Full Immersion: New Musicals at The New Strands Festival

By Elspeth Sweatman

“Part of what’s so fun is that we don’t know what these artists are going to do,” says A.C.T. Associate Artistic Director Andy Donald about two of the works-in-progress featured in this year’s New Strands Festival. “That’s exciting because it means that they are actually creating the work in the space that will eventually house it.”

Both of the musicals included in this year’s festival—Port City and Revival—were commissioned by A.C.T. specifically for The Strand Theater. But these playwrights are not only using the 283-seat mainstage as their template, but the whole of The Strand. “We wanted to create more experiential, immersive works where the audiences are not just passive consumers of art, but active, engaged participants in the physical journey of the piece,” says Assistant Producer Ken Savage.

Composer Byron Au Yong. Photo by Joe Freeman.
Port City, written by Christopher Chen and The Orphan of Zhao composer Byron Au Yong, is a musical fable that investigates the psychological and philosophical questions of how technology shapes our lives. It begins with a Chinese woman arriving in Port City with a product she has created and transforms into a technological American dream.

“Chris and Byron as artists are interested in using the classic medium of live theater to say something about technology today, as opposed to making a movie, television show, or web series about it. There’s something special about asking an audience to come together for a live experience to talk about life on our screens,” says Donald.

Composer Casey Lee Hurt. Photo by Randy Taradash.
The second musical, Revival, comes from the pen of Obie Award–winning playwright Lucy Thurber and The Unfortunates composer Casey Lee Hurt. This epic story of family and first love is based on Hurt’s experiences growing up in a small town in Oregon, a world where the land was imbued with history and the power of the church was strong. As the characters discover in this epic tale, it takes courage to leave and strength to stay.

At the New Strands Festival, we will only get a small taste of what these projects may blossom into. Come discover and experience them with us!

For more information about this year’s New Strands Festival, running May 17–21 at The Strand Theater, 1127 Market St., click here.

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