This month, we checked in with Elise Dewsberry from New Musicals Inc. about their upcoming concert reading of Invisible, written by David Hollingsworth and David Orris. The reading is being produced in consortium with NAMT member 3-D Theatricals, and has just received a Project Development grant from the National Fund for New Musicals.
Invisible is a John-Hughes-esque musical theatre adaptation of the HG Wells classic The Invisible Man with a totally original pop/rock score that takes great joy in paying homage to popular music and popular cultural tropes of the era. The show ultimately endeavors to physically and figuratively bring the audience into their own hallowed high school hallways via the heightened and dangerous halls of Springborough High School. Invisible lives in the fairly self-concerned and narcissistic year of 1988, because at its core, it is a show about what it means to cut away all of the cultural and social melodrama and truly see another human being.
NMI is working together with 3-D Theatricals to develop this project. How did that relationship first come about, and how did the two organizations come together to work on this specific project?
Funny you should ask! Although T.J. Dawson and I both work near Los Angeles, we actually met at the NAMT Conference in the fall of 2014. We got to chatting, and T.J. mentioned that he was interested in having 3-D Theatricals get involved in the development of new musicals. Since that’s exactly what we’re about at New Musicals Inc., I suggested that he let me know if he had any new works he would like to submit for a reading as part of our STAGES Festival. Since T.J. is hoping to produce new work on his mainstage at some point in the future, it made perfect sense that we should bring him some readings so that his audience could start to feel like they were a part of the development process, and start to take ownership of some of the new shows. Once we got back to LA, we had several more meetings, and we wound up actually expanding our STAGES Festival (summer of 2015) and bringing performances of all five new musicals (including Invisible) down to Orange County for T.J.’s audience. Since then, we’ve created a Concert Reading Series to bring even more new shows down to his audience. It’s a win-win situation—our writers get a chance to hear their new works in development, and T.J.s audience gets a chance to know more about the development process.
What excited you and the team at 3-D Theatricals about this project?
Invisible, which started out as a project at New Musicals Inc., was one of the readings we took down to 3-D Theatricals for our STAGES Festival last summer. Although the audiences there embraced all five of the new shows, it was obvious that they were particularly excited about Invisible. There was a real buzz about the show, and people starting asking T.J. if he might go forward with a full production in the future. Even though the whole idea of bringing new works to T.J.’s audience was to prime them for an eventual world premiere, I will admit we were not really expecting to find such a strong candidate in our very first foray. I have always really loved Invisible, and I was so thrilled that T.J. and his audience also felt it had real “legs.”
How did you decide the development path that you wanted this project to take, and what does that path look like moving forward through the project’s timeline?
After the success of the reading as part of STAGES, we started talking about a possible pathway to full production at 3-D Theatricals. We knew that we wanted both to continue the development of the piece, and continue to include T.J.’s audience so they would feel a part of the process, and therefore, hopefully, eventually buy tickets to their very first world premiere! We decided to include a reading of a new draft of Invisible(incorporating feedback from audience comment cards from STAGES) into our new Concert Reading Series. We decided it was time to add a couple of elements that the writers haven’t yet had a chance to experience—namely having an actual rock band to realize their rock score (we have been working with piano only until now) and also working in some ideas for how to realize the actual “invisibility factor” for production (T.J. is commissioning a puppet design to test out our idea that we can achieve the invisibility and yet still enjoy the actor’s performance, through the use of an ingenious puppet). This is a more ambitious reading than we have mounted in the past—and we wouldn’t be able to accomplish as much as we are currently planning without the very exciting and generous help from the National Fund. After the reading in June, we will assess whether or not we have a draft that is ready to move on to a world premiere production in the next year or two at 3-D Theatricals.
How does this project tie into NMI’s larger mission?
The mission of New Musicals Inc. is to study, develop, and produce new musicals—so the development and eventual production of Invisible couldn’t fit more squarely. We are very excited about the potential for this partnership with 3-D Theatricals. We have the infrastructure for the development of the new work, and 3-D Theatricals has the infrastructure for production. We really “complete” each other.
Why should everyone make their way to sunny California to check out this one-night-only presentation?
Invisible is just such a great story! It’s set in the 1980s, and has a driving rock score that pays homage to the sounds of that time period. It’s about a high school science nerd who, in trying to create a potion to make himself popular, winds up making himself invisible—and hilarity ensues. The characters range from nerds to goths to bullies to the popular girls to teachers who think they are really “hip” (when they aren’t). The show is really funny, and the score is infectious and exciting. And at the end of the day, the story is also truly moving because it’s about “seeing” people for who they really are—and embracing them, even in their nerdiness.