Part requiem, part lifesaving drill, The Good Swimmer is a new music-theatre piece set entirely on a surf beach. The piece translates the kinship relationships of a Greek tragedy to a family of lifeguards during the early days of the Vietnam War. Ripping apart found texts (archaic field guides, historical quotations, defunct manuals) to create song lyrics, The Good Swimmer pits the ‘common good’ against the primacy of kinship as a sister opposes a monument to be built in her beloved brother’s memory. The young singers who make up the Lifeguard Chorus reflect the somber truth that a majority of the GIs lost in Vietnam would never reach their 22nd birthday.
Music by Heidi Rodewald
Libretto/Lyrics by Donna Di Novelli
Music Co-Direction by Marc Doten and Heidi Rodewald
Directed by Kevin Newbury
Choreographer: Chloe Treat in collaboration with Sam Pinkleton
Scenic Design: Victoria "Vita" Tzykun
Costume Design: David C. Woolard
Lighting Design: Eric Southern
Sound Design: Brandon Walcott
Video Designer: Greg Emetaz
Music Orchestrations and Arrangements: Heidi Rodewald, Marc Doten, and Mike McGinnis
Stage Manager: Marisa Levy
Casting Director: Stephanie Klapper
Cast: Chase Crandell | Parker Drown | Alex Gibson | Damon J Gillespie | Dante Jeanfelix | Storm Lever | Taylor Noble | Mackenzie Orr | Gil Perez-Abraham Jr. | Andrew Harrison Way
Band members include: Brad Mulholland | Marty Beller | David Driver | Jeff Hermanson | Dana Lyn | Dan Miller | Heidi Rodewald
Assistant Director: James Matthew Daniel
Associate Lighting Designer: Will Delorm
Video Programmer: Alex West
Assistant Stage Manager: Joe Fernandez
Board Operator: Heather Arnson
Developed with the support of the National Musical Theater Conference at the O'Neill Center, Bowdoin College, and the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA.
Co-commissioned by Jill Steinberg and W. Michael & Christine Garner.
At HERE Mainstage
Photo by Barbara Helgason
Show run time:70 minutes
Post-Performance Conversation will follow the January 14 show.
Heidi Rodewald is the Tony Award nominated, Obie Award winning co-composer of the musical Passing Strange, which transferred from The Public Theater of Broadway in 2008. Rodewald joined the band The Negro Problem in 1997, where she began a longtime collaboration with singer songwriter, Stew. She has collaborated with him in a range of capacities—as a co-composer, producer/arranger and performer. Rodewald composed music for Karen Kandel’s Portraits: Night and Day (2004); Brides of the Moon by The Five Lesbian Brothers (2010); and co-composed music for Shakespeare’s Othello and Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet (2010-2012). She is the co-composer with Stew of the musical Family Album which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival during the 2014 season, Notes of a Native Song, a James Baldwin piece commissioned by the Harlem Stage in 2015, the musical, The Total Bent, which will open in 2016 at the Public Theater and Wagner, Max! Wagner!! which will open at the Kennedy Center in September. Heidi recently was the composer of Another Kind of Love, which was produced in Chicago with InFusion Theatre Company and scored her first film I Dream Too Much, which had its world premiere at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival.
Donna Di Novelli collaborates with artists around the world in opera, film and music-theater, seeking out formal and hybrid approaches to new work. Her libretto for Oceanic Verses, composed by Paola Prestini, was presented at NYC’s River to River Festival, the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC, and The Barbican Center in London, following a residency at Sound Res in Puglia, Italy. She was commissioned by San Francisco Opera to write the libretto for Christopher Theofanidis’s Heart of a Soldier, with Thomas Hampson in the title role. She wrote lyrics for Rachel Portman’s Little House on the Prairie, with book by Rachel Sheinkin, which premiered at the Guthrie Theater, toured nationally and is currently under revision. She wrote text and translated Latin hymns for Hildegard: A Measure of Joy, commissioned by the San Francisco vocal ensemble, Chanticleer, with music by Steven Stucky and Regis Campo. She has collaborated with Randall Eng for many years, most notably on the jazz-infused opera, Florida, (NYCO’s Vox, Public Theater’s New Work Now!) planned for a 2017 production. Di Novelli has written text for the Los Angeles Modern Dance and Ballet’s Twelve Dancing Princesses and a piece for Christopher Burchett, Distance, music by Prestini, heard in BAM’s 21c Liederabend, op.3. Her first screenplay, Stag, was made into a short film by Kevin Newbury, starring Sarah Steele. Stag is currently screening in festivals around the country and winning numerous awards, among them “Best of New York”. She has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony and at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild and Pen America.
Kevin Newbury is an opera, theatre and film director based in New York City. His productions have been presented by many top opera companies, festivals and symphonies including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, the Santa Fe Opera, Barcelona Liceu, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Minnesota Opera, the San Francisco Symphony, L’Opéra de Montréal, Prototype Festival, Bad Summerscape, Portland Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Philadelphia Orchestra, Glimmerglass Opera, the Virgina Arts Festival and the Wexford Festival in Ireland, among many others. Kevin is especially committed to developing new work. He has directed over a dozen world premiere operas and plays, many of which were subsequently published or recorded. Mr. Newbury’s production of Virginia for the Wexford Opera Festival won the 2010 Irish Times Theatre Award for Best New Opera Production. His work has also been nominated for a Grammy Award (Berstein’s Mass with Marin Alsop, also named “One of the best events of the year” by The New York Times and The Washington Post), a Drama Desk Award (Best Actor, Candy & Dorothy) and the GLAAD Media Award (Winner: Candy & Dorothy, nominated Kiss and Cry). His first film, the short Monsura Is Waiting, has screened at twenty-two film festivals and has won several awards. Kevin’s second film, Stag, will premiere at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival in April 2015.
I have long been haunted by Antigone’s Claim in which Judith Butler poses the question of how different psychoanalysis would be had it taken Antigone as its starting point rather than Oedipus. When Heidi Rodewald and I decided to collaborate on a new musical, the image of an almost feral, ripped t-shirt rebel became our own starting point. In opposition to traditional musical theater, our first formal decision was to use only “found text” as lyrics. Instead of period music, we wanted Heidi’s melodies and the power of her own distinctive voice to carry the score. We grounded our ideas in a family of lifeguards in the early bewildering days of the Vietnam War before opposition exploded across the country. In residence at the National Musical Theater Conference at the O’Neill in the summer of 2011, we sat every morning on a front porch overlooking the Thames River, in view of the military shipyard, Electric Boat, and began work on our musical Against You – a translation of Antigone’s name. We had cobbled together weather reports and surf warnings as text until we went to a second-hand bookstore in search of a physical manual. From a defunct how-to-guide, I constructed the text and Heidi wrote the music for the eponymous song, The Good Swimmer – reversing Sophocles’ burial trope with a sister’s refusal to have her brother memorialized as a hero. We left the O’Neill with a new title, three songs, and a white board scribbled with a outline. It was our good fortune that Kevin Newbury quickly joined as director. We have constructed our piece in the hope that the archaic language of field guides will prove to be the proper archaeological find to reveal this devastating historical moment, fifty years later.
-Donna Di Novelli, librettist