BWW Interview: Andy Mientus Talks BURN ALL NIGHT, Apocalyptic Themes, and More!

BWW Interview: Andy Mientus Talks BURN ALL NIGHT, Apocalyptic Themes, and More!

Andy Mientus' BURN ALL NIGHT is heating up the dance floor at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. BroadwayWorld sat down to talk with Mientus about the show, its apocalyptic themes, and people's public and private selves. Check out the full interview below!

Can you tell me a bit about what Burn All Night is about and how the concept came about?

It follows a group of twenty-somethings who have all come to New York City in search of their dreams, like so many do. But their dreams have all not really turned out the way they planned. They've arrived, sort of left of their dreams, and we see the way that, as many people of my generation do, they espace those realities via nightlife and via these images they've created for themselves. They've sort of put on this public face that is very different from their private story and like so many people my age they're quite good at it. That works for them for a time and then as their interpersonal dramas come to a head and as this looming possibility of an apocalyptic catastrophe becomes more and more real, that doesn't quite work out and it leaves them with this question of - what's the best way to spend their time? Do they keep pushing everything back to keep the party going or do they sober up to the things that they've been hiding and what's the best way to spend the fleeting youth that we all have?

[The show] came out of weird strains of bizarre things that happened to me when I was fresh in New York, really just little stories from my diary that I've been trying to thread into one cohesive plot. When I got to the city, between bouts of unemployment and rebelry out at night I had all of these episodes so I started writing them as a series of scenes. It started out as something more like Hair or like Company where it was just kind of variations on themes or different characters in every vignette and a collage of New York nightlife and the idea is that me and my friends were exploring at the time. So I just started writing them down just as an outlet really and writing some lyrics and eventually it started wanting music because one of the characters in one of the vignettes was a musician so I was like "oh I should just write some songs for him. Wouldn't it be cool if this character had songs and that's how we found out what was going on with him?"

I enlisted Van Hughes who I had met at a party, because I knew that he was of the theatre world but also very much of the world of nightlife and the music that was coming out of there at that time. So I wrote him and said "oh hey, here's this thing, I don't really know what it is, no plans," but saying "do you want to write some songs?" He said yes and did, and it became pretty clear pretty quickly that the whole thing wanted to be a musical. So we began.

Was there any specific event that happened to you that when you were looking back at this journal entry type work, it sort of began the thread of the narrative?

When I look back on it now I see myself and threads of my own experience in all of the characters. It's not as if I am one of them - and I met very real people that are the other three and these are all things that happened. I moved to the city wanting to be an actor and expecting a certain speed at which that would happen and a certain level of success, which very quickly I realized that it was going to be a "plan b" situation.

But having just lost my father, and not really giving myself time to deal with that, that's one of the plotlines of the sort of grief that's being pushed aside. There's a burgeoning sexuality which is being pushed aside. There's all this disappointment in these characters but them trying to sell that everything's fine to each other. So yeah, there's a lot of them in there. But I think really the overall thing which gave me the clue into what the narrative wanted to be was seeing the way that that public persona being very different from my true persona affected my relationships.

I was sort of unknowable for awhile and how that would get me into trouble, how I would just so easily lie to people because I was lying all the time because I was having a story about how things were going when really they were so different from that. When you tell a lie enough it becomes very easy to lie about other things. So I built this narrative around these characters that don't tell each other the truth and if only they did they might have all be saved. The tragedy is that they don't know how to anymore because they tell this lie all the time about their persona.

You've also played a book writer on TV - of course, I'm talking about Smash, which looked deeply into the process of writing a musical. Going into the process for Burn All Night, were there things that were déjà vu about that or were there things that took you by surprise that were very different?

I've shared this anecdote a couple of times but the one that really popped into my head is that Jenny, our director, is a really organized and visual kind of person. Dhe loves to work within very strict parameters and see everything laid out - she does well with information that way. So she's a big proponent of pulling apart the elements of a show in notecards and laying it out in this really visual map where you can slide things around and really see how one things leads to the next, which was like a scene from Smash where Debra Messing had these notecards out. So I remember after a day we did a lot of notecard work I sent her a picture of me and Deb with some notecards like "look at us, we look amazing."

The other thing, now that we're open and now that we're getting a reaction is the way that the only real way to learn about your own play is to put it in front of people and the terror and euphoria of that, like when it works what that feels like, and when it doesn't work what that feels like, and how exposed you are. When you're acting, I think there's a way and when it's not going the way you planned you can blame it on the writing or some other element - but when you're the writer it's all you.

Luckily I'm the kind of person who really loves a challenge and loves the thrill of being scared. I feel like that's the only way I can not crumple into a ball at the end of every day. It's terrifying but it's also thrilling because there is no way to know. You can do so many table reads and discussions and get notes from a full dramaturgy staff and do all the work you can in your bedroom - but until it's in front of people there is no way to know how they're going to react. I feel a new sympathy toward our fictional writers in Smash now that I've gone through that.

Now that you've got the show up in front of audiences is there a specific reaction that you didn't anticipate or something that took you by surprise?

The best part about watching this show as a writer is that our staging is immersive, you stand on the floor... There are some seated tickets but most of the people who see it are standing and there's no tiered pricing of good or bad places to stand, it's totally democratic. You can move around, you can be as close or as far as you want. So I cannot hide in the back, chain-smoking the way you think of the writers of a new show out of town.

