Three Musicals Created for coLAB Arts…in 48 Hours

By Maddie Orton

A group of playwrights, directors and composers gather around a table of stuff. The challenge is this: take three props, two partners and a topic — all randomly assigned — and write a musical in 48 hours.

“A lot of it’s about putting artists out of their comfort zone,” said Dan Swern.

Swern is producing director of coLAB Arts. It’s the group’s second year putting together the evening of mini-musicals.

“When an artist gives themselves a specific set of tools they have to use, they end up getting really imaginative — really creative in how to exploit those ingredients in the best way they can,” Swern said.

“This is going to force me to think in different ways,” said Playwright/Composer/Lyricist Eric Ransom. “As soon as I saw the Christmas lights all bundled together, I said, ‘Wig!’, so that’s something I could do. It doesn’t have to be Christmas lights playing Christmas lights in the play.”

“We were assigned a military hat, a sort of wall-looking flower thing — it looks like something from grandma’s house — and a weed sprayer. So yeah, I mean who knows. It could go anywhere,” said gHyp:see, poet and musician.

The whole process starts Friday evening, when teammates, topics and props are assigned. Teams spend the next several hours brainstorming, writing a script and score and auditioning actors. Saturday is spent working through the musical, and Sunday evening is showtime.

Forty-eight hours later, on cue, an audience is ready and waiting to see three musicals that didn’t exist just days before.

Randomly assigned topics and props now make sense in the broader contexts of the stories, and the audience loves it.

Does gHyp:see feel like she learned something from the experience?

“Yeah, I learned that I can work with other people really well and that’s a good thing to learn because I’m not really sure about that all the time,” she said.

“We did sort of an origin story for Medusa from Greek myth — sort of like a Wicked for Medusa. I do like that idea and I do think it has more legs than a 48-hour musical,” Ransom said.

Though the experience is about stretching participants artistically, Swern also hopes the event produces great theater. A piece from last year’s competition was so well-received, coLAB commissioned the artists to make it a full-length musical.