Review Fix chats with playwrights Simon Chouinard and T. Michael Vest, who discuss their new production, Who Are You?
About the Production:
WHO ARE YOU?, a new original musical about three world-renowned imposters competing for a chance to start over with a new, guilt-free identity, is making its world premiere here at MITF. The show explores how everyone, at some point in their lives, has to grapple with who they are versus who they’d like to be.
Built around a fictional TV show called “The Kaspar Hauser Show,” the musical investigates the lives (and lies!) of three real-life imposters who all became infamous at the dawn of the 21st century. Blending typical interviews with flashbacks, each imposter’s story is told through songs, combining – and clashing – their memories with their “victims’” perspectives. The winner gets the coveted “Anonymity Pass”, a chance to start over with a new, guilt-free identity. But as the myths unravel, the host – mystery boy Kaspar Hauser – must face his own demons as well…
Simon Chouinard and T. Michael Vest may be from two different countries, but that hasn’t stopped them from writing together! After showing their work at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London, they produced a stage reading of their musical “Who Are You?” at the Dramatists Guild Fund in NYC, and are now thrilled to be premiering the show at this year’s Midtown International Theatre Festival. They are also proud members of Ken Davenport’s Coaching Program.
About the MITF:
The Midtown International Theatre Festival returns for another summer of quality stage works. New York’s oldest continuing theater festival will present 100 plays in 23 days.
One of the leading reasons to visit New York in the summer is the theater – from Shakespeare in the Park to the best of Broadway. New York is also known for its amazing theater festivals. This year, the venerable Midtown International Theatre Festival takes its place as the oldest continuing summer arts festival in New York. To usher in this honor, producer John Chatterton presents nearly 100 new and fascinating live stage works – plays, musicals, variety acts, short plays, solo projects, and so much more. Visit www.midtownfestival.org for further info.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Simon Chouinard: It’s a weird balance between raw ideas and a detailed structure. See, we start with something concrete like themes we want to explore or a story and characters we want to spend time with. Then, it’s off to the drawing board where we organize all those initial impulses into a structured story. After we know where our songs will probably be, it’s back to the raw ideas. This song is for this moment and this character. How would that sound? What would they sing like? And from there we bash out stuff on the piano, write up dialogue, and pretty much let our big picture storyboard guide our creative impulses.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special?
T. Michael Vest: It’s a really nice way to balance things so that we can be raw and almost reactionary with our ideas while still always heading in the right direction. It can be hard to keep the raw creative juices flowing and we’re proud of the way we’ve found to keep it fresh. Also, being from different countries, we’ve learned to write both in the same room and over Skype, at the piano together or separately. We’d just like to remind anyone out there who is writing with someone far away that you can create great things even if you’re far apart.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Simon Chouinard: We learned so much! We’ve definitely learned our capacity for endurance and how to reach a compromise without sacrificing the story. But you have to find the right person to write with. You can’t just write with anybody. In many ways, we feel really lucky we found each other when we did! So don’t settle when looking for a collaborator. What you feel and sense matters a ton. Also, never tell yourself what you can’t do. You have to learn what you’re capable of and push those boundaries every day to get better. We’ve also learned perseverance isn’t a myth. Trust your instincts and be bold in sharing them. It’s better to be loud and wrong than right and quiet.
Review Fix: How does it feel to be a part of something like this?
Vest: It’s amazing. It’s so special to see something grow from an idea into an actual living, breathing thing. Like, there’s a lot to be stressed out about along the way, but when we really sit back and think about how everything’s developed, it’s truly awesome. Working as a team brings a special sweetness to it all too. When you’re two writers together, some things are harder. You have to compromise and learn to work together through differences of opinion and disagreements. But it gives you so much more power and energy when you need it. It seems like we always balance out our attitudes. When one is depressed, the other is there to remind them to keep pushing. Companionship is such a precious part of working as a team. Finally, fighting for something like this, really persevering when everyone is telling you “No”, is huge. Neither of us have ever fought so much for something in our whole lives. It’s strange to say, but it’s true. Seeing our work on a stage after everything we’ve pushed through will be the single greatest accomplishment in our life so far.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Simon Chouinard: The BIG question! Haha. Honestly, full dream ahead, we want this show to play at a theater like Ars Nova and eventually, we do see our show on Broadway. We know not every show belongs there, and some of our other shows don’t, but we really feel this one has the elements to make a “Broadway success”. As for us, we want to keep creating shows that are both entertaining and challenging. Of course, those big awards are mixed in the dream somewhere, but really we just want to create art that can be seen, heard, and hopefully inspire people to make the world a better place.
Review Fix: What do you think your audiences will enjoy the most?
Vest: Good question. We think they’re going to love the contrast between playful and pathos. We tackle some tough topics, but there are a lot of laughs too. We also hope people will appreciate the chance to have fun while being challenged. A lot of people have told us they like the way we blur the lines between fact and fiction in the structure of the story, and we hope that enthusiasm for the concept of the show continues. If we inspire someone to go home and learn more about our characters and the topics we explore, that would be awesome.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Simon Chouinard: Well, we’re going to take this show somewhere big for sure. We’ve also got a few other projects up our sleeves. Our next show, Rumspringa!, is a little flight into Amish country. Some golden age musical theater with a twist to contrast with Who Are You? – an extremely conceptual show. So we’ll see how that goes. Either way, you’ll definitely be seeing more from us very soon! Keep an eye on our website chouinardandvest.com for updates. You can also follow us on Twitter @Chouinard_Vest!
Patrick Hickey Jr.
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