The Downtown Dance Collective is a small venue, with limitations for staging.
Heather Adams, founder of the collective, wouldn’t have it any other way — limitations inspire creative solutions, she said, and sometimes inspire whole productions.
The current DDC artist in residence, Arielle Nachtigal, chose this summer’s staging of “Songs for a New World,” specifically because it fit the tight space and its restrictions.
Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown's “Songs for a New World” features just four performers, including Nachtigal, and no traditional set. The production is a series of disconnected songs, each telling a standalone story, albeit with interconnected themes of life-changing decisions.
“It’s not a traditional musical,” Nachtigal said. “There’s not ever a storyline that connects the whole thing together.”
Nachtigal, along with Brit Garner, Jadd Davis and Elijah Fisher comprise the cast, with a five-piece band conducted by Scott Hamilton (who also plays piano), Mac Merchant (keyboards), Nick Barr (bass), Rosie Cerquone (drums) and Troy David (percussion).
The four actors play multiple parts across the 19 songs, though there’s some recurring personality traits and themes to their disparate characters. Each actor is assigned as Woman 1, Woman 2, Man 1 and Man 2, and all of the parts interact with each other in a predetermined manner, even if they’re playing totally different characters in a different song.
For example, “Man 1 is always the outsider,” Nachtigal explained. “Woman 2 is always protective of Woman 1. Woman 1 and Man 2 have a romantic relationship.”
It sounds complicated, but Nachtigal said the storytelling and songwriting is accomplished enough that the show works on its own unique merits, with that recurring theme of a big decision looming over nearly ever character.
As well, the tunes have become quite popular outside the show itself, since they are each a contained story, Nachtigal said, so listeners may be familiar songs like “Stars and the Moon” or “She Cries.”
The staging is suitably minimalist for the DDC, with a few black boxes and stools on stage that are rearranged for each song, Nachtigal said, to present an outline of each setting — the bow of a ship, or a balcony.
“We liked the idea of everything being a little bit less, and the audience filling in the blanks,” Nachtigal said. The actors will use the entire venue, entering and exiting through the audience at certain points, though she assured there won’t be audience interaction.
Adams was excited about “Songs for a New World” as a symbol of the DDC and its artists-in-residence program, that encourages creative use of the space and unique stagings.
“Some scripts are written from scratch,” Adams said. “Some, like this one, are an existing score and the staging is original, an original conception.
“Arielle has chosen to use the space in a really interesting way.”