Project Élan: Q&A with Creator/Director Nicole Capri

Photo courtesy of Sync Weekly

Photo courtesy of Sync Weekly

Before the 39th MainStage Season comes to an end, The Rep is excited to showcase a world premiere show– young artist production Project Elan.

Taking stage from May 5-16, Project Élan is a brand-new, original, culture-current musical that seeks to shed light on the individual and universal needs of the millennial generation. Digital and uniquely undefinable, this generation seeks to find answers in an unpredictable world. And although they may appear to be an age overrun by technology and isolation, their dreams are timeless. The millennial generation still longs for the most basic of human needs – safety, hope and love.

I recently had the chance to talk with creator and director Nicole Capri, The Rep Resident Director and Director of Education, about the inspiration behind the show, what it’s about, songs to look out for and more! Here is what she had to say:

Q: What is Project Élan about?

A: Project Élan is a brand-new, original, culture-current musical about the millennial generation – how they connect and relate to each other, their relationships, their hopes, their dreams, their fears and how technology has changed the way they interact with the world and the people around them.

Philosophers have predicted and many people now fear that today’s youth are being overrun by technology and isolation, but the dreams they have are timeless. The millennial generation still longs for the most basic of human needs – safety, hope and love.

The writers of Project Élan hope to shed light on the individual and universal needs of a uniquely undefinable generation, and a growing digital industry that impacts all of us.

Q: What gave you the inspiration to create Project Élan?

A: I’ve wanted to create an original musical for years, but I wanted to have something significant to say and I knew I needed the right creative team of collaborators to make it happen.

A few years ago, I had been journaling for several months about technology and how it was affecting the young artists I work with. As an acting coach and director, my job is to teach young artists how to authentically communicate and connect with their audience – and more importantly – with each other. Over the years (as technology has boomed and everyone now has a cellphone in their hand), I have found my job to be more difficult. We’re all so over-committed– attention spans are so much shorter and I’ve often wondered if the ability to connect face-to-face would one day become a lost art form.

Without disparaging the growth or the use of technology, I wanted to pose several questions:

  • With so much connectivity around us, are we now entering a dark age of genuine, authentic relationships?
  • Are we allowing technology to cause us to withdraw from the people around us and those that we love the most?
  • or… Is our world simply projectelanbeing redefined?

The word ‘élan’ means – to live with passion and reckless abandon, to live in the moment and to live each day as if it were our last. I wondered if I was living my own life just trying to get through the next project or scratch the next thing off my ‘TO DO’ list. I felt as though I was living a life where I was ‘glorifying the idea of being busy.’ I was tired… and I wanted more ‘life in my life.’ Something had to change.

I finally felt like I had something significant to say.

While in New York City auditioning actors for The Rep’s production of White Christmas, my music director, Mark Binns, and I went to see the musical Once on Broadway. We both looked at each other at the end of the show and said almost simultaneously, ‘We need to write a musical.’ It was kismet. That was in the fall of 2011.

Q: How long have you been working on this original show?

A: Our team of song writers began working together in the fall of 2012. The writers are from all over the country now, so we gathered together for the first time for a week in the home of Susan and Herren Hickingbotham’s. We felt like a band of gypsy artists, sprawled out all over their living room, singing and writing and occasionally taking naps. They fed us and would come down and encourage us and listen to our latest lyrics and creations. They were definitely our biggest supporters throughout this whole project – tangibly and spiritually.

We’ve rarely all gotten to be together in the same place since then… we’ve done a lot of writing over the phone and via Skype. We had a week together in Nashville before Bobby and Charity moved to Los Angeles. Conly and I have had long coffee-shop talks when I go to cast in NYC. And we camped out again for another week at the Hickingbothams on the home-stretch finishing the final touches of the latest script. The songs and storylines have changed and evolved over time and the way we collaborate and interact has become stronger and more exciting. When we first began over two years ago… we were trying to figure out how we all work, dream and create. Now that we understand eachother’s creative rhythms better, it’s been easier to focus more on fine-tuning the storyline and streamlining the rough edges of the show. The final puzzle piece of the show is our project/stage manager, Beth Thiemann. Without her, none of this would have been possible.

Q: What will be patrons be able to expect from the show?

