Festival Show Update: STU FOR SILVERTON

This month, we check in with Peter Duchan and Breedlove, the writers of 2014 Festival show Stu For Silverton, as they prepared for a reading of the show at NAMT member Theater Latte Da last month. 

Based on the true story of America’s first transgender mayor and the town that elected him, Stu for Silverton celebrates a new American folk hero from Silverton, Oregon. This heartwarming, all-American new musical blends Our Town and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, testing the boundaries of tolerance as a small community adjusts to big changes.

The summer leading up to last year’s Festival you did some major reworking of the book to Stu for Silverton.  What were those changes?
We’re quite fortunate that the real story of Stu Rasmussen and Silverton provides a strong emotional climax. Everything we’ve written builds to that beautiful, true moment of counter-protest staged by the community. Our challenge all along has been creating the right set up for it, giving the audience the information they need for the moment to really land effectively–and not giving them information that muddies the storytelling and weakens that emotional impact. Prior to NAMT, we made a number of changes, particularly to the first act: a new song/sequence to open the show, a new song to introduce Stu’s girlfriend Vic, a new sequence we hoped would explore the tug of war Stu feels between his hometown and the exploration of his identity that occurs in Portland. So, lots of new stuff, much of which we performed at the NAMT Festival.

How did the presentation in the Festival help you discover further changes to make to the show?
The Festival experience was definitely helpful and energized us to make further revisions. We were lucky to have smart, engaged actors in the room, a number of whom graciously offered us their honest reactions during the process. (Annaleigh Ashford, in particular, is a friend of ours, and a smart budding director in her own right, and she gave us some great, generous notes, a number of which we’ve incorporated.) We also met with producers and other theatermakers, gathering reactions and ideas quite helpful to our revisions. The result: we’ve made a number of changes, including writing ANOTHER new song to introduce Vic, as well as reworking the support group sequence, among other things. We learned a ton.
What was the response to the show like after the Festival? 
We were thrilled with the response! We worked really hard to shape an abridged, 45-minute Festival draft that would give the audience a fun taste of the show and, hopefully, leave them wanting more. We got a lot of positive reaction from NAMT members. When Theatre Latte Da offered us this workshop, we jumped at the chance to work on the show out of town, out of sight.
You are now preparing for readings of the full script at NAMT member Theater Latte Da in Minneapolis this week. How has it been working on the show again and hearing the full version? 

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Festival Alumni in the News


Alumni News: Broadway Meet Breedlove

“It’s completely different from my pop music,” Breedlove said. “I tapped into what I learned growing up listening to. My parents performed the music of Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Jacques Brel and Kurt Weill. It’s very diverse.”
Stu for Silverton, he said, takes audiences into a “Our TownMusic Man, Hello, Dolly!” kind of world. “I see Stu as one of those red-headed leading ladies of the 50s and 60s, like Dolly Levi, like Gwen Verdon in Redhead, or Lucille Ball in Wildcat, and that’s really how we’ve written him. He’s sort of this fabulous female lead who just happens to have a penis.”
Heavily revised since Seattle, but with the same heart in tow, Stu is strutting his stuff for a slew of industry members Oct. 23-24 as part of the NAMT’s Festival of New Musicals in New York City, which allows new works in development to find future lives at regional theatres across the U.S.

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Stu for Silverton’s Peter Duchan paints us a portrait of an artist as a (rightfully)

neurotic man as he prepares, worries through, and survives his first rehearsal

First Rehearsal – A Neurotic’s Schedule
7:44am. I give up on sleep and climb out of bed. Our first rehearsal for Stu for Silverton is today at 11:00am. I check the clock. Three hours stretch before me. I will do my best fill it with anxiety. But the problem with the first rehearsal is that nothing’s actually happened yet. There’s nothing concrete to be stressed about. I don’t let this deter me; I can invent something.

