“I’m going to sacrifice a chicken on the way out,” director David Williams jokingly said during his curtain speech in hopes that the third show of “A New Brain” would be the official opening night.
While the show’s original opening night stopped midway after an injury and its Saturday matinee was canceled, the remaining performances of “A New Brain” went smoothly, sans chicken sacrifice.
From Sept. 30 to Oct. 8, the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre presented the musical based on the book by Finn and James Lapine and music and lyrics written by William Finn.
“A New Brain” tells the story of Gordon Schwinn (played by sophomore musical theatre major Owen Trawick), a frustrated composer who is diagnosed with a rare, terminal illness known as arteriovenous malformation. While dealing with the illness, Schwinn must also compose a piece about spring for a children’s television show.
Throughout the show, Schwinn finds that his love for music helps heal him, ultimately allowing him to make a full recovery. The attention-grabbing show took the audience on an emotional rollercoaster.
Although the final performances were flawless, the cast and crew faced several setbacks. Between Hurricane Ian, faulty microphones and an injured lead, each member persevered to ensure the show could go on.
Williams was particularly impressed with this year’s students. The show’s production team made a tough decision to cancel the 2 p.m. performance on Oct.1 to re-block the entire show, accommodating the needs of a performer who suffered an accident the previous night.
“I think it was tough for about one second,” Williams said about the cancelation of the Saturday performance. “These students of ours… they mean more to me than any performance ever could mean. They need to be safe.”
After Hurricane Ian hit during tech week, they only had one dress rehearsal to run through the entire show before opening night.
“Honestly, I was very stressed about this,” senior theatre arts major Tobi Baisburd said, who played Gordon’s mother Mimi Schwinn.
“I dwelled on every little thing that wasn’t going right and how we had no time to fix it,” Baisburd said.
Despite the setbacks, the cast and crew members’ determination and positive attitude helped them through it. Everyone wanted the best show possible.
“There are simply too many moving parts in any musical to get yourself worked up about changes,” Trawick said. “It can really eat at a person to be stressing constantly over every little thing and it’s a lot more fun to just trust the people around you to lift you up and do the same for them. We had so many things go wrong and no one let it change their commitment to the show.”
The lessons the cast learned performing the show mirror those told through the plot of “A New Brain.”
Gordon, haunted by hallucinations about Mr. Bungee, a children’s TV host for whom he must write a song about frogs — suffers from writer’s block. When he learns of his diagnosis, he tends to only see the negative in his own situation and those he encounters. His personal ordeal brings the other characters together and Gordon emerges with a new outlook and is able to finish his song.
“It speaks to the human condition, and the ability to have failure, the ability to be sick, the ability to forgive and the ability of humans to help people get back on track, which I think really is a great thing right now,” Williams said. “We gotta allow people to make mistakes and to forgive them and I think that is a lesson for the world and that’s exactly what this show is about.”
A central theme of the show is humans’ ability to empathize and instinctively understand how others, even those unlike ourselves, are feeling and to embrace our similarities.
“It’s just interesting that the mother has the same instincts as the nurse, as the frog, as the best friend and they all sound completely different,” Williams said. “But when it comes down to it, they’re all expressing the same sort of stuff.”
“A New Brain” was the first show of the new school year, so if you weren’t able to make it, don’t worry — students are already working on “The Three Musketeers,” which opens on Nov. 10 and runs through Nov. 19.