Creative Cauldron continues to dazzle critics and audiences with its “Bold New Works for Intimate Stages” – a series of premier musicals. It is certainly rare when a smaller professional theater company in the DC area promises and then delivers new highly acclaimed musicals with such regularity.
Most recently Creative Cauldron’s team of Matt Conner (Music/Lyrics/Director) and Stephen Gregory Smith (Book/Lyrics/Director) premiered Kaleidoscope. With two dozen original musical numbers, Kaleidoscope “examines the treasures of memory and the painful loss that Alzheimer’s delivers by following the journey of an aging Broadway star.”
Previously the Conner/Smith duo’s “Bold New Works” included The Turn of the Screw (2015) and Monsters of the Villa Diotati (2016). Smith and Conner are also both theatrical artists with long-time associations with the regional Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA.
Having seen all three works from Conner and Smith, I wanted to learn more about the “Bold New Works” series and Kaleidoscope.
David Siegel: What was the initial impetus to develop the Creative Cauldron’s 5-Year series of “Bold New Works”?
Laura Connors Hull: My impetus for launching the “Bold New Works for Intimate Stages” was twofold. The list of musicals in the standard licensing catalogues that are suitable for small venues like ours, is extremely limited. Working with the artistry and creative genius of Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith for so many years here at the Cauldron, it seemed like we had the perfect creative team to add to the canon of great musical theater work.
What has been the audience reaction to Kaleidoscope given its subject matter?
During post show discussions I always ask our panelists a framing question: “How does this work of art resonate with your experience working with people with dementia or Alzheimer’s?” I also engage the audience with the same question.
We have had such a tremendous group of professional panelists and advocates in our series sponsored by the Kensington, (an assisted living facility here in Falls Church) and every one of them has praised the production, the music and the storytelling for its authenticity. Some of the things that I had reinforced during these discussions is how important art and music are to our fundamental being. Panelists and audiences over and over shared stories of patients in the later phases of Alzheimer’s who were non-communicative, and suddenly lit up when they had an interaction with music that they were well acquainted with, often singing every word or playing every note of music on an instrument themselves. Music touches us in a deep emotional place that seems to be the core of our memory. It’s why what Stephen and Matt have done with Kaleidoscope is so transcendent.
What was the gestation period like for Kaleidoscope?
Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith: Kaleidoscope as been ten years in the making. Years ago when Flo Lacey was doing my show Nevermore at the Signature Theatre she approached me about the idea. She had just finished a production of Wings. a show about a woman having a stroke, and she had been touched by the beginnings of dementia in her own family. We starting talking right away and never ever gave up on the show. After being commissioned to write five original works for Creative Cauldron’s “Bold New Works for intimate Stages,” we were thrilled to finally find a producer to produce the show and give it its beginning.
How did you two work together on Kaleidoscope? Was it the music composition first, lyrics first, or the book first? How did it happen?
There isn’t a structure or routine to writing something that is layers with dialogue and music. Sometimes a theme will come first, sometimes a title, and other times a scene or lyric. But overall it is a very organic process that appears and reveals. I can reveal that the first theme I wrote for the show is “One More Walk Around the Garden.”
What were some of the biggest challengs to develop Kaleidoscope?
Some of the biggest challenges was to not come across as an expert in the disease. We wanted to approach this clearly form an impressionistic approach to a family dealing with a mother who seems to connect with them in some way with her past career. We also took some hints from other shows that deal with other similar issues like Wit, Angels in America and Wings,
How have families with a family member with Alzheimer’s reacted to Keliedoscope?
We have had talk backs after almost every performance and it’s been very insightful.It has truly been a place for those who have been touched to have a connection and a shared experience that this piece brings. I think many people could see themselves at times in the show at certain points whether they were the caretaker or family member.
How have health professionals reacted to the production?
Health professionals have truly welcomed the piece with open arms and a “Thank you.” It feels like it opens up a larger conversation in our community that sometimes can’t happen. They have all commented on how well the piece includes all and excludes none. Meaning you don’t have to be dealing with Alzheimer’s to enjoy the show and you also can see so many familiar things if you are dealing with the journey.
Do you plan to have Kaleidoscope available for other theaters to produce?
Kaleidoscope will certainly be available for any theatre to produce as well as any of our “Bold New Work for Intimate Stages” Original Works. As a matter of fact, all of Creative Cauldron’s original work will soon be available for licensing as a part of their new Licensing arm with an online site soon.
Running Time: 75 minutes, without an intermission.
DC Metro Theater Arts’ Julia Exline review of Kaleidoscope.