Photo by Lauren Knapp

Photo by Lauren Knapp

Jessia Hoffman and Matter Herrero from student group Art Isn't Easy performing Gravity

A Scene, A Song, A Number – Game On!

It was the first-ever 72-Hour Musical Theater Contest in Stanford history. Possibly in anyone’s history.

In this whirlwind of a weekend, small teams were given the challenge of creating a musical theater piece (one song, one scene, and one dance) – all over the course of only 72 hours! Three days of intense creative endeavor culminated in a live cabaret- style performance where teams presented the results of their hard work to a panel of experts. Judges included Chad Jones, theater critic for Bay Area publications including the San Francisco Chronicle; Madeleine Oldham, dramaturg and head of The Ground Floor, the new works development program at Berkeley Repertory Theatre; and Michael Friedman, composer/lyricist and one of this quarter’s artist research residents in the Stanford Arts Institute. The prize was $5,000 for the creation of a workshop performance of a new theatrical work inspired by the contest.

Five student teams participated in the contest and the judges were blown away by the energy, creativity, and talent on display. As Chad Jones remarked, “The 72-Hour Musical Theater Project was a blast to watch and, from the looks of it, even more fun to perform. The dazzling array of talent on display, from the writing and composition and choreography to the actual performances, made creating a musical look easy, which it’s not. Essentially over a weekend, these groups conceived entire musicals and devised ways to showcase the essence of those musicals. A process that can take years was compressed into days, and the results were astonishing – not just the levels of talent on display but also the interest in challenging the musical theater form itself. The spirit of competition is clearly a good motivator, but it was also clear that musical theater is relevant in these students’ lives.”

Participants had a great time as well: Undergraduate Tyler Brooks said, “I’ve had a journeyed experience in my four years as a creative at Stanford, and it’s initiatives like these that make me feel like I made the right choice in coming here to pursue the arts. This is honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever had the opportunity to do.”

He was a member of the team Taylored Shepherd Swims Sage Brooks, which put together The Seasons of Sephine: A Reimagining of the Myth of Persephone.

After difficult deliberation by the panel of experts, the prize was awarded to the student team Art Isn’t Easy (Joel Chapman, Weston Gaylord, Matt Herrero, Jessica Hoffman, and Ken Savage) for their musical comedy Gravity, a story of a physics nerd who goes back in time to meet her idol, a charismatic young Isaac Newton. In the process she accidentally distracts him from discovering gravity when he falls in love with her.

The cabaret was an incredible way to witness the creative energy on campus. Congratulations to all the teams on their wonderful creations!

The contest took place at a rich moment in musical theater on campus. There are several student productions to look forward to in the coming months. The Stanford Savoyards are presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Yeomen of the Guard January 30-February 8 in Dinkelspiel Auditorium. Theater and Performance Studies students are already preparing for a spring performance of Evita, The Musical. Ram’s Head Theatrical Society, Stanford’s oldest and largest student theatrical organization is hard at work on their performance of Hairspray. And Mirror Image, an original student-written musical, goes up in March. We’re looking forward to seeing these productions hit the stage.

Student productions aren’t the only ones combining music, theater, and dance. On January 30, Stanford Live presented the multidisciplinary work Story/Time #40 by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company – a rare stage appearance in which Jones narrates the 70 one-minute vignettes his dancers perform with stories about family, lovers, and others drawn from his life or passed down to him. The day before, Jones sat down for a fascinating conversation with Harry Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education.

Campus is filled with opportunities for musical theater. We encourage you to come out and see the show!