Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In a Word... Anton Lipovetsky on his musical Cool Beans

(photo - cropped - by Brandon Gaukel)

Dreams Manifesting
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Playwright Anton Lipovetsky is a writer, composer and actor. Most recently, he performed at Bard on the Beach in Measure for Measure and Elizabeth Rex and composed/sound designed Midsummer Night's Dream at Studio 58, where he is a graduate. Other credits as composer include The Park (Studio 58), FLOP! (Delinquent Theatre) and Broken Sex Doll (Virtual Stage) which earned him the 2013 Jessie Award for Outstanding Composition. He is the recipient of the 2011 Mayor's Arts Award for Emerging Theatre Artist and the 2012 Jessie for Most Promising Newcomer. This winter, he can be seen in Carousel Theatre's Seussical as The Cat in the Hat.

CHARPO:  First, tell our readers about your personal journey to this production and, while we’re at it, how much you are participating in the show (and whether you’ve been present in productions of your pieces before).

LIPOVETSKY: It's been two years since Solo Collective commissioned me and my writing partner / friend Ben Elliott to write a musical. We went through tons of different ideas—a farm, an ice winery, a mad scientist's mansion, a book club... Nothing seemed to stick... It was our first time being commissioned from scratch and I think the amount of choice was intimidating... We didn't know what we wanted to write about, or “say.” After we went separate ways over this project (Ben's on tour now rocking it in Chelsea Hotel) I began exploring the hipster-coffee-shop-world further and uncovered a theme I was really interested in-- identity. Where does it come from? How do you define yourself...and is that even possible? With dramaturg Aaron Bushkwoski and Director Rachel Peake's guidance I began developing some characters that I've really fallen in love with. And so began the long process to get to this full musical (it's about 70 pages with 12 full musical numbers). I reached out to the talented writers I know and took as much advice from them as I could. Many times I questioned whether I was cut out for it and I faced writer's block constantly--I'm so new to writing and I feel like I'm constantly learning things, basic things, through trial and error, and the trials and the errors added up into something of which I'm quite proud. Always trying to push myself. Now, I'm ready to enjoy the process and watch others bring their talent to it, bring it to life. Usually on a musical that I compose for I am also musical directing the actors, but this time I have Mishelle Cuttler's great vision and guidance—I feel lucky to have her perspective and participate simply as the writer. In rehearsal I'm observing, making changes wherever I can to tighten the script and score. Soon I'll need to get out of everyone's way completely, give them the space they need to make the show their own.

CHARPO:  There is a certain mystique that surrounds the creation of a musical. As you both write and compose, tell us about the difficulties and the triumphs.

LIPOVETSKY: Musicals are tricky. There is so much that the audience already expects, in the “musical” format, that I want to deliver. It would be great to give them something they haven't seen or heard before, too. To get the details, to flesh out the story, it takes time, tedious time. I had to grow a thick skin to criticism; cut and rewrite ruthlessly, even if I had been working meticulously on something for weeks or months. But nothing compares to hearing music that's only been in my head sung in real life by others! It's literally dreams manifesting into real life! I love that part!

CHARPO:  You’ve given yourself leeway a little with the show - as it is described, it takes place in a hipster coffee shop that plays only the most underground records. It seems it’s permission to have some real fun, musically speaking.

LIPOVETSKY: The world of the play is really heightened so there's lots of permission to play. Our actors are so talented and bringing so many funny ideas to the show. I tried to incorporate moments and characteristics that people could recognize, especially from our city. Musically speaking, we have lots of fun with the coffee shop world but definitely don't stay confined to that world only—there are lots of great surprises and journeys to take through the songs.

CHARPO:  Now, this “hipster” thing. It is a word that now has a truly pejorative meaning. How do you work your way around that to create a story that is not completely off-putting…or do you?

LIPOVETSKY: A lot of people view the label with scorn. I'm not out to put anyone down or anyone's lifestyle down. We're poking fun at some of the extreme stereotypes, but hopefully the characters seem real and have integrity. The people and the situations are more than a punchline. I wanted to explore hipsterism without judging the hipster-movement. It comes back to identity for me. How do you create a strong identity in a world where everyone's a hypocrite? You want to stand for human rights but you know your iPhone was made in a factory run in inhumane conditions... You want to stand for free market but so many abuse it... Or there's that viral video going around about voting--so voting makes you a hypocrite if you don't support the system... And not voting makes you a hypocrite because you're not doing your part... I think a lot of people reconcile with having smudged personal ideals by just not thinking about it, but some people go against the grain, on purpose, and they go against the grain really hard, and they make choices about who they're going to be, and they make them emphatically. And that can be really admirable, and also, really funny.

CHARPO:  Musical theatre seems to be on the rise in Canada - have you noticed that, and if so what is your own five-year plan?

LIPOVETSKY: I'm not sure! If it's on the rise, that's great. Pop culture is still really embracing the musical, so that helps. I have noticed that more and more new musicals are being created, despite what a long process it is. Maybe musicals are getting more accessible. Smaller, cheaper, simpler, more contemporary. Not sure what the next five years will look like but I'm sure there will be a few more original musicals in there. I love seeing an audience react to my writing and connecting to people that way. My dream is for my work to tour nationally and internationally. One day!

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