8:10am. A watched bagel doesn’t toast, so I distract myself with fear fantasies about rehearsal while I wait for breakfast. We’ve created a forty-five minute cut especially for the NAMT Festival, so today will be my first time hearing this version of the script read aloud. It will be the actors’ first time hearing it aloud as well. What if they don’t like it? That’s nonsense, Peter: they wouldn’t have agreed to be in it if they hated the material. But what if
they liked the script when they read it that first time and now—revisiting it, digging in—they realize they don’t actually like it at all? What if I realize I don’t like it?

10:52am. I arrive at the rehearsal studio. The telltale signs of a first rehearsal. Chairs and music stands arranged by the piano. A stage manager hard at work. Stacks of sheet music laid out for the taking. And, for me, a freshly printed script in a black binder. I love a bindered script. Clean pages, single-sided, great for jotting down thoughts and ideas—which is what I like to do in rehearsal when I don’t know what else to do, just keep my head in my script.

11:00am. Our director, Andrew Russell, greets everybody. He explains how Stu for Silverton came to be. He recalls hearing a radio report about Stu Rasmussen, then contacting and eventually visiting Stu. Andrew talks about inviting Breedlove and me to write the piece. Though we begin the day with seven of our ten actors, we take a moment for introductions. One by one we share our names with the group.

11:08am. A latecomer makes her apology-laden entrance. Now we have eight of our ten actors. One by one we share our names with the group.

12:13pm. I step out of the room to take a phone call just as Meg Zervoulis, our Music Director, begins teaching the cast a rousing group number.

12:22pm. I re-enter the room and am immediately hit by a wall of sound. Eight booming voices, somehow confidently singing notes they’ve just learned. It’s completely energizing hearing Music Supervisor Will Reynolds’ arrangements sung by this cast. And this is just the beginning!

1:00pm. Full Company called. Ten out of ten actors present. One by one we share our names with the group.

1:08pm. Our first read-through of the forty-five minute cut. Immediately illuminating and productive. An actor simply reading a line differently than I’d intended can teach me something about the line. I also realize, in trimming the script, the last beat has lost some clarity. But on the whole, it seems to flow nicely. I’m especially relieved to hear laughter. The cast is having fun. Why on earth was I worried they wouldn’t like it? Of course they love it. They’ve never been more proud to work on anything ever in their entire careers ever.

2:21pm. Sinking into a black hole of self-doubt. In cutting it down to forty-five minutes, I’ve drained our show of all its charm. Who am I kidding, it was barely charming to begin with. What the hell am I doing? Who do I think I’m fooling?!

2:24pm. Andrew gives me half of his energy bar. Sanity restored. 

3:10pm. Equity break time. I’m not a huge fan of these official breaks. I always feel vaguely guilty throughout, like I’m breaking the rules if I chat with an actor. 
So I try to keep my head in my script. But it’s hard with so many friendly faces in the room. One glance at Annaleigh Ashford and spontaneous smiling ensues. I overhear Nick Wyman telling a story and can’t help but laugh along.

3:37pm. Facetime with Breedlove. He can’t be here for rehearsals because he’s currently on tour, wearing his performer hat, an opening act for Lady Gaga. Thanks to modern technology, he gets to chat with the cast. After the call, we get back to work. Breedlove gets back to gallivanting around Europe. I hope he brings me back a present, ahem.

3:42pm. Actors continue learning music. I try to keep my head in my script but I can’t stop watching these actors work. It’s incredible hearing them sight read the score with impressive accuracy. We’ve got a cast of pros.

4:09pm. Lewis Cleale, our Stu, notes that the four oldest actors in the cast have all hung onto their AOL email addresses. He insists his is ironic.

4:25pm. We work out the timing of a tricky song-and-dialogue section, hitting it over and over, trimming lines to fit the music, finessing tempi to accommodate the spoken words. There’s stuff you can’t do until you’ve gathered all the elements in the room. This is the fun part. Standing at the piano, walking to an actor to deliver a line change, pacing in the back while they try again. I like standing at rehearsal. I feel more creative standing up.

5:00pm. End of rehearsal. That wasn’t so bad. Energizing, in fact. I head home to revise the last few pages of our draft. Grateful to have an assignment. I do better if I have something tangible to worry about.

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