‘Renee Sogueco, ‘Doah Managing Editor
October 1, 2014
The premiere week of Shenandoah Conservatory’s American Idiot provided a lot of media hype and stress for the cast and crew. With so much coverage on the event, there was continuous pressure placed upon those involved. Jonathan Flom, the director, especially felt that pressure due to the short, allotted time they had set to put up the show; he only had four weeks to produce a show with an elaborate light spectacle, a “solid rock band,” advanced sound equipment and an aesthetically pleasing set. Other technical elements of the show included taping television footage and renting moving lights. According to Alex Barrett, the prop master, there were no reliable sources as to what the aesthetic was. Due to the short time the crew had, many hours were put into making the show everyday during the four weeks. “Tech [week] wasn’t too bad. Basically, it would be three hours in the morning and about four to five hours in the afternoon everyday,” Barrett further explained.
Helping with the challenging process, Barrett worked behind the scenes and found all of the props used on stage. According to his prop assistant, Laura Aquillon-Duque, finding props were a challenge because of the difficulty in obtaining them and making sure the audience knew what they were. In American Idiot, props like a positive pregnancy test and fake cocaine were needed for the actors. “The fun and challenging thing was figuring out how to get these ‘drugs’ translated on stage. …It’s making sure that they looked good from an actor’s perspective as well as the audience’s perspective.” Since Shenandoah Conservatory got exclusive rights to do the collegiate premiere, no one had any material to “base things off of besides the international and national Broadway tour.”
Flom briefly explained the premise of the show by summing it as “a cross-section of American youth. These particular characters are from CA and NYC and [it’s] kind of an examination of their disillusionment, dissatisfaction [and] frustration about growing up in America.” For Flom, the most challenging aspect was telling the story clearly to the audience. The entirety of the musical is based on the same-titled rock album. Billy Joel Armstrong, lead singer of Green Day, believed that every single lyric had a specific meaning in the show; this did not translate well on stage. Flom had the challenge of making their “own interpretation of that story.” With its loose script and just seven prominent characters, everyone involved collaborated on how they wanted to tell the story with a personal touch. Ensemble members were listed with their own names because they brought much of their own selves in the show; the original Broadway show also did this.
Concerning safety with the actors and the technology on stage, technical director David Morgan customized the scaffolding. Morgan also made sure to sit in on rehearsals and made adjustments according to how props and moveable sets were being used; the televisions, especially, were screwed down on the high shelves. When a piece of scenery is designed, safety is at the forefront. The technical director is tasked with figuring out how it all works and making sure that everything stays in place.
In obtaining the production rights, Flom continuously asked producers when it was on tour and believed it would be beneficial to the Conservatory as well as the school in general.
Originally, it began at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, moved to Broadway for over 400 performances and began touring nationally and internationally. Flom persistently reached out and for two years had conversations with several producers. When the national tour announced that it was closing, the licensing company allowed them to have it first. Currently, Shenandoah University is the only American Idiot production, and no one else has the license.
During opening night, a red carpet rolled out of the large doors of OBT, and guests, including some musical theatre industry big names like Melissa Crost, took photos and mingled with S.U. students. Unfortunately, Green Day’s management could not make the night of the premiere, but Flom did state that he would come during the second weekend. “…I think for me, for us, the idea of finally getting to opening night, for everybody to get to see what we’ve been working so hard on, what the hype is about,” said Flom in the most exciting aspect about opening night.
Those without musical theatre interest can enjoy a showing of American Idiot as well. As long as they enjoy rock and roll, they can look at it as a concert with a story behind it. Although pressure was brought on with all of the media attention, national attention has been placed on Shenandoah University; even Green Day’s website and Playbill.com advertised for the premiere. With all of the coverage, S.U.’s production of American Idiot put the university even more on prospective students’ radars.