Musical ‘String’ to revitalize UI theater department scene

The musical, based on a book by IU MFA Playwright’s Workshop graduate Sarah Hammond, with music by Ordinary Days creator Adam Gwon, follows the story of the Three Fates of Greek mythology, who are banished from Mount Olympus to live on Earth.

As a child, one of playwright Sarah Hammond’s most beloved books was her copy of Book of Greek Myths by D’Aulaires. Inside, tucked into the corner of a page filled with the gods and goddess of Olympus, was a tiny illustration of three shadowy women holding a long string – the Three Fates, twisting, measuring and finally cutting the Thread of Life.

Often deployed in modern accounts of Greek myths as minor characters and antagonists in the hero’s story, the Fates and the small depiction of them in his book remained with Hammond. It will be many years later that she will give them a story of their own, which will become the musical String of characters, developed alongside Ordinary days creator Adam Gwon.

String of characters opens on the Mabie Theater stage at the University of Iowa on March 4 and will last two weeks. Hammond, a graduate of UI’s theater department’s MFA playwriting workshop in 2005, said she felt “flattered and thrilled” when the department contacted her to put on a production of the show. .

The musical follows the three Fates: Atropos, Lachesis and Clotho, who are banished from Mount Olympus by Zeus to live on Earth. Living and working among mortals in the world’s tallest building, the “Infinity Building”, the Fates must find a way home, and when the eldest Fates, Atropos, falls in love with an ordinary security guard , she faces a decision that challenges the very essence of her sinister responsibility.

Once a stranger to the world of songwriting, Hammond first wrote String of characters like a one-act play. She and Gwon shone in each other’s work and became good friends as fellows during a year-long theater intensive, where Gwon developed Ordinary days and Hammond was working on a different piece.

The two began collaborating on String of characters afterwards, when Gwon received a commission offer from a producer.

“He came up to me and said, ‘We’ve been talking about writing a show together and I’m wondering if you have any ideas that you’d be interested in turning into a musical? “, Hammond recalled. “And I was like, ‘Well, I got this one in one act.'”

Gwon immediately saw the musical potential of the piece.

“The theatrical imagination that Sarah has, for me, creates these worlds that sing,” he said.

While many characters and settings remained the same, turning the play into a musical required Gwon and Hammond to rewrite much of the play to build String of characters’the central love story.

The process took over a year, and the second act wasn’t even complete when the two received their first studio offer from Milliken University. Hammond recalls hurriedly finishing the musical in a small dorm in Decatur, Illinois.

As a playwright, Hammond wasn’t sure what to expect when she first heard the college-aged ensemble sing the work.

“When you’re used to playwriting, you can say all the words in your head. You can sit down and read it to yourself and imagine the scene, but with musical comedy and lots of choral voices – I heard Adam sing the songs, I had never heard actors sing the songs,” she said. “It was a big musical with a choir and three women in the middle – Adam is a beautiful singer, but it’s not three women.”

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The actors sang and the musical came to life, Hammond said.

“We finished the first draft of the show there, and it was one of the best times of my life as a writer,” she said.

During UI’s production of the musical, the cast will be doubled from the first professional production of the musical at the Village Theater in 2018. This performance featured just four chorus members taking on several different roles.

The bigger set, however, is exciting for Gwon and Mark Bruckner, Strings Music director.

“A lot of the universe of this show and the different worlds it crosses – from the ethereal to the mundane – is created by this choir,” Gwon said. “It’s really exciting for me, and I’m also thinking of Mark, to have a bigger choir for this production than us.”

The play brought many challenges to the big cast, but the things that made the musical difficult were also the most exciting to explore, Strings said director Eric Forsythe.

“It’s a huge, complicated room. There are so many moving parts,” he said. “The cast is large, the orchestration is complicated, the music is very sophisticated in addition to being beautiful. There’s so much heart and truth and honesty in this piece, and delving into those depths isn’t easy, but it’s so rewarding to go there.

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While the show marks a symbolic return of Hammond’s work to the program’s focus that helped her become a playwright, the musical also signifies the return of musical theater to the theater department since the pandemic. The musical, among several other productions written by alumni, was originally meant to be part of the department’s centenary season last year.

“It’s a musical about embracing the fullness of life, embracing love when it comes your way, and so I think that really resonates right now coming out of COVID – and we’re still not out of it – and just the idea of ​​connection, because I think it’s going to resonate with a lot of people,” Bruckner said. “Just being back in the theater with so many people and to share with an audience… it’s really exciting.”

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