I'm right in there with the people hearing how they react and what's really cool is particularly with the younger audience members, the twenty-somethings who the story is really about and trying to speak to - there are these flashes of recognition like these "oh" sounds and "ah" sounds when we drop some detail that they find really relatable.

You can actually feel some of them relating to it, which has been hugely informative and really exciting. It tells me that we have tapped into some truth that people want to express and I think want to see expressed on stage.

Is there something in terms of creating theatre for a very immersive production that surprised you, in terms of unique challenges?

Really our big goal with this production and this step of the process is figuring out what the show actually wants to be because we've never staged it before. While there have been other immersive stood dance-based shows, there's not really been one that I remember that attempts to have book scenes breaking up the party.

The music doesn't keep going, we ask you to stand and watch a four minute scene - (it is a pretty traditional book musical) - where you're stood and then when the music does hit is loud and coming from all sides. So we've been trying to figure out what that is and how much story there can be and how much scene can an audience take.

For example, we're a two act musical but act one is about 50 minutes and act two is about 40 minutes. It's like a 90-minute total experience with an intermission which is quite brief. But when you're stood on your feet, when the intermission comes you're ready for it. While I as the writer would love to have pages and pages to tell you every detail about these characters and try to make the story as clear as possible, we're not really sure if this form can support that.

So it's this balance of how much streamlining can we do, how much information is in the lyrics, assuming when that music hits really loud, the audience is probably on a good day going to get 85% of the lyrics. Things like that, like really thinking about how the information is coming to them and when. It's very different from an experience where you're sat in a seat looking in One Direction and we have all the time in the world to tell you a story in long form.

So, Burn All Night has sort of an end-of-the-world theme toward the end. Has the current social and political climate sort of exacerbated that going forward with this production? Have there been changes as a result?

There have been no changes, we just sort of were gobsmacked by how immediate it seems and how it would appear that we've been working very quickly to try to make this very topical but the truth is we haven't. This started as a sort of fairytale, sort of referencing the 2012 apocalypse that everyone was thinking, where it was this very hypothetical thing that everyone was making fun of, but then what would happen if it was really real?

That was the idea. How does it accelerate the timeline and make them come to terms with the things they've been pushing aside for all this time? But I'm literally looking at the news right now and there's this giant storm coming to the south and cutting back and forth between all the other crazy things that are going on and suddenly it seems like much less of a fairytale and more like something that could really happen.

Some of the feedback that we've been getting is that some people want the apocalypse details to be very specific - we've been making it kind of vague so it could be universal. The apocalypse is sort of a stand in for a general anxiety about any given thing, or even about the end of youth in general. But now because there are so many plausible doomsday scenarios like knocking at the door, some people want it to be as tangible and realistic as possible because it's on everyone's mind. So it's a new consideration.

I don't totally know what the correct answer is yet, but that's one of the things that I'm taking stock of in this production.

If audiences had to take away one thing, what would be the thing that you would want them to take home from Burn All Night?

Without giving too much away, we try to end giving people three equal approaches to youth - how to be young in these times - three different paths one might take. I think inevitably audiences will judge one over the others, like saying "obviously this is the correct answer and the other two are sad answers" but I think those will be different for everybody.

But I'm hoping that they take away that all of those answers are actually valid as long as they are authentic to you, and that these characters could have much happier lives if they had just learned to be honest to themselves and to the people around them. If they weren't hiding behind these public personas but were true to their authentic selves.

If these characters are just not meant to be with each other because they have totally different world views, that's okay. There is no right answer when the clock is ticking, it's just doing the thing that's in your heart. It's sort of the dark side of No Day But Today.

What are your plans going forward? Considering that it's such a unique production in terms of its immersive-ness, where would you like to see it next?

We've always thought that this show would be a sight-specific, so we imagined it being quite different in any place that we put it in - that it would be kind of devised for each space. My hope is that we find an equally idiosyncratic space in another city so that more people can see it and we can find out what that is.

We wanted to give the audiences here in Boston the best possible show. We also weren't shy about using this as an opportunity to learn what the show is and what it wants to be. So we've been really active in making changes right up until the 11th hour. We wrote, staged, and then subsequently cut and replaced an entire song within a few days.

We've really been judicious with what we're allowing ourselves to try out which has been incredible. We've learned an incredible amount and I think now my hope is just that we get to do it again and further refine it and get closer to telling the story that we want to tell.


In an age of uncertainty, four lost souls come to the city in search of themselves. An unflinching look at being young on the eve of global catastrophe, this world premiere musical directed by Jenny Koons (A Sucker Emcee, In This Moment) and choreographed by Tony nominee Sam Pinkleton (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812) features a synthpop score by Teen Commandments members Van Hughes, Nick LaGrasta, and Brett Moses with a book and lyrics by Andy Mientus ("SMASH").

Called "a generational statement" and praised for "a winningly energetic performance by its ensemble and band" by WBUR, Burn All Night plays now through September 8, 2017. Ticket begin at $25. Now on sale by phone at 617.547.8300, in person at the Loeb Drama Center Ticket Services (64 Brattle Street) or online at americanrepertorytheater.org.

Photo: Van Hughes, Nicholas LaGrasta, Brett Moses, and Andy Mientus

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From This Author Alan Henry

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