BWW Interview: Kyle Holmes And David Taylor Gomes Speak About Their Original Musical, RANKED, And Its One-Night-Only Encore CONCERT AT THE CREST THEATRE
When David Taylor Gomes and Kyle Holmes set out to write an original musical for their students at Granite Bay High School, they never could have foreseen the impact their work would have on high schools across the nation. Students are reacting to having their voices heard, and the effect is monumental. People are clamoring to see and produce Ranked: A New Musical, which deals with the pressures that teenagers face today in maintaining grades, social status, and their fight to get into the college of their choice. Due to the popularity of Ranked, they decided to bring the original cast together for one more night to perform the show in concert style at The Crest Theatre. Broadway World Sacramento spoke to Holmes and Gomes about the making of Ranked and what we can expect in the future.
Ranked is your 2nd original collaboration together. How do you feel that you have grown as a creative team? Do you feel that your expectations of Ranked have surpassed Boxed Up: The Musical?
Holmes: Boxed Up was such a fun experience because there were so many amazing people in the room-all the time-for six months straight. It felt like we were part of a writer's room on a TV show-there was never a shortage of jokes or creative solutions for what could happen next with the story. As we shifted to just the two of us writing for Ranked it definitely took us some time to find our own rhythm in writing-we only had each other to help us get unstuck. By the time we were six months into the process, though, we found a really great groove-the songs David was writing were exactly what I was thinking, and the way I would move the scenes was what David had in mind.
As far as expectations, it's so hard to compare the two. I think the common thread in both instances was everyone involved knew they were a part of something special. Boxed Up was so grassroots and fun, and was resonating with audiences in such a unique way; it made musical theatre accessible and exciting for people that otherwise weren't finding a way to connect.
We felt Ranked was so special, even before the college admission scandal broke, just because it was so organic. The words came from the kids and they felt ownership. So when the scandal broke, it just launched our ideas of what it could be to a whole new level.
Your show deals with the competition in high school now. Getting good grades, being accepted into top universities. How was it to see your musical being played out in the news in the form of the college admissions scandal just weeks before your opening?
Holmes: It has been surreal, but honestly we were more shocked by the timing than the actual scandal. We knew the "do what it takes to survive" mentality existed in our schools, but we obviously had no idea how deep or vast it was.
Gomes: We originally came up with this plot element by asking ourselves "if the only way to find success was by achieving high marks in school, what lengths would you go to in order to ensure that you get the future you want?" and in our minds it was a very dramatic and theatrical choice to make the scandal as blunt as it is. Seeing that our dramatized version of the events is almost a near mirror to the real world is saddening, but also validating. Clearly this issue is worthy of artistic interpretation, and by an insane coincidence we are right in the middle of it.
What made you decide to write an original musical for your students?
Holmes: After Boxed Up we knew we wanted to write full length musical. We were just waiting for the right moment. Deciding on our spring musical is the same song and dance where we start looking through the catalog of musicals, asking "do we have students that could play this role, or that role? How many leads? How many supporting leads? Are there enough opportunities for everyone?"
I had a huge group of seniors this year and we just knew we weren't going to find anything that would make us happy. We didn't even talk about potential shows-we both just knew this was the year for us to do it.
Gomes: Echoing what Kyle said, our senior class this year has an unreal amount of drive and talent. We have more graduating seniors going on to pursue theatre in college than we've ever had and as educators it's our aim to provide them with the tools they need to be successful after high school. Doing a workshop and production of a new work seemed like the ideal creative environment to push them creatively and mentally.
How involved were the students in the creative process?
Holmes: Hugely. We started by just interviewing them and hearing about what their lives were like-all of the SAT Prep Courses they were taking on weeknights, the AP classes they were taking instead of electives, their college coaches, the pressure from everyone around them. We also gave them the opportunity to contribute monologues. We drew from all of it-we wanted them to feel like their feelings and their voices were being put center stage.
