“The hard is what makes it good”: Director Jason Hoover on the Yeast Nation Workshop

“Theatre is really hard,” Greg Kotis sighed over fancy tater tots and beers one post-rehearsal evening. Everyone on the production team nodded agreement as we continued to piece together the show and weigh different options. There is no such thing as an easy musical–nor should there be. To quote imaginary baseball legend Jimmy Dugan, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”

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The Yeast Nation cast in workshop

On Friday we presented the Yeast Nation workshop performance, which was really more of a rehearsal peek-in. An opportunity for a small, select group of people to get a glimpse into the early stages of a process that will continue to develop over the next few months. What Friday showed us is that this musical has electricity–primordial as it may be. The audience, who had no clue what to expect, connected with the bizarre story of our yeasts–yes, it is possible to connect with singing yeasts!

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Greg, Mark and Jason at the workshop talkback

The workshop week proved to be an invaluable lesson for both the actors and the staff. Having first-hand access to the creators of the show meant direct and specific answers. Many times a rehearsal process can leave you wondering what an author meant by a certain line of text. With Greg and Mark in the room, we knew. But we also had more to explore.

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The cast with Greg and Mark (front and center)

The hard is what makes it good. We can’t wait to stage Yeast Nation this Fall.

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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“I wonder what the oldest play is”: Writer Greg Kotis on Yeast Nation

Tonight, we wrap up our Yeast Nation workshop with a small invited presentation. Below, book and lyrics writer, Tony winner Greg Kotis (Urinetown) explains his inspiration for the piece.

Where do plays come from? For me, for this musical, it came while watching a Greek theater company’s performance of Antigone in 1995 – in Transylvania! I was writing and performing with The Neo-Futurists at the time, a Chicago-based troupe, and we had been invited to perform as part of a festival happening in Sibiu, Romania. While not performing myself, I attended every show I could, and so I found myself crammed in with hundreds of Romanians and other festival participants in a ramshackle performance hall, watching a very, very old play.

The stage was dark and bare. The performers wore masks and floor-length robes. The show consisted of the actors forming a wide circle and then walking counter clock-wise for – hours, it seemed. The principals would move to the center of the circle and perform their scenes while the company continued marching around them, repeating every line in unison. In Greek. The production was, at first, baffling. Then infuriating. Then boring. Then intriguing. Then hypnotic. Throughout the performance, I kept thinking “This is an old play. I wonder what the oldest play is. Oldest story. Earliest narrative moment.” And so on. By the end of Antigone, I had the beginnings of what would become Yeast Nation: an epic tale of early life’s struggle to survive. In it, we would meet the very first creature, his first offspring, that offspring’s first love, and so forth. It would be haunted and ridiculous and something to rival Wagner or Cecil B. DeMille or any of the great myth-makers. It would be a contrarian, environmentalist anti-musical and it would tell the tale of the first musicalizable moment in all of time.

And, so, here we are, almost twenty years later. The musical exists. Mark and I have a book and a score, both of which continue to evolve with each production. We’ve seen the show performed in Alaska, Chicago, as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, by homeschoolers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and tonight in San Francisco as a preliminary reading in advance of Ray of Light Theatre’s fall production. Yeast Nation, like the characters it describes, is on a journey, and who knows where it will lead. But I’m happy and grateful it’s brought us to this beautiful city, to work with this dedicated group of theater artists on this most unlikely musical.

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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“Holy s***, it’s really Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann”: Actor Kevin Singer on Workshop Day 3

Today’s guest blogger, Ray of Light alum Kevin Singer (Assassins, Sweeney Todd), will play Jan-the-Second in Yeast Nation. Read on for his view from inside the workshop.

Kevin at the Yeast Nation photoshoot

Kevin at the Yeast Nation photoshoot

Greetings purveyors of this fine blog. My name is Jan the Singer, and I’ll be playing Jan-the-Second-Oldest in our upcoming workshop and final production of Yeast Nation (the triumph of life).

Like many of you, I became a big fan of Urinetown: The Musical after I saw “Run, Freedom, Run” performed at the Tony Awards in 2002. Subsequently, I was lucky enough to perform in the show at my high school. Those were the days.

So, unsurprisingly, I spend most of my rehearsal time trying to recover from the fact that Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann are here. In this room. Right now. I mean holy s***, it’s really Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann.

Okay, that’s quite enough of that.

Kevin gets notes from book and lyrics writer Greg Kotis

Kevin gets notes from book and lyrics writer Greg Kotis

At today’s rehearsal, we spent the majority of our time working our way through Act 2. This involves anything from speeding up songs we once thought were ballads to specifying our characters with nuanced intentions, actions, and reactions to each other and the audience. Act 2 is particularly difficult: the plot thickens, characters change dramatically, and the music gets even tougher (and more fun!).

We also took a few moments to work on a new and improved opening scene/number. It’s even funnier than it was before and really does an excellent job thrusting our audience into some serious absurdity. It reminds me of the opening exchange between Little Sally and Officer Lockstock in Urinetown, which remains my favorite musical to this day.

