What began as a campus performance is now taking Columbia students and alumni to the New York International Fringe Festival. “Lydia & Tom,” put on in November 2012 as a CUPAL special project, will open Aug. 9 at the 14th Street Y.
The cast and crew—most of whom are current Columbia students or recent graduates—have been spending the last few weeks busily revising the show to best communicate its ideas through a blend of music, dialogue, and contemporary dance. That process has been far easier because the creators of the show are the ones putting it on.
“Doing an original show is a different thing because if you need more music somewhere or if a line needs to change—whatever it is—you’re at total liberty to explore the different solutions and work with the team to figure out which is best,” Solomon Hoffman, CC ’14 and the show’s composer and co-creator, said.
The show follows two childhood friends from the night before they leave for college through their mid-20s and the complications that come with maintaining their relationship.
“It’s a relationship that you have 100 percent had before,” executive producer Ally Engelberg, BC ’15, said. “It’s a relationship that everyone struggles with, with somebody who you think is a friend but you don’t know if they’re somebody more. It’s so relatable that it becomes cathartic.”
The team said that their focus has been on developing the characters to be as realistic and honest as possible and on performers effectively depicting the characters’ thoughts and feelings.
“Fringe is pushing the experimentation of the story and of our concept, which is dance and musical theater onstage simultaneously,” Nick Parker, CC ’14 who wrote the show, said. “I’ve gotten a lot braver and smarter in terms of how I’ve written this show. We’re staging something that looks very realistic.”
Dance plays a large role in “Lydia & Tom,” with dancer versions of Lydia and Tom communicating thoughts left unsaid by their singing counterparts.
“In this version the dancers have a constant presence on stage,” said Adrianna Aguilar, BC ’13 and the show’s original choreographer and co-creator, now performing as Dancer Lydia. “The dancers are there to support the singers. They dance what the singers can’t express totally.”
For the Fringe performance, movement director Victoria Pollack, BC ’12, said, “We take more advantage of choreographic motifs to communicate flickers from the past."
“That’s been fun to experiment with," she said, "like a painter using different colors and cycling through them again.”
In this performance, the team has also acquired moving props to help communicate Lydia and Tom’s physical distance and separation.
“This isn’t a musical where dancers are accessories or where the stage is stagnant,” Pollack said. “It’s a world where there is a lot of movement and these people are growing with and away and towards each other.”
Preparing the show for Fringe has been tireless work for the team, which has spent the last four weeks in rehearsal, incorporating new additions and rewrites through last week. Having worked together on campus productions in the past, the creative team has the advantage of knowing one another’s work style as well as how to make a show successful.
“It’s been exciting to see how much we’re able to apply … the things that we’ve learned and the skills that we’ve developed as students and aspiring artists in student shows on campus,” director Alex Hare, CC ’13, said. “It’s been nice to continue to hone those skills and see how much is similar about the student theater world and the real theater world.”
In addition, bringing the show to the city at large provides an opportunity for many of the cast and crew members interested in theater as a career.
“For those of us looking to pursue theater professionally, this is our foot in the door, so it’s very exciting,” Parker said.
Engelberg hopes that the encouragement the team saw from its Columbia audience will help guide the show’s opening at Fringe.
“Taking what we’ve had in this really insulated space and bringing it out of the bubble, we really want the support to come with us to the show,” Engelberg said.
The FringeNYC performances of “Lydia and Tom” will take place at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street. It opens Aug. 9 at 6:45 p.m. Tickets may be purchased here.