Hip-hop hadn’t been created yet and senior Jerald Parks wasn’t even born when ‘The Good Person of Szechwan’ was written in 1941. Despite that Parks has created original music in the styles of hip-hop and R&B for the musical which is being performed this week on DePauw University's campus.
“We wanted to get out of our comfort zone with the music, which is what we specifically did as we oriented it more towards Hip Hop and R&B,” said Parks. “We really wanted to do this to showcase a modernization of the culture from the show from 1941 to 2016.”
DePauw University’s theatre department is taking a contemporary approach to the “The Good Person of Szechwan” with original music by Parks and original choreography by junior Uriah Brown. The play is directed by Gigi Jennewein, part-time assistant professor of theatre and communications and will run from Nov. 17-20.
“Good Person” is about a young prostitute, Shen Te, who struggles to be a “good” person while trying to make a living and take care of herself. Jennewein feels the characters in the play have been forced into situations of homelessness, prostitution, and suicide because they were not able to find a place in society due to a lack of basic resources.
Jennewein chose the play because she is a fan of German playwright Bertolt Brecht, who wrote “The Good Person of Szechwan.” Jennewein said she has always had an activist spirit, but is too shy to go openly protest; instead, she likes to express that part of her through artwork.
Jennewein saw the play two years ago and was struck by it. “I thought oh my goodness this is a perfect way to say the things I think really ought to be said,”Jennewein said. “I’m not going to go stand up on a soapbox and yell them out or give a lecture on it, and so I’m so happy that Bertolt Brecht, the playwright, said it for me.”
The play attempts to question if there is room for goodness in the world, said vocal coach, senior Derrick Truby. Truby helped compose the music for the production, and he plays Yang Sung, who is the protagonist’s, Shen Te’s, love interest. “There’s a lot of different themes going on: poverty, sexism, etc., but despite all of those things the play asks whether or not we should all strive to be our best selves,” Truby said.
While “The Good Person of Szechwan” attempts to challenge its audience, creating the music was a challenge in itself. Jennewein, inspired by Lin Manuel Miranda’s music in “Hamilton,” included a Hip Hop and R&B asthetique for the production.
At the most recent Ubben Lecture, Parks asked Leslie Odom Jr. what his advice was for creating music for a theatre production. Odom told him that the peculiarity about creating music for a theatre production is that the music has to be constantly changing, not only from song to song, but also within the melodies and harmonies of a song
Odom’s advice became Parks’s mantra while he was creating the music for the production. Parks said it was difficult to make sure every song sounded different even from the other, and he had to ask himself, “. . . how does the accompaniment change within itself and develop into this entirely different beast in the end, when you come to this cathartic ending where you’re like ‘Oh my God, that was epic or climatic or sorrowful or exciting?”
Parks is the first student in recent memory to create original songs for a musical at DePauw. When he talked to Susan Anthony, professor of Theatre and Communications, she told him that the last person who did this was given a full-ride for a master’s degree in Sound Design after graduation.
Parks worked on creating the music, and Truby helped him with the harmonies and alterations they could make within the music. They experienced challenges, one of which was making old English fit into a Hip Hop beat.
“This has definitely been a labor of love for the both of us, and the more that we can continue this kind of process in the world of theatre, the more we are going to be able to produce more productions like this one because it’s what the students want,” Truby said.
Come Thursday night, Parks and Truby hope their music will leave the audience wanting more. “I want people to leave the show and say we need more of that, have more student involvement, have more contemporary stuff,” Parks said. “We need more diversity in the theatre department that create these types of productions.”
Truby said this show is a call to action; they want to make it apparent that people are responsible for the world outcome, and the way people treat each other matters. “I think that if people really understand that and allow the premise of the show to seep into their hearts,” Truby said. “They will understand that they can no longer go into a classroom situation and say and act however they want.”
“The Good Person of Szechwan” will be presented at Moore Theatre, and performances start on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 7:30 p.m., and continue Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee performance on Sunday at 1:00 p.m..