The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater will present a workshop production of It Takes a Village, a new musical written by Sandra Fong ’13 and Emi Nakamura ’13 about a traditional community questioning its beliefs regarding gender roles, sexuality and identity after a father and his son, raised gender-neutral, enter their midst. Performances will take place on March 28, 29, and 30 at 8:00 p.m. in the Marie and Edward Matthews ’53 Acting Studio at 185 Nassau Street with a reception following the performance on Thursday, March 28. Fong, a senior theater certificate student, is the librettist and director of the production while senior theater certificate student Emi Nakamura provides musical direction and composition. This is a senior thesis project for both Fong and Nakamura, who co-wrote lyrics for the production.
It Takes a Village is a modern-day story that follows the entrance of a father and son with unconventional beliefs into a close-knit, traditional community. M. Bennet , raised gender-neutral, does not feel bound by any specific male or female identity and his nonconformity is soon met with apprehension and scandal by his new neighbors. As M’s budding relationship with Jane, a girl from the town, comes under intense scrutiny, everyone close to them is forced to question their own identities and roles in society. Using comedy, song and dance, It Takes a Village explores the concepts of gender, social dynamics, and identity throughout the process of growing up and falling in love.
Students in the Program in Theater complete a senior thesis project in fulfillment of the requirements for a certificate, similar to a minor, and which is in addition their major area of concentration.
For Fong, an anthropology major, the seeds for It Takes a Village took root last year as she researched the concept of gender-neutral parenting for her junior research paper. Recalling her research, Fong notes, “What struck me was often the venom and ridicule these children and their parents received for making what seemed to me a very personal decision. I was surprised and saddened that even in 2013, levelheaded discussions concerning freedom of choice were drowned out by public outcry…So in a way this piece for me is a response to that.”
In addition to directing, Fong is writing the book for the production. She has previous experience writing both plays and short screenplays but has never before attempted a musical. A native of New York, she grew up seeing Broadway shows and remembers being captivated by those characters so taken with emotions and thoughts that the only suitable expression was through song. While developing the characters for It Takes a Village, she admits that she always heard their voices coming through in song. “I wanted them to be able to express themselves in more than just the words I give them, but also through the melodies Emi composes,” Fong states as her impetus for deciding to combine her story with song. “What they were all dealing with—love, identity, betrayal, joy, sorrow, insecurity, hope—it just all seemed perfect material for a musical.”
Fong and Nakamura first worked together last fall in the Lewis Center’s production of Eden, a devised senior thesis show by Elizabeth Swanson ’12. When the time came to start thinking about their individual thesis proposals, Fong pitched the idea for an original musical about gender-neutral parenting to Nakamura. “I did not know much about the subject matter at the time,” admits Nakamura, “but I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to learn more about it while developing my own voice for musical theater composition.”
Nakamura is a music composition major in the Department of Music, and the development of this musical is part of her departmental senior thesis in addition to her certificate in the Program in Theater. Previously, she has created musical compositions for such Lewis Center theater productions asMomentum, Eden, and The Skriker. For It Takes a Village, she confesses that finding a balance between her writing style and Fong’s has been the most challenging aspect of their collaboration. “Our lyric writing styles are distinct,” Nakamura explains. “I tend to write colorful, wordy verses and strict poetic rhyme schemes, while Sandy writes more to the point, and more importantly, remains true to the voice of the character.” As challenging as it may have been at times to balance their unique styles, Nakamura admits that the collaborative process also served as the greatest source of growth for her.
Acknowledging that musicals often take years to write and develop, Fong and Nakamura decided early on that It Takes a Village would first be performed as a workshop this spring. “The great thing about the Lewis Center is that it enables us to take risks and try this musical-in-development in front of an audience to see what’s working, what isn’t, and to adjust from there,” Fong explains. “Not only does this benefit us as artists, but it provides campus and local audiences the opportunity to be in on the birth of a new piece of theater.”
Speaking of the journey to get to this point in her thesis, Fong says, “It’s been a wonderful and challenging learning process that’s allowed me to collaborate with some amazing students and professors on campus, which is a rare and incredible gift.” A number of students will be participating in the workshop, including: Terrence Fraser ’16 as M. Bennet, Tadesh Inagaki ’14 as William Bennet, Madeline Cohen ’16 as Jane Clarke, Gary Fox ’13 as Alan Clarke and Gabriella Rizzo ’13 as Patricia Clarke. The ensemble includes: Tara Lukas ’14, Juliette Levine ’15, Joane Joseph ’16, Payam Paysepar ’14, and Greg Kraft ’15. In addition, Eric Hagstrom ’13 will serve as a stage reader and Ethan Campbell ‘16 will perform music on the piano; both Christina Henricks ’13 and Tessa Maurer ’13 will serve as stage managers.