CANCELLED: ‘Show up’ to see the newest musical in Middlebury
MIDDLEBURY — The old adage “write what you know,” may be a little cliché, but it didn’t fail Vanessa Dunleavy and Miranda Ferriss Jones when they set out to write their first musical together.
“What we know is our relationship,” said Ferriss Jones, who’s known Dunleavy since they were kids growing up in the Middlebury area.
So that’s exactly what they used to craft “Showing Up” — a story of how two women hold on to what’s important: their passions, their values, and, most importantly, each other. The two-woman show is loosely based on the lives of the creators, and was scheduled to take the stage at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater for its debut performances — until they decided to cancel due to coronavirus concerns.
Dunleavy and Ferriss Jones were here back in late November to workshop the performance with a live audience at Town Hall Theater.
“You really don’t know what you have until you put it on its feet in front of an audience,” said Ferriss Jones during an interview last fall.
The pair took comments from the workshops and talkbacks, and has spent the past three months integrating what they’ve learned with the help of THTs Artistic Director Doug Anderson. Ferriss returned to Montclair, N.J., where she lives with her husband and two kids, and maintains a vocal coaching practice out of her home studio. And Dunleavey went home to Brooklyn, N.Y., where she teaches yoga, when she’s not traveling the world.
The two got together weekly to work on the musical.
“In the talkbacks we learned a lot about how certain ideas weren’t clear, while other ideas were overstated and not very effective,” Anderson noted in a recent press release. “We took all of the comments back to the woodshed and now have a version we’re really proud to present.”
“It feels like it’s constantly reworking itself,” added Dunleavy, who’s a graduate of New York’s famous Circle in the Square Theatre School. But, even through all the changes, it feels true to the original intent. “We haven’t really seen it before — a tale of friendship like this. Just about two women and their relationship.”
But don’t be fooled. Sure the show is simple to produce — just two women and a five-piece orchestra — but the subject matter is anything but.
Gender identity is one of the topics the musical touches on. And since both female actors play all the roles, it means they play ALL the roles (even the male ones).
“One of the things we got at both talkbacks during the fall was the suggestion to introduce a male actor,” Dunleavy said. “We talked a lot about that, but consistently came out with ‘no.’”
Dunleavey continued on to express how this musical has helped her during a time of “unlearning what it means to be a woman.”
“It feels like this show allows us to shine a light on the messier sides of women’s lives that have been stigmatized,” she said. “And there’s something beautiful about that.”
Other topics the duo tackle include eating disorders, sexual assault, fertility and birth. A tag line Dunleavy and Ferriss Jones have for the show is: “Given the many forms of sexism in today’s society, women will only survive if they show up for each other.”“This is definitely a female show,” Ferriss Jones agreed. “But some of the feedback we received was from men saying how it also reached their own lives and resonated among their friendships too. That’s wonderful.”
The serious topics are handled delicately and with plenty of humor and good tunes.
“We like to walk the line between humor and serious subjects,” explained Ferris, who has recently been accepted into the prestigious BMI Musical Theater Workshop. “If there’s something really raw, we have to be careful how we present it to make sure the audience sees the tongue-in-cheekiness.”
“We get a lot of laughs,” Anderson assured, “even though the piece deals with some particularly difficult issues. That’s just good writing, I think — to handle difficult and even explosive material in a way that’s entertaining and accessible.”
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