From a time in the not-too-distant past, some may remember similar feelings of uncertainty and disconnect as have been brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Based on experiences from the 2003 blackout that plunged much of eastern Canada and the US into darkness, the musical BLACKOUT sends a heartwarming message of hope and brings back nostalgic memories and themes that resonate with today's unique circumstances.
Written by Steven Gallagher with Music & Lyrics by Anton Lipovetsy, BLACKOUT is a captivating new musical from Canada's leading musical theatre company. By kind permission of The Musical Stage Company, we are pleased to share excerpts from interviews with the creators, Director, and Dramaturg as they look back at the development of the production and how it evolved into our new COVID realities.
This week we sat down with BLACKOUT creators Anton Lipovetsky (Crescendo Artist) and Steven Gallagher to learn more about their experiences developing and workshopping this new Canadian musical, and how they’ve pivoted their process in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.
HOW SIMILAR IS BLACKOUT TO THE 2019 PRESENTATION OF CYGUS THAT TOOK PLACE AS PART OF OUR LAUNCH PAD DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVE?
Anton: We have written another hour of material–two more self contained stories to go with Cygnus. The first story starts just before sundown, the second in the middle of the night and the final one (Cygnus) is set just before dawn.
Steven: When we were approached by The Musical Stage Company to develop Cygnus into a full-length musical, we had long discussions about what this would look like. Early on we decided that we didn’t feel that expanding the Cygnus story was the right way to go. We liked that a complete story took place in just over half an hour, and we didn’t want to “overstuff” it. We came upon the idea of a trilogy, using the timeframe of the blackout from beginning to end. So each story takes place in chronological order, as the blackout proceeds from the afternoon of August 14th to the morning of the 15th. We also used the idea of Greek Myths to tie the pieces together. Each story is a loosely based modern version of a myth.
THE BLACKOUT OF 2003 AND THE CURRENT PANDEMIC SHARE SIMILAR SHARED EXPERIENCES OF LONELINESS AND BOTH LOSING AND FINDING COMMUNITY. HAS THE PIECE CHANGED SINCE THE BEGINNING OF COVID-19?
Anton: Steven and I have definitely been using our experience in the COVID-19 pandemic to inform what the characters are going through. The realization that the world could get shut down so quickly and the fear and uncertainty that comes with that feels really resonant now.
I’ve noticed for a lot of people, the regular world being put on pause created an opportunity to ask whether things were really working well before–that seemed like a good question for the characters in BLACKOUT to tackle.
Steven: I think the first story that BLACKOUT explores titled ‘Gemini’, has been most influenced by the pandemic. It was written after we were all asked to stay home, and the feelings of isolation, and what we were all experiencing really seemed to be reflected in the characters we were writing.
This week we sat down with BLACKOUT Director and Dramaturg Ann Hodges, to learn more about her experience developing and workshopping this new Canadian musical, and how they’ve pivoted their process in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.
YOU BEGAN DIRECTING THIS PIECE WHEN IT WAS ONLY A 30-MINUTE MUSICAL, CYGNUS, WRITTEN FOR OUR LAUNCH PAD PROGRAM. HOW HAS THE PIECE EVOLVED SINCE THEN?
After Launch Pad, Steven Gallagher, Anton Lipovetsky and The Musical Stage Company began to talk about how the 30-minute musical CYGNUS could be expanded into a triptych of stories. So in addition to CYGNUS, Steven and Anton have now written two other short musicals: GEMINI and PANDORA. All are stories of connection and discovery set against the Toronto blackout of 2003.
HOW DOES THE PROCESS OF DIRECTING A NEW IN-DEVELOPMENT MUSICAL DIFFER FROM A ‘LOCKED IN’ BROADWAY MUSICAL?
The answer is in the question! A musical that is in development is not ‘locked in’ yet— it’s still being created, so every line and note is constantly being evaluated: Is this the story you want to tell? Is this the most effective way to tell it? There have been dozens of scenes and songs added and discarded — really good ones, too!
That process of evaluating, clarifying, and re-writing will continue all through rehearsals, and adding audiences for this production in High Park will give us even more information as they watch and respond. Adding audiences for the first time will be a chance for the creative team and actors to continue to learn how the piece works before it becomes ‘locked in’ one day!