It’s what’s expected when you work with five people, but the project wouldn’t be what it is without them.
Brittany: What’s the future for And Now the End? Any further development?
Jake: Having a chance to workshop it without the pressure of a final product – without as much of a high stake deadline. It would be really lovely just to have another fantastic group of people getting together to hammer out the mechanics and see what’s not working. It is more complicated because it’s a musical – you’re telling the story in more than one way. We’ve been workshopping it and also mounting a show at the same time.
Brittany: How has it been being a part of SummerWorks?
Drew: It’s been a very fast maturation for us, from being in theatre school to entering the professional world. SummerWorks has been the craziest part of that because all of a sudden we’ve had this show we’ve been writing for two years, and we get into this festival, and realize that it’s too big for us right now and we need help. We’ve been fortunate to have our dream team of professional artists that we’ve looked up to for years jump aboard. What’s amazing about SummerWorks, is that the Toronto theatre community loves this festival and people of the highest caliber in Canadian theatre want to do shows in it.
Zach: It’s also been a wonderful learning experience for all of us getting into the producing side of things. A lot of this is still very new to us. Being able to work so closely with the creative team in a way that’s not acting, has been an incredible learning experience I would say for everyone. It’s helped us establish ourselves as emerging artists and what creating art, as artists, becomes.
Jake: It really is the Toronto theatre community that brought this to life. We all have poured our hearts and souls into it and countless hours. We’ve all made our sacrifices to go the extra mile for the show. That’s the wonderful thing about our theatre community, people are willing to make those sacrifices for theatre’s sake. No SummerWorks show has a Mirvish budget…it’s a lot of people making a lot of sacrifices and working extremely hard just to support it.
Emily: The professionals in the community have truly embraced and welcomed us. Everyone is just so eager and willing to help us with this project. It’s incredibly inspiring.
Brittany: What do you want audiences to walk away with after seeing this show?
Zach: Tears. Tears everywhere.
Emily: I want people to feel like they need to live more fully. I want them to feel the pressure of time in some way and through that, kind of wake up and stop fucking around… if that’s what they’re doing… and really just try and be more present.
Victoria: I hope they leave asking the questions we have asked.
Drew: I hope they go home and hug somebody they love.
Zack: I just want them to cry a lot…and then want to see it six more times during the run (laughs). In all honesty good theatre makes me think. I would want someone to go away really examining and thinking, “what would I truly do?” A really incredible line that Jake wrote is, “What will our legacy be?” I want people to think “all the living that I’ve done, what does it amount to it and how can I know that I’ve made it worth while for myself and die knowingly.” It’s a huge question for someone to ask.
Emily: And who do you live for?
Jake: And now…the end.
And Now The End
A NEW MUSICAL by Victoria Houser, Emily Nixon, Drew O’Hara, Zach Parkhurst and Jake Vanderham presented as part of the 2014 SummerWorks Festival
Directed by: Esther Jun
Cast: Troy Adams, Tamara Bernier Evans, Ruth Goodwin, Kaleigh Gorka, Amir Haidar, Zach Parkhurst, Hugh Ritchie, Paolo Santalucia, Jeff Yung
Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace
When: Thursday, August 7, 9:30 PM
Saturday, August 9, 5:00 PM
Monday, August 11, 4:30 PM
Wednesday, August 13, 9:30 PM
Friday, August 15, 7:00 PM
Saturday, August 16. 10:00 PM
Sunday, August 17, 5:00 PM