116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Mirrorbox Theatre is singing a new tune — a lot of new tunes — as the Cedar Rapids troupe stages its first musical, 'Love & Other Destinations,' later this week.
Founded by Cavan Hallman in 2018, Mirrorbox presents the Iowa premiere of contemporary plays reflecting today's ever-changing cultural landscape. The first two seasons were housed in the intimate C Space black-box theater at CSPS Hall. But with the pandemic shutting down in-person performances, Hallman was one of the Corridor's first directors to shift to the virtual realm, presenting live readings of new works online.
Arts presenters are used to thinking outside the box with every play or concert, striving to find the most meaningful way in which to present the show and connect with their audiences. Hallman keeps pushing his boundaries, not only by utilizing the online realm, but also staging 'The Parking Lot' in the parking lot behind CSPS Hall this past September. Audience members stayed in their vehicles to view playwright Adam Szymkowicz's two-person exploration of love and marriage, and whether or not the couple's love was enough to sustain their marriage.
'Love & Other Destinations' continues in a similar vein with subject matter, as well as using an unusual presentational style.
'With Mirrorbox we definitely pride ourselves on pushing ourselves in different ways as a company, with the work that we're presenting, both with subject matter and the form,' Hallman said, 'and sometimes it's more about experimenting with the form than it is experimenting with the subject matter.
The Parking Lot' and ‘Love & Other Destinations' are really kind of fun cousins, in the sense that they're very easy to relate to in terms of the themes and the story, but the way that both works are being presented represents a strong push to innovate on our part, in an attempt to so something that we haven't done before.'
Hallman has a musical theater background as a performer and director, and had appeared in one of lyricist Michael Cooper's short shows in New York City. So when Cooper reached out after seeing one of Hallman's 'Out the Box' online play readings, Hallman began figuring out how to make the technology happen to safely stage Cooper's new musical.
Joe Link of Cedar Rapids had the answers, and arranged for Mirrorbox to use Jefferson High School's digital studio theater for a fee, to stage physically distanced dress rehearsals and the performances, livestreaming at 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday via Facebook Live. The actors will be separated by green screen barriers that will not only keep them safely apart, but create digitized scenery, as well.
'Joe is one of those people that if there is something that needs a creative technical or physical solution, it's just so effortless and seamless for him,' Hallman said of Link, head of the theater department and a language arts teacher at Jefferson High School. 'The generosity of his time and knowledge is just an overwhelming gift. And that he made their studio available and facilitated this partnership with Jefferson High School, I'm just so grateful to him.'
With music by Brad Ross and lyrics by Cooper, the revue-style show stars Angela Billman of Cedar Rapids and Anthony Hendricks of Iowa City. The production staff includes music director Janelle Lauer, technical director Link, stage director Hallman, stage manager Chelsea White and choreographer Anna Slife.
Tickets are $20 online, and like the Mirrorbox 'Out the Box' play readings, the performances can only be viewed in real time — they won't be taped for later viewing.
The Mirrorbox website calls the show 'a map of the human heart, exploring the blush of burgeoning romance, the sting of broken promises, and traveling through those vulnerable emotional destinations and detours we take along the road to love.'
It keeps circling back to the question, 'Am I better off or worse without you,' Hallman said.
'It really starts out from a very fun and light presentational mode,' he noted, 'where these actor/singers come out and say, ‘Hey, we're putting on a show for you, and you're not going to get the ‘Miss Saigon' helicopter, you're not going to get the ‘Phantom of the Opera' chandelier. We're just going to tell you some stories and sing some beautiful songs for you.'
'Then it starts diving into this relationship, and there's sweet songs, there's a song that's absolutely gorgeous that I think will be played at weddings 20 years from now, and there's some real silly character numbers,' Hallman said.
The flavor of the songs allows them latitude to get creative and have some fun, especially with the notion that opposites attract.
'One of the characters has a song where they physically are a cat and one has (a song) where they physically are a dog,' Hallman said. 'So along with the weddings and the conflicts that naturally arise in any long-term relationship, we've also got some really great releases and opportunities for them to play.'
Hallman said the show can be performed by two people or many, as in a current New York college production with 16 performers. The writers also have given producers the latitude for inclusivity with gender-identity and ethnicity.
Based on the virtual auditions he received, Hallman has chosen to present the show as if it's following one heterosexual couple through their relationship, with a few hops back and forth in time, rather than treating each song as a story unto itself.
'In terms of the tone, one of the things that really appealed to me right from beginning, is thinking about the openness of these songs that work together as a complete show, but also, like songs in a revue or cabaret, could stand alone as their own stories, as well.' he said.
He also has challenged the team to dig deep within the story threads tucked inside the songs. 'You could see how someone could use these really tuneful melodies and really charming melodies and stories to entertain on a surface level,' he said. 'A lot of the work we've been doing in rehearsal is uncovering the human moments that are there, and making sure we're not taking the easy approach to storytelling, and making sure the ease and beauty of music and the cleverness takes care of itself. It's our job to endow it with as much meaning as possible and get to the ‘theater' of it, beyond just being a concert — and the songs really lend themselves well to that.
'Also, doing a musical online during the pandemic, there can't help but be a sense of longing, because we're talking about a romance that people are performing on opposite sides of walls from each other. It's important to me to capture some of that sense of longing.'
At a glance
' What: Mirrorbox Theatre presents a new musical revue, 'Love & Other Destinations'
' When: 7 p.m. Thursday to Sunday
' Where: Streaming live each night on Facebook Live, from Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School's digital theater studio
' Cost: $20, mirrorboxtheatre.com/love/
' Details: mirrorboxtheatre.com/
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