Sunday, February 24, 2013

FRIGID New York Interview - Riley Thomas of "Wearing Black"

By Byrne Harrison

Name: Riley Thomas (Playwright/Composer)

Though a Chicago native with a degree in astro/quantum physics from Johns Hopkins University, Thomas’ passion has always been storytelling. Forgoing the use of his degree, he followed his passion to New York, where his work has been performed with the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), the West Village Musical Theatre Festival (WVMTF) and the Frigid Festival; and seen at various cabaret and theatrical venues such as New York Live Arts, The Metropolitan Room, NYTB in the D‐Lounge, and the Duplex.

From his most recent Off‐Broadway experience at NYMF, Thomas’ original musical Stuck won several awards, including the Theatre for the American Musical Prize – an award which recognizing excellence in writing specifically for musicals who advance character and plot through the score. Along with honorable mentions for Best Book and Best Music, Stuck also won the Daegu International Musical Festival Production Award, and will therefore be sent to Daegu, South Korea in June and July 2013 to represent American in a festival that presents musicals from around the world.

In addition to stageplay and musical writing, Thomas’ work is seen on the screen as well. He recently was offered his first Hollywood gig – the chance to supply music to Frontera, a full‐length Hollywood feature from Rise Entertainment starring Ed Harris, Michael Pena and Eva Longoria.

He is the Executive Artistic Director of Dark Prophet Productions LLC, and an Associate Producer of the West Village Musical Theatre Festival.

What is Wearing Black about?

A young musician inherits chaos when his twin brother dies.

What inspired you to write it?

The genesis of Wearing Black was a harmonic convergence of events.  When I’m working I bounce back and forth between multiple projects, depending on whichever one stimulates me the most at any given time.  Among the ones I was working on were three different plays: one about addiction, one about death and one about an odd relationship between twin brothers.  None of them were especially taking flight until I took the Johnny Mercer Songwriter’s Workshop.  One of my assignments indirectly led me to write a song for one of those plays, and that made me realize that all of them were in fact the same play.  As soon as I combined them, that theatre magic happened: a compelling drama began to write itself, only now it was a musical!

I’m inspired by theatre that is visceral, realistic and complex – yet simple in its presentation.  Personally I am left wanting at theatre that is mere entertainment, so I strive to create work that not only entertains, but provokes debate and hopefully facilitates personal growth and healing.  And so it is with Wearing Black, a new musical play that deals with intense characters, relationships and subject matter.  I wanted to use the emotionally generative power of music to pull audiences into the heart and soul of these characters as they go through some of the toughest things people can go through.

Who else is involved with the show?

Some ridiculously talented people, that’s for sure.  There is such a stigma associated with non-equity actors, but the cast of Wearing Black shatters those expectations.  Their commitment has been unimpeachable, and each has tapped into the fearlessness necessary for a piece like this.  From the audition, Daniel Tepper made it obvious that no one else was supposed to play the lead.  Erin Maya has thrown herself into her role with such abandon that she has turned her character’s arc into a work of art.  BJ Gruber effortlessly embodies his character and brings much needed levity, and just wait til you hear Miranda Whaley’s voice.  (The singing is expert across the board, as a matter of fact.)  The haunting simplicity of Dennis Brito and the horrifying way Alfredo Diaz uses his character’s minimal time on stage add such beautiful colors to the work.

Behind the table is yet more talent.  Joshua Stephen Kartes, my go-to orchestrator/musician, has come aboard to accompany the show and no one else can find more from the music.  I’ve got designer David Goldstein for a steal, whose passion for stagecraft equals mine for storytelling, and I’ve challenged him with the minimalism required from this incarnation of Wearing Black.  A new and remarkable find is Andrew Kenneth Moss, the fight/intimacy director, who has transformed the cast with such insightful physicality and brought a whole new level of realism to the life on stage.

Lastly, the audience.  I hope the audience is involved with the show as much as we who work on it, because that’s the point.

Speaking of which, who is your dream audience for this show?

Wearing Black is for anyone who requires substance as much as spectacle from their entertainment.  I would also love to share Wearing Black with those who think musical theatre means jazz hands and silly love duets.

Who are your biggest influences?

Artistically?  Danny Boyle, Louis CK, Cy Coleman, Thomas Newman, Mozart, Don Roos, Stephen Sondheim, Aaron Sorkin, Joss Whedon, Eric Whitacre, Alan Silvestri

Thematically?  Everyone and everything.

What other shows are you planning to see at FRIGID?

JonBenet Ramsey: Murder Mystery Theater!!! (because I loved their Saved by the Bell musical), 36 Hours (because it could be brilliant), iMime (because I’m interested in the legitimacy of mime as an art form), My Pussy’s Purrin’ Again (because… I mean, come on!), VGL 5’4" Top (because I too struggle with identity in the gay community).  I’d love to see as many as I can.  I fucking love performing arts.

What's next for you after FRIGID?

I’ll be traveling to South Korea with my musical Stuck, which was chosen to be part of the Daegu International Musical Festival from the line-up of shows at NYMF last year.  It will then return to New York with NYMF again this year.  Also on the horizon is an original TV pilot that I’ll be pitching around, several short films, a new play, and supplying music for my first Hollywood film!

Lightning round

Paper or plastic?  Paper

Comedy or drama?  They’re symbiotic so both

Beach or mountains?  Beach

Black box or proscenium?  Black box

Glee or Smash?  Smash

Cats or dogs?  Dogs

Musical or straight play?  Musical

Wearing Black plays at The Kraine Theater on the following dates:

Feb 27, 8:40PM
Feb 28, 5:30PM
Mar 03, 2:05PM

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