Q&A with playwright Alan Berks about his new play, Music Lovers

Nathan Christopher, Lindsay Marcy and Randy Reyes in MUSIC LOVERS - Photo credit - Travis Anderson

Those of us who regularly see both music and theater events in the Twin Cities know that the scenes overlap a lot more than people might suspect. Musical theater aside, as exemplified by the recent production of Rent which featuring Twin Cities Hip Hop and R&B artist Maria Isa and Far From Falling vocalist Harley Wood, it’s still not surprising to see the same folks at the rock shows late in the evening that you just ran into a few hours before post-show in the Guthrie’s Target Lounge.

Exploring the long-standing marriage between theater and music, playwright Alan Berks of Workhaus Collective,and one of the creators of Twin Cities Theater site Minnesotaplaylist.com, has written a new play billed as “an indie rock romantic comedy about a generation that hooked up, broke up and grew to their own personal soundtrack.”

Starring Guthrie audience favorite Randy Reyes and Ivey award winner Nathan Christopher, Music Lovers plays March 12-28, 2010, at the Playwrights’ Center.

As Music Lovers readies to open on Friday, HowWasTheShow had a few questions for Mr. Berks about his new play and the relationship between theater and music.

HowWasTheShow: In addition to the theater events you’ve been involved with, I’ve run into you at some of the music venues in town that I haunt. Would you say you see a lot of shows? What are some of your favorite bands and venues on the local scene right now?

Alan Berks: I wish I saw more shows, honestly, but I had a bad run of bad guesses sometime soon after I moved to Minneapolis and grew afraid that I’d never see another good live local band again. Then I got caught up I going to theater an obscene and tiring amount.

This particular production was a great excuse to try again to get more familiar with the local scene and just ask people in the know what I should see. (I just discovered Spirits of the Red City, who I’ve been listening to a lot the last couple weeks, because one of the band members helped build our set.)

Sauce is one block from me so I can get there often now. And I also love the 331 Club in Northeast. Always great music and an easy place to hang out. But probably the 7th Street Entry will always be my favorite place to go, for sentimental reasons.

HWTS: Tell me about how Music Lovers came into being. How long has it been in the works?

AB: My closest friends since high school were always musicians, and from the time we got our first fake ids, we spent most of our teens and twenties listening to local bands in Chicago, usually whatever bands were playing on the same bill as my friends. . . I decided to be a writer instead of learning how to play an instrument, so I’ve kind of always wanted to write a play about musicians. It’s the art I contributed to the gang, in a way.

This play in particular was originally written in 2002 and then developed a little at the Playwrights Center when I first moved here. I wanted to write a romantic comedy that I would actually like, not something saccharine and stupid like a Hollywood movie. And I wanted to write something more about the people I grew up with than a lot of the theater I usually see. Younger people, contemporary people, funny strange people, with wild streaks.

I figured all of that would kill any chance of it getting a production, but last year, when Workhaus asked me what show I wanted to do, I pulled it out and updated it, because Workhaus has already done rock-oriented shows like God Saved Gertrude and it seemed to work out well.

HWTS: Aside from the obvious thrill of live performance versus recorded music and cinema, what else do you think drives the same set of people to be enamored of both theater and concerts?

AB: Well, I think the thrill you mention is a big part of it. A live concert is a different experience, and usually better, more full, more meaningful experience than just listening to the cd. And a live show is a much different experience than a movie or tv show. I think I wanted to join my friends’ bands and have that live thrill, but I wasn’t patient enough to play an instrument so I started doing theater as a substitute.

I also think there’s a sense of community and collaboration that both musicians and theater folk value more than perhaps other artists in other art forms. You get to do this stuff with other fun, smart people. When it works, it’s almost unbelievably cool.

HWTS: Many famous actors have been known to pick up guitars and become musicians and many musicians have been cast in both plays and movies. Which direction do you think is easier to move? Music to theater or theater to music? Why?

AB: If it were easy to move from theater to music, I probably would have done it. . . But I do know there are lots of artists who have all kinds of talents and, for them, it’s probably the most normal thing in the world to do both, or do whatever art makes sense to them at whatever time. I also know some theater people who are great visual artists.

I think the reality of artistic expression is that the things that separate artists aren’t as different as the labels would make it seem.

HWTS: Will music be featured in Music Lovers? Will we as music fans recognize the world you will be portraying?

The show isn’t a musical, but music does play an important part in the play. I don’t know how else to answer that. You’ll have to just come see it. And hear it.

And it’s not a documentary. It’s a fictional story about a love triangle between three people, but, yes, I think you will recognize the world in a general way, like “I know those people” or “I am those people.” I certainly hope you will. After you see it, I’m sure you’ll let me know.

HWTS: Tell me about your cast. Have you cast people who share your passion for music?

AB: The cast is incredible and includes Randy Reyes who we snagged right between two gigs at the Guthrie and Nathan Christopher and Lindsay Marcy, Skyler Nowinski, and Jean (Salo) Wolff, and they’re each pretty perfect.

Everyone loves music. Once you scratch the surface, everyone has certain artists that define a certain time in their life, or they always put on when they feel a certain way or want to feel a certain. Once we started to talk about it in rehearsal, it’s kind of amazing how important music is in everyone’s life. Even when you don’t think about it that much.

HWTS: I understand you’ll have performances from live local bands after select performances. Who have you got lined up that you can share with us?

AB: So far, we’ve got Fan Fiction on Saturday, March 13 after the show, and Nikki Schultz after the show closing night, Saturday, March 27. (I’ve also been listening to both of them a lot lately and am excited that they’re coming.) Everyone at the show that night can stay for the band for free, or people can come after the show for only $5.

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