I could go on and on but — actually, I couldn’t go on and on. Most of these rehearsals are a complete daze. I spend my hours staring into Greg and Mark’s soulful eyes. On a good day, Laraine Gurke (our brilliant stage manager), will only have to slap me back into reality three or four times.

But make no mistake: talking, singing, and, at times, dancing yeasts are serious business.

 

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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“There’s something in the air”: Yeast Nation Workshop Day 2

At this rehearsal we delve deeper (into the characters, their motives and the primordial soup–metaphorically, at least). Greg Kotis, book and lyrics writer, gives the cast an idea of the show’s tone. “Something is special about today. Something has changed and not for the better.” The show’s comedy can only exist with full commitment to the circumstances of the play: a tyrannical dictator and a serious food shortage. “Intrigue is central to the way that this world works. Paranoia is rampant and for good reason.” The yeasts have an urgent story to tell the audience–whether they like it or not! (Cue thunderclap.)

Mischa Stephens (Jan-the-Wise), Ben Prince (music director), and Teresa Attridge (Jan-the-Sly) learn new music.

Mischa Stephens (Jan-the-Wise), Ben Prince (music director), and Teresa Attridge (Jan-the-Sly) learn new music.

In this workshop setting, the actors get a very rare opportunity to study their characters with the people who created them. Greg gives the cast moment-to-moment specifics and speaks to many actors individually, helping them identify their characters’ objectives, motives and manner from the unique perspective of creator. “It was great to have a chance to talk with Greg about my character, Jan-the-Sweet,” said actor Courtney Merrell. “He pointed out her ‘working-class hero’ moments, which helped me realize that she’s not just Sweet; she’s proud, and she’s fiery.” Echoed director Jason Hoover, ”Usually, you start with only the script as a basis for your character. Here, we not only have that but also the writers’ perspectives on what’s happening for these yeasts, and how that fits into the rest of the show. It’s a real gift.”

Tonight we jump into Act II. Hold on to your membranes!

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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“It’s our own invention of an origin story”: Yeast Nation Workshop Day 1

The first day of school comes to mind.

The Yeast Nation cast, creative team, and creators–Urinetown‘s Greg Kotis (book and lyrics) and Mark Hollmann (music and lyrics)–are gathered in a basement rehearsal room. Anticipation runs high as we make introductions and Greg tells the cast that some people won’t go for the show, but others will go crazy for it. “There’s an old cliche that if you have people walking out while other people ovate it, you’ve done your job. This could be that show.” A few more thoughts and we’re off: the company’s first read of a brand-new draft.

HEAR THE SONG
OF THE BEGINNING OF TIME,
WHEN WATER COVERED THE EARTH.
AND IN THAT BLACK SHINING SEA,
DOWN BY THE ROCKS AND THE SAND,
THE VERY FIRST LIFE FORM APPEARED.
IT WAS THE YEAST.

Everyone starts to loosen up as music shakes the basement walls a bit. We have a show! Greg, Mark and director Jason Hoover occasionally pause for edits, changes, and tempo notes, but mostly we’re spending the evening listening to the piece for the first time. What are the possibilities? Because we’re set in the bottom of the sea billions of years ago, they’re endless! The creative team furiously scribbles notes as the show goes on–what if, what if, what if? It turns out hearing something that’s meant to be spoken is more inspiring that reading it.

Tomorrow, Greg and Mark will rewrite some scenes and music and the cast and team will tackle a full work-through of Act I. We’ll focus on who these yeasts are, and how the book and music can help them tell their story.

Welcome to the beginning of the creation of the beginning of time!

Yeast Nation Workshop

 

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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Triassic Parq is a TBA-Recommended Production!

Ray of Light’s Triassic Parq, now playing at the Eureka Theatre, has been selected as a TBA Awards Recommended Production by the awards program adjudicators.
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Celebrate Harvey Milk Day with ROLT and a Great Cause

Today we celebrate Harvey Milk Day.

H-Milk

Harvey Milk made greater freedom of expression possible for everyone. Triassic Parq, with its themes of acceptance and human sexuality, would not be possible without Harvey and activists like him.

To show our gratitude, we’re donating 25% of all tickets sales to the Harvey Milk Foundation through Monday. 

See great new theatre in San Francisco and support a great San Francisco cause all at once! Buy tickets now.

 

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Ray of Light Wins Three SFBATCC Awards

Congratulations to all the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award-winners, and especially our own David Möschler (music director, Into the Woods), Lauren Rosi (choreographer, Into the Woods), and Erik Scanlon (specialities-projections, CARRIE the Musical)!

We live-tweeted the ceremony, as always. Follow us on Twitter at @roltheatre!

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ROLT Alum James Monroe Iglehart Nominated for a Tony!

James Monroe Iglehart, beloved Bay Area actor and director of Ray of Light’s 2005 Bat Boy, has been nominated for a Tony for his work in Broadway’s Aladdin. James has earned deservedly rave reviews for his performance as the Genie. Congratulations, James!

See the full list of this year’s nominations here: www.broadwayworld.com

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What the #1$@ is Triassic Parq?

We know you may have some questions…

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