By Nathaniel Kohlmeier
IUST’s 2017 Premiere Musical: Joe Schmoe Saves the World goes up in just a few weeks and you might be asking yourself: “Wait, what’s a premiere musical?”
I had the same question! Luckily, I did the research so you don’t have to.
Indiana University’s tradition of a premiere musical dates all the way back to 2006. You remember 2006 — it was the year of pointless belts where you, like me, might have listened to Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” until the batteries of your treasured iPod Nano gave out.
The Premiere Musical was conceived by Department head Jonathan Michaelsen and then-BFA theatre program head George Pinney. Pinney and Michealsen created the Premiere Musical to bring new musical works to Indiana University, something that has continued for 11 years. To achieve this, Pinney and Michaelsen reached out to alumni and up-and-coming writers from coast to coast. In August of that year, the IU Department of Theatre and Drama presented three performances of the inaugural show, Slow Dance with a Hot Pickup, by John Pielmeier and Matty Selman, directed by Pinney.
(Fun Fact One: Four premiere musicals have been written by IU Theatre alums since 2006. This includes last year’s: The King’s Critique, which was the brainchild of IU Theatre alum Eric Holmes and writing partner Nat Zegree.)
New works are definitely not a new concept for IU. A playwriting program has existed in some form at IU since the 80s, even before it was titled “At First Sight”, the series that now presents original plays written by MFA playwrights for the main stage each year.
(Fun Fact Two: Aaron Ricciardi, who plays Lyon in Joe Schmoe will be writing this season’s “At First Sight” play).
So why should you go?
Beyond seeing a show, audience members become part of a process of creation. Premiere musicals might have been briefly shopped around, but most see their first real production on IU’s stage. And audiences are integral to their evolution. Writers like to see the reactions to their work. What makes us laugh, what makes us cry? In what ways could their work go even further? A premiere musical comes to us as a tween, still in its wonder years. It wants, dare I say it, needs an audience to reach its full potential.
IU’s 2013 premiere musical Island Song had its 2014 New York debut at 54 Below, also known as “Broadway’s living room”.
You can believe the audience was a crucial part of Island Song’s journey. And these productions help guide the journeys of the actors as well.
For Pinney and Michealsen, part of creating the premiere musical program hinged on it also benefiting IU students. The idea of workshopping a new musical also functions as a learning exercise, and a networking opportunity. For musical theatre students interested in breaking into the industry, a workshop might be their foot in the door. Producers want to get their show on the stage, but often don’t want to spend the money to hire big name performers so early
So what are the takeaways? For students, the workshop gives them the first look at their future. For audiences, premiere musicals promise originality. And in an age where even Pitch Perfect is getting a threequel, originality is a hot item.
Since the retirement of the beloved George Pinney, the new head of the Musical Theatre Program and force of nature Liza Gennaro has selected Joe Schmoe as 2017’s premiere musical. So if the idea of something fresh intrigues you, or if your interest is sufficiently piqued by being a part of the artistic process, then the premiere musical may be for you!
Joe Schmoe Saves the World: http://www.indiana.edu/~thtr/productions/IUST2017/joeschmoe.shtml
Nathaniel Kohlmeier is a junior in the Media School majoring in Cinema Studies and Production. A Hudson Holland Scholar, Nathaniel spends most of his free time as an actor, having previously appeared in University Players’ productions of Punk Rock, and Picasso at the Lapin Agile. He is a photographer, freelance graphic designer, and film buff (especially bad ones).