On Musicals

The Civilians Investigate Off-Center

July 10, 2018 by Katie McClimon

This summer, the innovative theater group The Civilians is teaming up with City Center as Artists in Residence for The Lobby Project, a series of free performances before each show that will examine the history and provide insight into the artistic process of this year’s Off-Center programming. The Civilians is a New York based theater company dedicated to creating new theater based on creative investigations that engage our broader social environment, and the process of making their shows a reality requires imaginative ideas and a dedicated team to make it happen.

To begin the investigative process, The Civilians research a subject extensively by looking into the artists they want to engage in their work, and assemble their team by choosing composers, directors, and writers that would work well within their creative process. In the case of Songs for a New World, the first show of the Encores! Off-Center season, they gathered information on every person involved in the original production of the show, as well as anyone who may have been affected by the work. Once the team has been created, the creative process can begin.

Interviews are a vital source for creating the show and making it feel alive. Grace McLean, a Civilians composer, interviewed Songs for a New World creator Jason Robert Brown and director Daisy Prince about the production, and recorded and transcribed the interview word-for-word to get an authentic account.


The Civilians composer Grace McLean with Jason Robert Brown and Daisy Prince at Brown’s apartment for their interview.

The Civilians’ composers rely not just on the content of the interviews, but on speech patterns and idiosyncrasies to inform a natural rhythm and help bring the voices of the people to life on stage. Once the transcripts have been compiled, the writers and directors meet to discuss common themes of the interviews and anecdotes they want to feature. Through this discussion, a larger through-line comes into focus, and the team can begin to shape the piece holistically.

With a general theme and message in mind, the composers join in. Each are given an interview, or selections from a few, to help craft the songs. The writing and directing team then begin to write a dialogue surrounding the songs, taking other material and turning it into a script that reflects their unique creative process from spark to stage.

As the songs and script roll in, the roles can be cast and rehearsals begin. The cast typically consists of four or five actors, who share the many roles that need to be covered. Once the roles have been determined, the process starts to resemble a more standard production: setting up rehearsals, teaching music, and cutting and rearranging, finally creating a unique and realized production.

Join us in City Center's beautiful Grand Tier lobby for a pre-show performance by The Civilians that will enrich your experience of each Encores! Off-Center show. One hour before curtain, you can see this process come to life on July 11th and 12th at 6:30pm for their investigation into Gone Missing, and July 26th at 6:30pm, July 27th at 7, and July 28th at 1pm and 7pm for their investigation into Don’t Bother Me, I Can't Cope. Each Lobby Project event is 30 minutes long and free for that evening's ticket holders. While The Civilians explore the impact of the original Off-Center productions on audiences and artists alike, they leave an impression on audiences today that adds a new depth to this summer's lineup of Encores! Off-Center shows.