CMTS Presents: Party Worth Crashing

by Ida Biering

Party at Lerner Black Box this weekend!

A few weeks ago, contemporary musical theatre lyricist and Barnard ’03 alum Kait Kerrigan visited Morningside Heights to conduct a workshop with the cast and artistic crew of Columbia Musical Theatre Society’s upcoming production of Party Worth Crashing. The production consists of a selection of songs from musicals written and composed by Kerrigan and her artistic partner-in-crime, composer Brian Lowdermilk. Although they have not had their shows produced yet at large New York theaters, Kerrigan and Lowdermilk have a very large YouTube following across the country and their work has graced the stages of many major regional theaters. Party Worth Crashing, the final product of this workshop, is holding performances this week Thursday, March 7th through Saturday, March 9th in the Lerner Black Box.

While working with the cast members in the Broadway Sky Lounge, Kerrigan maintained a very informal approach. She would frequently get up from her seat and walk over to the piano, or even get on stage with the actor in order to demonstrate a practical application of a performing concept. She would frequently engage in little stunts of encouragement as well, like asking actor Dhari Noel (CC ’15) if he had “an instinct on it” when discussing a song he had just learned the previous week, or telling actress Sarah Elrafei (BC ’15) that she could go for a piece’s lower notes, by smiling through a simple “I think you have them.” Simple moments like these pushed the actors further in rehearsal than ever before. The result of this was not only a pleasant working atmosphere, sharing laughs and silliness, but noticeably contributed to the betterment of the show as a whole.

Starting off the series of solo text interpretation work with Jenny Singer (BC ’15), Kerrigan emphasized the notion of telling the story through music as you would tell it in your own words. Kerrigan would stop actors midway through songs and ask them to tell a story as they normally would (“what did you do last night?” was a frequent favorite) in order to feel the comparison. Actors were encouraged to first tell the story of a song in spoken word before applying the rhythm and melody to find nuances of “color” (cue Pocahontas reference, anyone?) rather than just expecting the words themselves to do all the work.

Lowdermilk and Kerrigan (BC ’03) are a theatre dream team.

Kerrigan especially emphasized the idea of “honest discovery” in exploring the twists and turns of songs and taking the audience along on the journey—a telling rather than a showing. “It’s an interesting thing in theatre,” Kerrigan emphasized, “because you always have to figure out ‘why am I doing this.’ You can only play an action, not feelings like ambivalence or confusion.”

Following the workshop during the rehearsal itself, the cast and crew sat down over pizza for a casual Q&A session with Kerrigan. It may have been surprising for some to learn that while listening to her talking about her time at Barnard/Columbia, a lot of us were able to relate (like the fact that she started writing musicals in the basement piano lounge of Plimpton Hall). Kerrigan admitted that some of the professors she had were so “intense” that she is still reeling from the experience almost ten years after leaving Barnard. Yet amidst all the college craziness, Kerrigan knew what she got out of it: the most valuable thing she learned was “to write and be a great communicator.” In this way she did not fail to stress the important role Barnard played and continues to play in her life and career. Kerrigan did not hesitate to emphasize that she feels privileged to be in a position to come back to her alma mater and work with students similar to herself. She has been back twice before, once through New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) and second through the CUArts “An Afternoon of the Arts” panel last semester.

Believe the hype: this IS a party worth crashing.

Kerrigan got her start with fellow composer Brian Lowdermilk in high school where they worked on a few productions together (they are currently in the process of developing two new shows with the working title Republic inspired by the reign of Henry IV and set in Ireland). They formed a closer friendship after Brian transfered from Harvard and moved to New York, and started they started to write music together, which eventually resulted in a commission of their first show at NYMF. The rest, as they say, is history.

Kerrigan has since then been able to make a living as a lyricist/writer for the past six years, of which a significant part of her income comes from selling her sheet music online. She maintains that even this “cashing in” exemplifies the changing theatre industry, where becomes about “branding yourself a little bit.” Things like social media and website building, she predicted, will be a significant part of the future of aspiring artists in the industry and will help those artists, as well as herself, stay relevant. Kerrigan continued that these channels of communication help her feel connected, that “I don’t feel like I’m writing in a void, I feel like there’s an audience out there.” We couldn’t agree more, Kait. Some of that audience will be there on March 7th and 9th for Party Worth Crashing, and if you haven’t gotten your ticket yet, you should!

 Ida Biering is a senior at Barnard and a guest contributor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of CUArts, Playbill, and Tix on the Square.

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