December 2, 2015
Vineyard Theatre Presents Gigantic, a New Musical
Big things are happening at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theater, where the Vineyard Theatr’s production of Gigantic is currently playing through December 20th. Teens at Camp Overton, the number three weight-loss camp in Southern Pennsylvania, navigate adolescence in a musical comedy equal parts hilarious and poignant. Culturadar blogger Shoshana Greenberg talked to Gigantic co-bookwriter and lyricist Randy Blair about what teen movies inspired him, walking the line between laughs and serious subject matter, and what he would tell his teenage self now.
Culturadar: Where did the idea for this musical come from?
Randy Blair: I’ve had a lifelong struggle with my weight. As a teenager I was on every diet known to man, and my mother sent me to a camp similar to the one in our show, although not a sleepaway camp. I wanted to write a musical about a group of teenagers who are outcasts and forced to deal with their issues in a place they can’t escape from. I also wanted to give opportunities to actors who typically don’t get to perform roles like these. They’re usually cast as a side character or sight gag. I wanted them to play something more complex, romantic, and layered. And I wanted to musicalize teen and camp movies.
CR: What teen summer camp movies did you look to for inspiration?
RB: My collaborator Tim [Drucker] and I went on an exhaustive Netflix and Amazon binge of every single camp movie ever made. Our favorite, and what this show is most inspired by, is Wet Hot American Summer. Other than that, we were inspired by the comedic tone and dialogue styles of Judd Apatow and Diablo Cody. The show is a loving salute to the work of John Hughes, Apatow, and Joss Whedon.
RB: When we were working on the project, we went to a weight loss camp in the Catskills called Camp Shane to talk to the kids about their experience there. When you’re a teenager and you’re told by your peers, the media, your parents, and the things you read online that you are different and socially unacceptable and then you go into an environment where everyone has that same quality, it creates a very interesting dynamic. The playing ground is level, so you can behave in a normal way. Before, you might have been a little shy, but when you’re all the same that’s not a consideration you have.
CR: How has writing this show changed how you see adolescence?
RB: The world has changed quite a bit since we first wrote this show. This show premiered at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2009, and at that time a lot of popular media hadn’t been dealing with childhood obesity. What also occurred since then was rampant online bullying, which has now become a major part of these kids’ lives. We hadn’t been contending with that in the script, but now we’ve incorporated that deeply into our plot.
RB: The show began essentially as a sketch comedy show, and we decided to go back in and deepen the characters—explore them in a more psychological way. The show is a comedy but it delves into some darker territory. There’s one character who’s going through the process of preparing for gastric bypass surgery and a character losing her virginity.
CR: You manage to be a comedy without making fun of the characters or the genre. How aware were you that you were walking this line and did you have any concerns about crossing it?
RB: A central point of the show is that a main character was involved in a devastating experience online. It’s really about flipping that and taking ownership of it. If you hang out with teenagers, they are very sassy, very snarky. They hurl insults as jokes, but sometimes that crosses the line and goes too far. We definitely address that in the show. The balance that I’ve struck right now has to do with not taking yourself too seriously. If you take yourself too seriously, things can get really dark. So we tread the line that’s, “Let’s laugh about it, let’s make fun of ourselves.”
RB: We are huge theater dorks, and it goes with not taking yourself too seriously. We try to keep it within the world, but sometimes we just can’t help it. The fun choice always wins, and I think the audience appreciates it. Theater has to be connected to the culture, or you’re not in dialoging with what’s happening in the world. Kids are so tuned into what is happening all the time. They do know about Hamilton.
CR: What would you tell your teenage characters or your teenage self now?
RB: When you’re a kid every moment is heightened, and everything is of great importance. When you’re struggling with your weight and you want to come back from camp having lost 20 pounds, that’s a lot of pressure. The journey of the show is that, yes, there’s one component of weight loss that is diet and exercise, but the other component and more important one, to me, is the psychological component—learning to be okay with yourself and where you are. You may lose 20 pounds and you may come home and gain 20 pounds back, but it’s okay because life continues and you just have to learn to live in the moment and be happy with you who are.
Photos by Carol Rosegg********
Shoshana Greenberg writes musicals, plays, and prose. Her musicals include Lightning Man (Ars Nova ANT Fest) and Days of Rage, and her play The Rapture of our Teeth (a parody of Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth) is published on Indie Theater Now. She earned her MFA from NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program after graduating from Barnard College. She also writes about theater for Women and Hollywood and The Huffington Post.
Posted at 1:13 PM