Solo act

Students explore musical passion in theater company’s independent show

By Allison Ashmore

The normal progression of theater production usually culminates in a performance magically manifested on stage. However, students who take initiative in their creative efforts have more to worry about than memorizing their lines.

Four friends and students of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, along with some community help, have independently formed a production of "Songs for a New World" by the Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown. Produced professionally under the Unacceptable Theatre Company, the production is showing March 4-5 at 8 p.m. and March 6 at noon at UCLA's NPI Auditorium at 720 Westwood Plaza.

The Unacceptable Theatre Company was founded in October by the cast of "No Doi," the first show under the group; the company is a loose conglomeration of a group of friends and their passion for working together.

Now, five members of the company have enthusiastically embraced their passion for Brown's musical work. The production consists of a four-member cast of fourth-year theater students Jesse Carrion, Shaina Lemmerman, Lana McKissack and Paul Peglar, and musical director Carson Schutze.

With the sometimes constricting confines of the theater department's scheduling and politics, these students are making their own opportunities happen.

"We would be held back by the theater department," said Carrion, who also directed the project. "In order to have the creative freedom and control of a project, we needed to gain full control."

As students progress through four years of theater in school, the chances of doing a project of personal interest are unlikely. Also, there is no opportunity the theater department offers that allows students to create independently.

Until now, there has not been a production of Brown's music at UCLA, which are either extremely large or very intimate, from "Parade" on Broadway to a small two-person show. So the students decided to do an independent project in a small-scale production of the acclaimed composer.

"Knowing that we are limited to what the theater department sets up for us, we want to express ourselves in our own right, as passionate, driven and creative people," Peglar said.

This production is a forward movement for the group, as the four cast members explore their anxieties and connect their personal experiences. Brown's music is beautiful and challenging, melodically and figuratively, and the students greatly related to the themes broached in the music.

Each character is representative of a theme, and the songs are strung together as a collection of life's moments.

"It's about one moment," Peglar said. "All the songs of the show center on this person in this particular moment when they need to make a decision. Because they are very conversational songs, it speaks on a very human level. It really cuts down to the nit and grit of it."

Beneath the conversational and humanizing lyrics, the rhythmic music encompasses an earthy attitude with musical theater style.

"Brown is so great because of this rock, folk, pop musical sense that he has," Schutze said. "The music is melodic and interpretive, and is appealing to people who aren't into musical theater."

Besides the positive nature of a collaboration of friends and worshippers of Brown, the group has run into some logistical problems. Less than three days away from the opening date, the production lost its stage at the Northwest Auditorium. But in the spirit of the show, the group rallied to find a solution.

"Brown's songs all have a journey in which we discover a resolution or lack of resolution," McKissack said.

Like the music itself, these students have followed a strong yet challenging path in their creation. By joining together in their love for the music and performing, their efforts have prevailed and the show has found a stage. But with the sudden change in location and staging, the presentation has lost some frills.

"Now it's really going to come down to just us as people singing these songs, telling these stories," Carrion said. "Very literally, the show must go on."

Fortunately this is the type of show where this is possible: The piano, voices and lyrics are all that are necessary. By working with peers, tackling difficult music, and overcoming the unforeseen hurdles, the students have independently embraced their passions with strength and conviction.

"The success is that much greater knowing that the five of us had the power to accomplish this show," Peglar said.

For more information, visit

songs for a new world