Drury University Theatre has added another production to their season: Adam Gwon's musical "Ordinary Days," scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday March 10-12 all at 7:30pm in Sunderland Studio Theatre, located in Drury’s Mabee Center for the Performing Arts. This production is made possible through a Fusion Experiential Learning Grant from Drury University, which allows the theater department to offer the play at no admission charge. We talked about the production with Drury Professor of Theater Dr. Mick Sokol, along with the play’s student director/project manager Alex Jones and one of his actors, Caleb Conaway.
“Drury rolled out a new curriculum this year—it’s called ‘My Drury Fusion,’” said Dr. Sokol. “It’s very activity, hands-on based experiential learning—more doing the thing as opposed to studying the thing. As part of that, they made the Fusion Experiential Learning Grants available to the students, where they could request funding to do an event, something that would have a lot of educational return for it. Alex (Jones) wrote a grant and got funding to do a show. He wanted to direct a musical, and you really can’t learn about directing a musical by reading a book about it. So he wanted to do it, and he got the money for it, and so we’re like, ‘Okay, let’s do the show!’ It was tough to kind of shoehorn it in, because we’ve got Spring Break coming soon. So it’s unusual—our run is Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday night, it’s not a weekend. But yeah, so, come see the show. It’s free, because that’s part of the grant.”
Alex Jones said he had been wanting to direct “for a long time. I’ve directed once before, and this has been a musical that’s been very close and personal to me. One of our other theater professor, Haddy Kreie, came up to me and said, ‘Hey, Drury’s rolling out this new grant. You should do it.’ Because, no one else is going to give me money to do free theatre!” he said with a laugh. He had exactly one weekend to get the application filled out, as well as “get all the budget put together, all the planning done. And somehow we managed to make it work.” As for finding a place in Drury Theater’s schedule to produce the play, Jones said, “Lord knows that was an issue enough! But we found a place. We’ve come so far from the time we applied”—last November—“to this upcoming opening week.” The grant was awarded to Jones in December, and auditions, casting and rehearsals began as soon as the spring semester began in January. “So everything about this process has been a tight turnaround, because everything about the grant is so new—and I didn’t find out about it until so late. But I am so honored that I’ve been one of the first students to be awarded the grant, and I’m so excited about the product that (the grant has) let us produce.”
“Ordinary Days” is really more like a song-cycle than a conventional musical comedy/play with music. Alex Jones said, “it stands out from other musicals because there aren’t any scenes of dialogue in between the songs. The songs go from one to another. It’s completely the music that tells the story. And Adam Gwon (the composer/playwright) has always written and talked in interviews about how his musical writing style is deliberately meant to mimic the talking patterns of natural speech. So when people are singing through these songs, you’re focused more on the story than just, ‘Oh, what a pretty song.’ But they’re both ‘pretty songs’ and a ‘pretty story.’ That’s why I’m so excited for an audience to see it, because it’s such a unique experience.”
The show, in the form of 21 songs performed by a cast of four, tells the story of a frazzled and uptight graduate student named Deb, who loses the notebook that contains all of her notes for her thesis somewhere on the streets of New York. “The show’s really interesting,” said Alex Jones, “because we have four different characters that then combine to two different stories that then combine into one unique story. So we’ve got all these different plotlines, and some connect in big ways, some connect in small ways.” In addition to Deb, the other characters are Warren, described by Jones as “a struggling artist who just wants people to notice him. And I don’t want to give too much away, but those two interact in such a unique way that… you can kind of see where it goes, but you really have no idea. And on the other hand we have two other characters—Claire and Jason—who are moving in together… but something’s not quite right about it. For some reason they’re not quite ready to take the next step. And throughout the show you kind of have to find out why.”
We brought actor Caleb Conaway, who plays Jason, into the conversation. “Jason and Claire are sort of your ‘typical New York’ couple. They met in a ‘typical New York’ way. Jason is super-excited to get to move in with Claire, to take their relationship to the next step. But there’s something that happened with Claire’s past that makes it difficult for her to fully connect—and commit. So that’s the central conflict of their narrative. And it comes to a head in a really exciting way, in a really fun song. It definitely has been a really fun experience trying to develop these characters. It’s very difficult, because I’m not from New York, and I’m not having the same type of issues! But it’s been fun to explore that sort of mind-state.”
Alex Jones added, “Each of those two pairs (of characters) has their own ‘A’ and ‘B’ storyline—not necessarily in that order. But I do promise those two plotlines do cross over at some point. It might sound like they’re two different musicals, but I promise, it all connects… you just won’t ever see how.”
Again, admission is free and open to the public; doors open at 7:00pm, a half hour before curtain time. And with only 74 seats available in the three-sided “thrust” staging, seats will be available on a first-come, first served basis. Director Alex Jones described the staging and seating arrangement as being on “three sides of a black box theater, and then a back decorated wall. It’s a very intimate setting for a very intimate story. The audience should expect to feel like they are just floating around these stories, seeing it from all angles, which allows them to feel much closer to the cast, much closer to the stories. And I’m really hoping that anyone who enters can feel that level of personal connection, that, I’m sure, all these characters are meant to experience as well.”
While admission is free, donations will be accepted for the “Friends of Drury Theatre Department” organization to benefit all future productions, and for the Dream Center in Springfield.
For more information, visit https://www.drury.edu/theatre.