A: We hope that our audiences will leave our show asking questions.

We hope that our audiences will leave our show with a renewed desire to spend tangible, touchable time with the people that they love.

We hope that our audiences will leave our show with hope.

When we work-shopped the original idea for Project Elan two summers ago, one parent remarked that she ‘felt like she got a window into her kids world.’ Interestingly… during the rehearsal process, so many of the cast members said they felt that they understood their parent’s generation so much more after participating in the creation of the piece.

Maybe there is a type of ‘generation connector’ in Project Elan? Or even just a reminder that life is too short to continue trying to live it as fast as possible.

If nothing else, we hope that our audiences will feel that we have moved them and enriched their lives in some small way.

Q: Song that patrons should look out for?

A: The show has such a diverse musical score with original songs from almost every genre of music. This is not your typical ‘Broadway book musical.’ The music you will hear will be more like what you would find on the radio – contemporary-alternative, acoustic-folk, urban-rock, indie-pop, Nashville-sound and progressive-Broadway.

Those who saw the original workshop will also hear two brand-new pieces and some big changes to familiar songs.

I’ve been asked several times what my favorite songs are from the show… it’s hard to decide and it changes daily. They’re all so different, but the one that haunts me most and gives me the most hope is one written by Conly Basham. The title is ‘Morning Song’ and it sounds like something you might hear on a soundtrack from ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Some of the lyrics are:

SOMETIMES WE LAUGH, WE FLY WE DANCE.

A CHANCE FOR EACH – FOR EACH, A CHANCE

STILL MOONS WILL GLARE AND NIGHTTIME CRAWL.

STEP OUT OF DARKNESS INTO ALL

THE LIGHT OF MORNING

Q: What was the best part of the writing process for the musical?

A:

  1. Creating a beautiful piece with my favorite collaborators in the world who amaze me with their talents every single day
  2. Creating a piece from scratch with young artists who shared their lives and their hearts to create the book of the show
  3. Watching a show that was only a glimmer of an idea several years ago come to life in front of a live audience
  4. (always my answer) Watching my parents watch one of my shows.

And finally… on the front page of my journal in 2006… I wrote ‘What will be my legacy? How will they remember me?’ I always thought that would make great lyrics to a song. I shared that with Binns and he turned those two sentences into the opening number of the show. It always amazes me how one small idea can come to life in a way that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. That is the art of synergy and collaboration, and that is the rarity of working with artists who are not only amazingly talented, but people who understand your heart, your passion and your vision. Two sentences scribbled on the front of a notebook almost 10 years ago became a fully orchestrated number for 60-plus people. All I had to do was share that one idea with the right person. It’s an amazing thing if you think about it.

How did you select the writers of the show?

A: Conly Basham and I have been saying for almost 10 years that we should write a show together. She was the one who introduced me to Mark Binns four years ago. They have such a positive and uniquely indescribable chemistry. I’ve never seen two people create so seamlessly together. I knew that anyone else we added to the mix needed to be a positive energy force, but we also wanted interesting diversity. Other elements that were really important to us were people who understood the mission and honor code we try to instill in the young people we teach, and interestingly… we all share a love for Christ. It wasn’t really planned that way, but it is a powerful and prayerful group of people to collaborate with.

It almost seemed effortless in choosing the other members of our team; Bobby Banister who now lives in LA and is doing a ton of producing and writing, Charity Vance who was an SMTI alum who got her big break on ‘American Idol,’ Jimmy Landfair (who became involved in the program through his younger sister Julia) who is writing and touring out of Nashville, Robert Frost was another SMTI alumni who is an amazing writer/composer who is now the music director at The Eugene O’Neill Theatre and Sam Clark – an SMTI alumni and local singer/songwriter. We call Sam the ‘normal one’ in our group. Sam is an engineer by day and we all secretly hope that he will be the one to support us one day.

It’s a great group of people. There are times when everything works and clicks and obviously there are times when we don’t agree, but ultimately… we are all committed to the project and the message which we believe is a message of hope.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

A:This is the show you won’t want to miss. This is the game-changer for The Rep and for this program.

Seats are $30 and $25 for season subscribers. Get your tickets by clicking here or calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405! Get more information on the blog here.

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