Date of Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
music direction, Next to Normal, theatre, contemporary musical theatre
As a junior at Bucknell University, I was granted permission by the Department of Theatre and Dance to music direct Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Next to Normal during the winter of my senior year as a THEA 319 Independent Study. This is a course I applied for in my junior year, but began preparing for as a first year student after deciding I wished to pursue a 319 in music direction. I spent the next year researching musicals to find one that would be both manageable for our department in terms of cast size, style and budget, and relevant for the Bucknell community. My passion for music direction stemmed from an interest in the ways in which a composer uses the music of a show to enhance character and further the plot, just as a book writer uses dialogue and stage directions. Musicals consist of four overarching elements: music, movement, acting, and design. Productions are most powerful when these elements are fully integrated and working towards the same vision. However, the music of a show is not often considered when discussing acting and directing intention; the music director teaches the notes, while the stage director coaches the acting. As a music director, I was drawn to how I could help actors use songs and orchestration to create stronger, more nuanced moments on stage. I was first drawn to Next to Normal by its electric, pop-rock score. A sung-through show, most of the action and exposition is contained within the music; even when a character is not singing, their lines are usually accompanied by underscoring. It seemed like the perfect show with which to explore my specific interests in music direction. Furthermore, its small cast of six people and relatively low-budget needs in terms of design meant it would be manageable for our department. Additionally, I was struck by the production's exploration of mental illness within a suburban family; it held a message relevant to Bucknell's campus climate. During the fall of my senior year, I received permission to further pursue this project as an honors thesis as well. Writing a thesis in conjunction with music directing a production of Next to Normal allowed me to delve further into researching the history of the production and of musical theatre in general, and to more deeply analyze the score. I was able to explore the analytical side of the production, as well as the artistic. Throughout the fall semester, stage director Dustyn Martincich and I held design meetings with the faculty and students working on all technical aspects of the production, to ensure a cohesive vision for the production. Dustyn and I held open auditions for all interested Bucknell students early fall semester in order to cast our ensemble. Then, over a seven-week rehearsal period that included fall semester music rehearsals and four hours a day of spring semester rehearsals six days a week, Dustyn, stage manager Lauren Scott and her assistants, movement director Genna Hartnett, our cast, and I worked to build character, learn music and blocking, and form genuine, honest connections onstage. In the week leading up to performances, we added design and technical elements, such as lights, costumes, and sound, before opening for a successful weekend of performances, despite the fact that I was required to step in for one of our leads when he became too ill to perform in our Sunday and Monday shows. My ultimate goal in working with my actors was to use the music to help them enhance and deepen their characters and relationships in the show. In addition to this, I also worked with them on vocal technique and on achieving the contemporary style of singing necessary for a rock musical such as Next to Normal. Overall, this project has heavily influenced how I approach my work as a music director, and has given me various tools to use when working with actors going forward. In speaking with audience members after the show, I also found many of them were interested in starting dialogues on
Golden, Alexandra Julia, "The Art of Music Direction in Contemporary Musical Theatre: Music Directing Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's 'Next to Normal'" (2017). Honors Theses. 379.