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‘Moon Mary’ one giant leap for two student playwrights

Brownbrokers fall performance years in the making

Monday, November 28, 2005

Moon Mary was born on the moon in the year 2024, the sole survivor of a colony established by NASA. But the leading character in the Brownbrokers’ production “Moon Mary” was really first created at a dining room table at the Sharpe Refectory, the brainchild of scriptwriters EllaRose Chary ’07 and Angie Thurston ’07.

Opening Dec. 1 at Leeds Theater, the production – like all Brownbrokers annual fall musicals for the past 68 years – is entirely written, directed, produced and acted by students.

This year’s musical tells no small story. In fact, it’s intergalactic.

The year is 2048. Moon Mary (Monica Willey ’07), the first human born on the moon, is the lone survivor of a settlement established years ago in response to human mutations on earth. The moon colony was obliterated by a deadly plague, killing Moon Mary’s family and community and leaving her alone on the planet with her pet moon rocks, freeze-dried food and a satellite TV. When a dashing young astronaut, Skyman Bob (Brandon Chinn ’09), lands on the moon, he falls in love with the young moon woman, bringing her back to earth where she is confined to a NASA research lab.

Directed by Anne Troup ’07 and choreographed by Marcus Hill ’07, with music by Jon Russ ’07 and musical direction by Aaron Stanton ’08, the musical runs two hours and 15 minutes. Along with Willey and Chinn, its cast includes Kara Munoz ’06, who plays big-shot reporter Medea McMedia, and Elliot Quick ’07, who plays Guy Wiley, a cunning and ruthless NASA spokesman.

With a cast including mutated humans, dancing moon rocks, heroes, villains and even Oprah Winfrey, the story of love, loss, alienation and reconciliation heartwarmingly unravels to musical score.

And putting it together is no small feat.

The Brownbrokers process stretches from January through December, according to Jed Resnick ’06, chair of the Brownbrokers board. It is a process that involves countless participants, including board members, writers, composers, directors, producers, choreographers, costume designers and actors.

The writers of “Moon Mary” writers were thinking about their musical well before last year’s Brownbrokers production of “Transforming Jimmy Dalton” was set to stage.

As a first-year two years ago, Thurston had to write a five-page musical play for a playwriting class.

“Ella, what should I write this play about?” she asked her friend at the Ratty.

“Why don’t you put it on the moon?” Chary joked, referencing the astronomy class she was taking at the time.

Thurton’s professor liked the play, but even when Thurton and Chary decided they would try to expand on the idea for Brownbrokers, they still saw it as somewhat of a joke.

The two began writing the summer before their sophomore year, unsure of whether the script – which all of their friends found to be crazy – would be selected by the Brownbrokers committee.

“It’s a lot of work and you really throw your heart into it,” Resnick said of the writing process.

It was not until last spring, after submitting the first act and five songs for the play, that the two found out their script was selected from the other submissions.

Over the summer, the playwrights were busy completing their script, spending countless hours crafting both the dialogue and lyrics. Meanwhile, Russ was busy with the accompanying musical score.

In the fall, the script was reviewed, and the writers cut it by 30 pages. Actors were selected and rehearsals began in September, running for four hours a night, six days a week, every week.

‘We’re gonna rock this place’

“Ladies and gentlemen, actors, friends, designers and the like, welcome to the stage-run,” says Troup, the director. It is a Tuesday evening in mid-October. Wearing a black dress, black pumps and gold earrings, Troup has a professional air about her as she leads the 16 cast members in warm-up stretches.

By this point, the cast has been rehearsing for two and a half weeks, and is coming together to perform the full production for the first time.

As the run-through begins, cast members hold scripts marked with yellow highlighter. When they break into song, the cast dances, stumbling over steps or mumbling forgotten lyrics, all the while smiling with a confidence that makes their mistakes seem less disruptive.

“It’s terrifying for me. I see things and I’m cringing on the inside,” says Troup during the run-through’s intermission. Throughout the rehearsal, Troup sits at a small desk, a Diet Coke at her side as she writes nonstop, filling pages of unlined paper with notes for the actors.

But only three weeks later, Troup sits confidently in Leeds Theater on a Friday afternoon, tapping her foot as the four-person band rehearses on stage. This afternoon, a Starbucks cup in her hand, Troup is pleased with the progress the production has made.

“It’s scary, but we are in a really great place in terms of actors,” she says as the band plays on the stage in front of her. “I have every bit of confidence it will happen.”

Throughout the semester, Troup has spent eight to 10 hours a day on the production, holding meetings, attending rehearsals and working on a myriad of other tasks. She essentially sleeps with the 85-page script, constantly flipping through it and jotting down notes for meetings and rehearsals.

“The scariest thing for me going into it was the elements of collaboration,” she says of the production process. The writers have a vision, the actors have a vision and Troup, who ultimately has the final say in how things are done, has her own vision. “It’s wonderful to know that you can be part of a whole group of people who are working hard, who are ecstatic as well as just myself,” she says, smiling as Willey enters the theater and begins singing with the band.

“We’re gonna rock this place!” Willey says, smiling at Troup with outstretched arms after finishing a song.

Ready for takeoff

By 11 a.m. Sunday morning, the cast gathered at Leeds Theater, back from Thanksgiving break to practice before the opening night Thursday.

Nearly five weeks after their first run-through the cast no longer fumbles over lines, misses dance steps or mumbles lyrics. They spin and swing their hips in unison, many of them in partial costume – some wearing bright green vests, others wearing NASA uniforms.

“I’m ready for the story to be told,” Willey says during the one-hour break the cast is given between acts. “Over Thanksgiving I just couldn’t relax. I just wanted to get here and work on it.”

Unlike Willey, who was familiar with Brownbrokers and worked with Troup in the past, Chinn, who plays Skyman Bob, came to Brown in the fall knowing little about the organization.

“I didn’t know what it would be like to work with all students,” he says. “It’s been great to see the work of upperclassmen who are so talented.”

Willey and Chinn did not know each other before they tried out for Brownbrokers. They did not read the script together until after they were selected for their roles. Now, only days before the performance, the two talk like old friends – joking with one another and finishing each other’s sentences.

“Everyone helps do everything,” Willey says of the production process. “Pulling tape off the floor, cleaning,” Chinn finishes for her. The cast and Brownbrokers members have helped with countless tasks including building the set.

“The actors love each other too much,” Troup jokes as the cast and production staff bundle up to go out for their one-hour dinner break. “Things are going well. I’m scared at this point. I’m feeling like I have a hernia,” she jokes, smiling at production director Briel Steinberg ’06.

The theater empties as cast members change out of their costumes for dinner.

“This is what I want to do for a living,” Willey says in the empty theater. “I love it. I live for it. … In a way, I feel like Mary has affected me. I’m able to really connect with her and create her. I think her story is very powerful and a lot of people can relate to it.”

Chary and Thurston have attended rehearsals and watched eagerly as the characters they created months ago have taken on a life of their own.

“I guess it’s kind of overwhelming,” Thurston says during Sunday’s run-through. “There’s just so many elements that go into it that are all coming together.”

Chary and Thurston will attend all six performances of the play, beginning Thursday at 8 p.m. and running through Sunday evening.

“It’s hard to sit and watch it and think, ‘This is the same thing we sat and joked about in the Ratty two years ago,’ ” Chary says.

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