I don't remember quite as much pressure when I was in high school. Why do you think there has been such a dynamic shift?
Holmes: The short answer, in my opinion, is academic inflation. A Bachelor's Degree is now worth what a high school diploma was worth twenty years ago, a Master's Degree is now worth a Bachelor's, etc. As a result, colleges are more competitive than ever. Societally, we have done a really great job of building up college as the only pathway to a successful and happy life, while simultaneously marginalizing incredibly important sectors like skilled labor and the arts.
If that's the paradigm we are operating within, that college is the only way, then the pressure, cheating, and bribing could be seen as predictable.
Gomes: In my opinion, a college degree has grown to mean so much more than simply educating yourself for a job you would like to have. When we look at the high profile celebrities involved in the college admissions scandal, several of them don't really need a college degree for their chosen career path, but a degree from a prestigious university is a status symbol, and we live in a very egocentric society, so if they want to seem "legit" they need that Harvard diploma, whether or not they earned it. When you factor in social media, "influencers", and the monetization of these social platforms, popularity is now a legitimate career. All of these complicated social expectations are at our fingertips at every moment of every day. It's very overwhelming to stop and think about how much has changed in the last decade, but clearly we've moved into turbulent waters.
David, your music in this show definitely appeals to a wide range of audience-goers while maintaining a pop/rock feel. What influences do you draw upon for inspiration?
Gomes: Like many musical theatre composers, I grew up on the classic movie musicals. Leonard Bernstein, the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim, and Irving Berlin are all huge influences. I especially look at these composers from an acting perspective. How does the music support the emotions that the actor needs to portray? I believe that musical theatre is not limited to any musical genre as long as the lyrics and music support one another. For Ranked, in particular, I want the music to sound young. I think back to when I was a teenager who my favorite musicians were. Ben Folds, Sara Bareilles, Kate Nash, Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Mika, Imogen Heap, OneRepublic, Green Day, Stephen Schwartz, Alan Menkin, Jason Robert Brown, Jonathan Larson, Duncan Sheik, to name several. For each moment in the show I asked myself, "If this character decided to listen to a song right now, as a means of coping with whatever they are struggling with, what would that song be?", and then I set out to write that song. I think this tactic also helps differentiate the musical styles associated with the different characters in the show. For instance, I imagine that Sydney Summers and her squad probably listen to a lot of mainstream pop. Think Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, or Nicki Minaj. Whereas Lily seems like more of an alt-rock fan. So her songs embody the musical style you would hear from Green Day or Marianas Trench. I think a lot of "high school David's" taste in music comes out in Ranked.
This Saturday, June 8, there will be Ranked in Concert at The Crest. Will the original cast from Granite Bay High School be performing?
Holmes: While the event is independent of Granite Bay High School, we did invite the original cast to reprise their roles for this performance. We will have 30 of the original 35 cast members on Saturday evening.
Gomes: We even got all 7 of the original band members back to play with us too!
There has been quite a bit of media buzz and critics' excitement surrounding Ranked. Have other high school theatre groups expressed interest in performing the show?
Holmes: At this point we've heard from over 30 high schools around the country that are interested in learning more about Ranked. We've had our first high school license the show, so we're very excited to share that it will be performed at a Bay Area high school this fall.
What is next for the Gomes/Holmes dynamic duo?
Gomes: I feel like I've struck gold with Kyle as a writing partner. I know that whatever my next project is, I want Kyle to collaborate. As for Ranked, we are going to workshop the show at UC Davis as part of the Ground and Field Theatre Festival this coming September. We're thrilled to be able to say that Mindy Cooper will be directing. We've tossed around several ideas for what show we could write next, but right now Ranked is where it's at.
Ranked in Concert at the Crest will be this Saturday, June 8, at 7 p.m. The Crest Theatre is located at 1013 K Street, Sacramento, CA, 95814. Tickets may be purchased at www.ticketfly.com. More information can be found at rankedmusical.com.