This month, Musical Theatre Factory will be presenting three performances of a developmental residency of The Sasquatch Project, a new musical by Nichole Jackson, Brandon Michael Lowden and Scotty Arnold. As described by stage manager Lisa Graye, The Sasquatch Project is “an eco-friendly, child-friendly, Pop-Rock Musical, that will be a blast to see on its feet and in garden spaces around New York.”
But what exactly is a Sasquatch anyway and how does that lead to an environmentally friendly musical?
Lyricist Brandon Michael Lowden, who first conceived the idea for the piece while attending NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, defined Sasquatch as “a mythical species of primate, part of an ape-man folkloric tradition that appears worldwide. The North American version has roots in the Native American nations of the Pacific Northwest and has grown into a pop culture phenomenon.” He acknowledges the freeing aspect of using a myth as source material, stating that (within the world of the play) the writers “can make up [their] own rules” because they are now “part of the folkloric tradition” of the Sasquatch.
The piece is classified as a comedy about Remy McDonough, a snarky seventeen year old, her ancient neighbor (and nemesis) Mrs. Prokopenko, and the real live sasquatch they discover (his name is Glenn). When their homes and their forest are threatened by an oil company, Remy and Mrs. P are forced to put aside their differences and convince Glenn — who is wary of humans — that in order to stop the destruction and save the town, he must reveal himself to the world.
In addition to a June 4th performance in The Factory’s blackbox theater space, The Sasquatch Project will be doing two site specific performances in NYC parks on June 14th and 21st. “Thematically, the piece deals with the role of humans in our ecosystem, our relationship with and awareness of the world around us,” explained Lowden. “It seemed appropriate that we should try to bring that to life in a place where that ecosystem is present, visible, tangible. I joke that it ought to be ‘an environmentally staged environmental musical.’ The outdoor performances of this workshop will give us an opportunity to figure out how that will work.”
Lowden and his fellow writers have been diligently writing, rewriting and exploring The Sasquatch Project for almost several years now, including two previous collaborations with MTF. The musical participated in The Factory’s inaugural 4×15 last summer and then had a developmental reading in Fall 2014.
“Most of our work since [the reading] has been trying to re-focus it as a slightly off-center ‘alt-musical,’ something more non-profit than commercial, more Off-Broadway than on,” said Lowden. ” We started almost from scratch, and only about two and a half songs in the current draft closely resemble their original incarnations. Some minor characters have been cut or combined; different elements of the story have become more or less important.”
Actress Hana Slevin has had “the unique experience of having played 3 different characters in all three incarnations of the show (the first 4×15, the reading, and now this workshop) – and [her] two previous characters no longer exist.” Slevin is currently playing the character of Shawna, whom she describes as “a mean girl cheerleader/sorority girl type.” From Slevin’s point of view, this month’s developmental residency of The Sasquatch Project has been about “playing in the sandbox and experimenting with different options as [the creative team] figures out what works.” She’s been finding the experience to be an extremely rewarding one. “I love following this show’s journey” added Slevin. “It’s funny and endearing and I think it has a lot of heart.”
Such seemingly drastic changes for both the creators and performers are common in the process of developing a new musical. What is not common, however, is the support and encouragement that the writers have received by working with MTF. “This will be our third time within a year presenting something from the show at MTF, and that kind of thing simply wasn’t a possibility before the Factory’s existence,” said Lowden. “It’s always helpful to have tangible deadlines in terms of buckling down and generating material. And when the deadlines and the to-do list seem overwhelming, the ‘free from commercial and critical pressure’ part of MTF’s mission goes a long way toward keeping us sane.”
For more information, including performance times and tickets, visit: http://mtf.nyc/events/the-sasquatch-project-3/