‘Songs for Women’: A Staged Reading
On Saturday, October 13, Lecturer of Musical Theater Virginia Pike staged a reading of her new musical song cycle, 'Songs for Women,' at The King’s College.
On Saturday, October 13, Lecturer of Musical Theater Virginia Pike staged a reading of her new musical song cycle Songs for Women at The King’s College. Instead of conveying one connected storyline, the song cycle developed different aspects of the female experience through 15 independent musical numbers.
There were songs from a mother watching her baby grow—“First Steps,” sung by Kaylee Long (MCA ’20)—and of a daughter clashing with a parent about her career choices—“Other People,” sung by Bethanie Ariola (MCA ’22). One piece is written from the view of a young woman in college, sung by Caitlin Smith (MCA ’19), who discovers that a hook-up promises more than it delivers (“Taking My Power Back”). In “Something More to Give,” Anna Hopson (MCA ’22) sang the part of a wife who questions the comfortable life she and her Ivy League-educated husband have made for themselves. The three male actors served as husbands, love interests, and sons. Through a wide scope of scenarios, Pike pondered themes of independence, friendship, romantic love, ambition, and failure.
Of the 23 vocalists, six were King’s alumni who have been pursuing work in the performing arts since graduation: Dorea Slagle (MCA ’17), Heather Cate (MCA ’15), Abbey Jasmine Rose (MCA Dec ’17), Brittin Ward (MCA ’18), Dagmar Wetherill (MCA ’15), and Kaleb Batman (BUS ’18). Two—Savvy Crawford and Kim Harley—are musical artists in Pike’s professional network. The rest of the cast were current students at King’s, primarily Media, Culture, and the Arts majors. Laura Pietropinto directed the reading, with piano and musical direction provided by Pike. Stephen Benson, Doug Hinrichs, Micah Long (HUM ’20), and Patterson Tompkins (MCA ’20) provided guitar, percussion, keyboard, and bass guitar accompaniment, and Isabelle McCauley (PPE Dec ’18) served as student producer.
Songs for Women was born of Pike’s desire to establish her voice as a composer by filling the spiritual and topical voids of the musical theater canon. Female solos often expound on romantic love, but such a narrow focus excludes many of the complex internal struggles that lend themselves naturally to dramatic expression. The musical was not meant to be part of a feminist crusade, Pike explained, because she does not intend to create a world in which men are antagonists or unwelcome. But rather, she hopes the piece will give an enlightened perspective on the spectrum of experiences that women endure by expressing a fuller range of emotion and conflict that could resonate with a wide audience. The ultimate goal, she said, is “to be God’s vessel as an artist.”
“I believe my work belongs in the industry, as opposed to the church,” she elaborated. “My prayer is that these songs would reveal truth in a subtle, unique, and creative way without being preachy.”
The workshop process and unconventional format of the song cycle challenged Pike as a composer and the cast as performers. According to Pike, the goal of a reading is to give writers a chance to workshop a draft of a new piece. Members of the audience take notes on their reactions and the questions left unanswered by the lyrics, which provides the playwright the opportunity to revise. But this means the material is often reworked throughout the rehearsal process and after the performance. Abby Tilly (MCA ’20), president and managing director of The King’s Players, sang a duet with Cate in Songs for Women. Tilly says that the piece was significantly rewritten only days before the performance. But “that’s the beautiful thing about theater,” she said. “It’s a living, breathing thing that is constantly changing.” She also credited Pike’s patience and gracious attitude throughout the process for reducing pressure on the performers. Tilly said, “Her artistic vision is one that is needed, not only in King’s, but in the theater industry as a whole.”
Pike’s content posed writing challenges as well. In order to compose an authentic song from the male perspective, she sent a questionnaire to several male friends, hoping to use the results to craft another comedic piece. However, she said, “The answers were so interesting and so enlightening that I felt this isn’t a song I just want to churn out in a few days. This is something I would like to give more time to because I think it’s going to be richer than I thought it would be.” As she continues to gather audience feedback, Pike may find a place for a song about women from the male perspective in a future draft.
Last week’s staged reading of Songs for Women was the most recent of several workshops of new pieces written by King’s associates. In 2017, the College hosted readings of respective works in progress by Slagle and Zac Owens (MCA ’18), Unfinished and In Loving [A] Memory: A Time Traveler’s Conversations with His Shrink. Over the summer, Associate Professor of English and Theater Chris Cragin-Day staged a reading of her original The Zombie Family Musical.
Typically, playwrights ask already-established actors to perform in these readings. Against this trend, Pike cast Songs for Women with some of the as-yet-unknown talent of King’s students. “Our students are so high-performing. They have talent; they have ability,” Pike said. Eventually, she hopes to invite other writers to stage readings at King’s, providing a service to the writers and giving experience to students.
MCA chair Dr. Henry Bleattler spoke optimistically of the potential growth for theater at King’s: “We are blessed to have working theater professionals teaching our students. Our very own Virginia Pike has worked on and off Broadway as a musician and music director. Having her Songs for Women premiere at King’s is a real boon for our students. They will be the first performers to interpret these songs and that’s a very rare opportunity for our students. It’s a very exciting time for us.”
“Workshopping is an incredible gift because we have so many resources and incredible students,” Pike concluded. “I consider it a privilege to be able to work with this generation of Christians who have a similar mission to make an impact on the industry.”