Do you write poetry? Want to have your love poems set to music so you can send them to your significant other on his or her birthday or another special day? If yes, then PoetryToMusic.com is for you. The way site creators/songwriters-musicians Colin Summers and Andrew Eckel conceived of it, they would employ their musicianship and instrumental skills with patrons’ poetic words to spread the joy of songwriting via their site. Along with the songs they created, all were to have a few laughs. Patrons would receive an awesome song and Colin and Andrew would make some money. However, after it was up and running, the site that friends and family considered super was not going swimmingly.
Then an unusual songbird showed up with a knack for the crazy and a fiending obsession for Andrew’s and Colin’s musical talents which could “put them in jail” because the poet thought their music was “awesome.” The fantastical songbird was/is Steve and the “wild and wooly” online songwriting adventures between Steve, Andrew, and Colin are recounted in the whimsical, interactive and mind-blowing Steve: A Docu-Musical presented by the New York Neo-Futurists.
What can you say if someone adores your skills and hires you to write music for their poems at $30.00 a pop? What do you do if someone bugs you about it day and night, flooding your mail box with 8,000 emails over the course of a few years? You say, “Yes, yes, yes!” Then you collapse from the sheer exhilaration of feeling appreciated in a cold, hard, menacing mainstream music world which doesn’t recognize infinite possibilities exist. Colin, Andrew, and Steve, who might have stood at the back of the line with the rest of the millions who want to rock their music to the charts of fame, found a way into the sun and into the hearts of a growing fan base. Steve: A Docu-Musical is making its own kind of theater waves as it embraces innovation and melds it with ingenuity, uses a combination of music styles and forms which have sprung from the serendipity of the unlikely pairing of the young and old.
The collaborators’ online music writing journey began like anything does, slowly, as both sides were feeling out whether the collaboration was doable and the results were “cool.” After the heady immediacy of forging out the first six songs, Steve was ecstatic. So were Andrew and Colin who were making a few bucks in between their other activities. The magical garden of creativity had sprouted up as if overnight, and an unusual, symbiotic, nurturing, and absolutely unique relationship took place online. The results are still evolving but in the merger between these unlikely yet weirdly similar guys, a lasting friendship was born amidst the blasting days of amusement and frenetic nights of productive energy.
Time progressed. Steve and Colin and Andrew moved onward together in virtual time; the songs were funnier and more meaningful, the bonding grew deeper. As one would imagine, opposite sides of this same coin were fascinated with each other and both were compelled to investigate the “who, what, where, and how” of their online identities. Colin discovered Steve was savvy to online publishing, self-published (i.e. The Bachelor’s Cookbook, etc.), lived in Oz, the farthest reaches of the world, and on his various profiles used stock pictures of celebrated individuals, some of which the younger generation might not readily recognize: Carl Sagan. While Colin investigated, in a telepathic synergism, Steve investigated Colin and questioned if he was who he said he was. Both deliberated about each others’ identities. Throughout his discoveries, Colin put together clues about Steve which belied who Steve initially said he was (aged 40). And as their collaboration steamed ahead, Steve seemed to be continually morphing into someone else, while Colin grew as an individual and recognized that his creativity was blossoming into something else influenced by Steve’s energy.
Was the weird shift typical of creative collaboration? To what extent was this an example of Steve’s hyperbolic zaniness and zest for living and Colin’s ready and nonjudgmental acceptance of the “go-with-the-moment” flow? At the bottom Colin was engrossed with this wacky, funny, and absolutely congenial guy who was helping him and Andrew earn some bread. Steve was perceiving himself and his ability to song-write in a new way. Behind the collaboration, who really were/are Steve, Andrew, and Colin? Aren’t we all someone else apart from our online identities? That said, don’t so-called “real” identities change with the tide of times and the perception of individuals/friends/family that we surround ourselves with and who slip in and out of our lives? Ultimately, who and what constitutes our inner selves?
This collaboration raised all these questions and more, and Colin’s curiosity was set ablaze by Steve’s wisdom and his penchant to free-write, without hackneyed self-censorship or the veneer of fake social etiquette. Likewise, Colin’s “being there” and answering Steve’s emails (most of them), served as the foundation for Steve’s overactive imagination and hyper-energized mindset. Gradually, Colin figured out that somehow, in his extensions of himself (pic of Carl Sagan), Steve was this core, heartfelt, candid person of goodness and logic, even if the logic was illogically Steve’s. However, if you could comprehend it and Colin could, then you mined gold. It was at around a midpoint in the collaboration that Colin received a mind-blowing email that partially explained Steve’s being and rocked Colin to a silent depth of understanding. Was this true? We do get to hear the voice of Steve at the conclusion of the production to gauge for ourselves.
The Docu-Musical written and performed as a one-man show by Colin Summers, finely directed by Nessa Norich, delves into the cosmic questions of online and offline identity with humor, insight, and profound reckoning. The production is “moment-to-moment.” And it is episodic in cycling the songs that Steve, Andrew, and Colin wrote. Colin aptly performs the various numbers, annotating them with commentary and anecdotes. He accompanies himself via his guitars, banjo, and versatile toy instruments he uses as a member of his band Toys and Tiny Instruments. In revealing the relationship that Colin engineered with Steve, we enjoy Colin’s affable fluidity. It is this same elemental personality with which he was able to ingenuously reach out to Steve. The flow takes us into active participation as we, the audience, become a part of the show offering sound effects (during the Halloween song), and joining in sing-alongs. The effect is rollicking and lively; Colin and the audience cannot help but unite in a community of laughter and great good will.
This is a fun, interactive production that is heartfelt and meaningful. I particularly enjoyed that it takes a slingshot to the superficial view about emails, social media, and mobile devices as being wholly solipsistic, robotic, youth-oriented, and alienating. Single-handedly Colin Summers wipes out these notions: the production reveals how folks save each other as they engage through social media, etc., without really considering the full impact of what is happening. The virtual connections we create with others are powerful components of life, and the possibilities created are endless and compelling. All this is brought out through examining the thread of this online relationship between two unlikely individuals that most probably would have passed each other by on the street of “live” time and “live” face-to-face interaction.
Director Nessa Norich, with her team, has the stage dressed as a music studio of tables upon which sit gadgets, tiny instruments, a laptop, other functional items, and a backdrop large screen where video is projected. Moving from instrument to laptop to instrument, Colin Summers makes himself completely at home. And at home, he is charismatic and congenial telling the on-going story of his collaboration and relationship with Steve which continues to this day.
As playwright, composer with Andrew Eckel and performer, Colin accomplishes each modality with a grace and openness that is endearing. Part of the audience engagement involves a virtual connection with Steve who requested that Colin takes videos of them. In the parting smart phone shots, Steve is able to see how the songs have sparked the audience’s joy and laughter and even a standing ovation. It is a hello/goodbye present to Steve, Colin,, and Andrew for making the night possible and for reminding us that no act of creation is so small as to not significantly impact others, most of all ourselves. By the conclusion of Steve: A Docu-Musical, we also are reminded of the vitality of collaboration whether online or live in the arts. It spurs on our personal evolution and while we have a boat load of fun, hazard adventures and laugh at the crazy results, we just might, with continued effort and hard work, land at the feet of a global audience.
This theater piece which is a compendium of songs, perceptions, and stories about Steve and which is about artistic collaboration, about our true infinite identities and about hope, is stretching out its fun-loving, uplifting hand to you through August 22nd at The 4th Street Theatre. It is too good to miss.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0077494261]