Electric guitars. Snake skin. The noise of early punk rock colliding with the Greek myth of Medusa. These were the sights and sounds of the McCoy Theatre over Labor Day weekend, when playwright Krista Knight and New York musician and composer Barry Brinegar came to campus to work with the Rhodes College cast on the upcoming Memphis premiere of HISSIFIT.
Set in mythical modern Greece, HISSIFIT is an adaption of Medusa in Greek mythology. Through image makeovers and fierce internal power struggles, the show tracks the rise, fall, and squirming, headless death rattle of Medusa and her band that will forever petrify the face of rock-and-roll.
“Having the playwright and composer work with the cast was a unique and invigorating kick-off to the process,” says Dr. Joy Brooke Fairfield, who is directing the Rhodes production. “One of my favorite things about this creative team is the way their work asks urgent questions but with a wry, referential, and playful sense of humor. This is evident not only in their writing, but in their way of being. Having them here to inspire our cast as we begin this process is a gift!”
Knight, writer in residence in the Theatre and Cinema and Media Arts programs at Vanderbilt University, also emphasized the importance of being in the room with the cast at the beginning of the process: “Especially with a new play, it’s so vital to see the actors begin to manifest their characters—the discoveries we made this weekend will inform the rewrites and then travel with the project wherever it goes.”
With what the Rhodes cast learned with Knight and Brinegar this past weekend, they can now hit the ground running to get the show ready for its premiere on Nov. 14 at the McCoy Theatre. Unlike most musicals, which have a band or orchestra to support the onstage singers, HISSIFIT actors also provide the instrumental accompaniment. Musical direction for the Rhodes production is being provided by local musician and theatre artist Eileen Kuo, who is also crafting the arrangement and instrumentation, which will become part of the permanent score materials.
“One of my favorite moments was listening to Dinah (the actor playing Medusa) and Barry jam together on their guitars after rehearsal,” says Fairfield. “As the process continues, both of their styles as musicians will continue to weave together as we create this version of HISSIFIT, one unique not only to our cast, but to Memphis’ important musical history.”
HISSIFIT, which will run Nov. 14-24, is the first show of McCoy Theatre’s 39th Season. Follow the cast’s journey on the McCoy Theatre Facebook page.