For the last two weeks, Broadway has been at Bowdoin, workshopping a new project.
Kevin Newbury ’00, a world-renown opera, theater, film director and recent Common Hour speaker, is collaborating with writer Donna Di Novelli and Tony-nominated composer Heidi Rodewald on what they are calling a “pop requiem” titled The Good Swimmer.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to be back at Bowdoin,” Newbury said of his choice to bring this new piece to his alma mater for its first incarnation. “Theater is ongoing with a liberal arts education. You are assimilating history, film, literature: everything you see.”
This intertextual approach to theater is apparent in The Good Swimmer, a story that explores memory and justice in the context of the Vietnam War. In a reversal of the Antigone legend with references to Vietnamese first-century history, two sisters fight against their town’s attempts to build a memorial in honor of their brother, who was killed in combat. As all three are lifeguards, the action takes place around a white wooden lifeguard stand.
Newbury presented the work from the process in Pickard Theater on Saturday, March 3. Running about an hour in length, the piece featured Bowdoin students as actors: Tess Chardiet ’13 as Rooney, Molly Knox ’15 as Meredith, and Nate Houran ’13 as Hank. A professional band, including Rodewald on base, played and sang alongside the actors onstage.
One of the most unique elements of the piece was its use of found text. According to Di Novelli, found text is “a piece of trash, something overlooked, something considered beneath literature. The joy of working with found text is you can take something that’s been ignored and say this is literature, this is beauty.” In the case of Good Swimmer, text from a 1937 American Red Cross Life-Saving and Water Safety Manual served as the music’s lyrics.
In a networking conversation held on February 26, Bowdoin students interested in pursuing careers in theater after graduation spoke with Di Novelli, Newbury and Rodewald about their respective experiences working in the business. The professionals’ take-home message was clear: the most important thing to remember when working in theater is your artistic integrity.
Referring to her Tony-nominated piece Passing Strange, Rodewald said, “The reason it got so far is we weren’t thinking of Broadway. If we were, it would have been watered down and it wouldn’t have been true to us.”
“It’s a hard business. You win some, you lose some, but you just got to keep going and be true to yourself,” concluded Newbury.
Story by Margot Howard ’13