The Sound of Adam Emperor Southard's GROUP


Photo: Josh Allan Dykstra and Adam Emperor Southard
Photo credit: Jeremy Roush

Everyone that works in the theatre knows that it's all about relationships. Producers, directors, actors, and theatre companies all have a vested interest in nurturing new work, and it's especially important for young writers to find ways to build relationships within the theatre community.

For Adam Emperor Southard, striking a partnership with the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble in Santa Monica has allowed his new musical, GROUP, to go from idea to production in a very short time. The show is about to have its world premiere on January 13, 2011.

It's the story of six troubled college students who come together in group therapy and a doctor who believes in the strength of community and the power of music. All of them, including Dr. Allen, learn there's only so long you can avoid the truth.

I saw a press preview of the show at The Powerhouse Theatre last December and was intrigued by the promising new musical. GROUP is a thought provoking exploration of the passion, pain, defiance and loss that occurs in the process of growing up. It will touch your heart and remind you how fragile and how incredible this life really is. Following the run, I asked Adam to tell me about the process of getting his first musical onstage.

How did your partnership with the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble come about?

Isaac Wade, who plays Dr. Allen in the show, and I were both doing shows for a company called Tsunami Radio. We would put out a CD every month of original plays, all from the head of Patrick Redden, Tsunami's writer/director. One day Patrick got this crazy idea and said, let's do musicals. He would send us lyrics. We would write a melody, come in and sing it acapella, and then we'd add music later. It was a great exercise even though it didn't really work, but at the time I had just started reworking Group and it was really inspiring for me to hear Isaac sing because he has such a unique voice. I knew I wanted to work with him on my show. That's when I realized he was my Dr. Allen.

Isaac had been a member of the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble for several years. It was in the Fall of 2009 when he told me about their Scriptyard Series where they read new shows and give feedback. He asked me if I had anything from GROUP that he could show them. They liked the material and I ended up doing a Scriptyard Series in March 2010, and after that, they asked me if they could workshop the show. It was really about timing and knowing the right person who could connect me to them.

What was it like doing rewrites for the show?

Tom Burmester, their Artistic Director, and Producer Danika Sudik were my dramaturgs throughout the process. They worked with me, not by making suggestions so much as asking me questions and seeing where I would find answers. In my first staged reading the show was just two therapy sessions. Act I was the group's first meeting and Act II was their last meeting. It was more a concert musical piece as opposed to a musical. I continued to work on it, held a couple of readings at my home, and then a few months later, sent Tom and Danika a revised script to see what they thought.

In late October Tom said he had an opening on their stage in December and asked if I wanted to put the show up as a workshop production. Of course I wanted to do it but we didn't have a director or a cast so we had to scramble. Then Tom and Danika came to a rehearsal a couple weeks before we opened and said, "This isn't a workshop. We think it's there. Let's preview it and give you an opening."

Previews were wonderful for us. The audience changes everything and it really helped us answer some questions about the show. It was very exciting that it went from a Scriptyard Series to a workshop to a preview to an opening in such a short time. That's why it doesn't feel real yet. Because these things don't happen, right?

How did you get started writing the show?

My brother is a novelist, Scott D. Southard. He came up with the original concept of a group therapy session, because where else can people instantly bleed their soul, and I loved it. I wrote about half the music for the show and he wrote the book. Shortly after that I moved to Los Angeles and all of it was lost in the move. Fast forward ten years later to 2009. My son had just been born and I was rethinking what I wanted to do with my life. I'd still been playing music but I hadn't thought about the musical in a long time, so I started fresh.

Did you tell the same story you'd originally written or did it change?

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Ellen Dostal In addition to being part of the west coast Broadway World team, Ellen also publishes two popular Southern California Theatre Blogs - Musicals in LA and Shakespeare in LA. An actress, singer and voiceover artist, she is also a producer with the Academy for New Musical Theatre, and works with the development of new musicals across the country.

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