Last year, a group of Yalies got together to produce a new musical. With a book by the late Marina Keegan ’12, lyrics by Mark Sonnenblick ’12 and music by Stephen Feigenbaum ’12 MUS ’13, the play premiered at Yale last fall, took off, and this Spring won a spot at FringeNYC festival.
Now, “Independents” is doing it big in New York, picked by the NYC Fringe festival for its 16th season this August, and just this week was reviewed in the New York Times.
“Independents” follows the lives of a group of young people who sometimes smuggle marijuana and sometimes reenact the 18th century aboard an old ship. “A price will be paid for their fecklessness, of course, and adulthood will prove a harsh awakening,” a New York Times reviewer writes. “But not before we are treated to the ease of Charlie Polinger’s direction and the smooth sailing of Stephen Feigenbaum’s folkish tunes and Mark Sonnenblick’s lyrics, evoking sea chanteys and a life of plunder.”
I sat down with Charlie Polinger ’13, the show’s director, to talk about the the success of “Independents” before it closes its New York run at the end of the month.
Q: How did you fall into directing “Independents”?
A: Marina, Stephen and Mark gathered a team and last summer they contacted me and asked me to direct. We were all friends and I had directed with them before, so I happily agreed. I directed the show at Yale last fall and stayed on over the summer.
Q: What’s special about “Independents,” and why do you think it’s been well-received?
A: I know a lot of musicals feel a little bit old or stale, but this is really unique in that it explores elements that are really specific to our time. The approach of 18th century reenactment is a really interesting way to look into our current generation and issues of inaction, apathy and fear of being alone. I think it’s so well received because it really taps into something fairly present and relevant in a beautiful, poetic and emotional way. People can connect to the characters viscerally. When you watch you’re transported to this place where you can really live with these characters for a while and in getting to know them you experience a lot of things that are relevant in your life. It’s also beautifully written. The music is compelling and unique in that it strays away from more traditional theater music toward more of a folk style.
Q: How has your experience working on “Independents” been different from your past work in theater?
A: It felt like a very professional project. It was very organized from the beginning and everyone in the cast was very interested in theater as an actor. The entire team was very professional and hard working, putting in a ton of hours, rehearsing six days a week all day. We were pushing ourselves really hard. It felt like my full-time day job since it kind of assumed everything in everyone’s life who was working on it.
Q: What does it mean for the show now that it’s been extended to a September run?
A: It means that there’s no longer the competition of the Fringe festival. Now a lot more people will be back in New York who were away over the summer, so there’s more opportunity for people to see the show. That includes people in the industry or associated with the press and also the community of New York in general.
Q: What are your hopes for the show’s future success?
A: Who knows? Now we have greater opportunity to keep exploring this show and seeing it performed. We’re all excited about the momentum it’s gained and how well it’s been received. I’d love to see it work shopped at other places or in original theaters in Boston, D.C. or Chicago. We’re really open because every show follows a different path, but it’d be great to see it in front of an audience somewhere outside of New York.
Q: Why drew you to theater and FringeNYC in the first place?
A: Theater because you get to create a live experience that’s very intimate as opposed to manufactured. A group of people get together to experience something collectively and they see it performed live—there’s something very exciting about that. What’s awesome about FringeNYC is that a lot of the time it’s really hard to get a show produced in New York because there’s a lot of bureaucratic stuff to go through, but Fringe takes open submissions so there are opportunities for young artists or experienced artists trying out something new. In general it’s also an exciting opportunity to see different types of theater and what people are developing because the New York audience can go from show to show to show.
Q: What are your post-graduation plans?
A: I definitely want to continue working in theater, but I don’t totally know. I’ll probably move to New York. There are a ton of Yale graduates in New York and Los Angeles doing theater and film, which provides a talented and supporting community.