I went to an awesome show on Saturday. Prior to this weekend, I don't think I could tell you the last time I went to a play. However, after visiting the theatre to see Pigpen Theatre Co.'s, "The Old Man and the Old Moon", I can assure you I will be attending a lot more in the future. I had so much fun and the show was unbelievable. I was also lucky enough to be able to speak with Ryan Melia, the self-declared "Chief Consultant on Redheaded Business", to learn more about Pigpen Theatre Co. (Read on for full interview).
Before Pigpen Theatre Co. was Pigpen Theatre Co., they were seven freshmen at Carnegie Melon in 2007. Whether by fate or the theatre/music gods, they were brought together to create what is now known as Pigpen Theatre Co., a unique and inventive group specializing in music, theatre and film. They've received countless accolades including the NYC Fringe Festival's top honor for two years in a row (2010/2011), IRNE (2012) and Jeff Awards (2014). Their debut indie-folk album, "Bremen", (which is amazing) was named #10 on Huffington Post's 2012 Grammy preview.
As described on their website, "'The Old Man and the Old Moon', tells the epic tale of an old man who must abandon his duties of filling up the moon with liquid light to cross the seas in search of his missing wife." Check out some of my pics from the show below:
I've known Ryan Melia, one of the oh so talented members of Pigpen Theatre Co., since middle school where he attended The Fenn School with my brothers. I was impressed by him then and it's safe to say I have grown more and more impressed with his talents as he's progressed as an artist and actor. I was fortunate to be able to ask him some questions about Pigpen Theatre Co. this week:
1. In a few words, how do you describe what Pigpen Theatre Co. does?
PigPen Theatre Co. is a group of friends from college (Carnegie Mellon University) who started a theatre company, band, and production company together 7 years ago in school. Our plays consist of us seven using shadow puppets, original folk music, homemade lighting and props to tell epic original stories. Our music is story driven as well, with influences ranging from The Decemberists, Paul Simon, Anais Mitchell. The list goes on.
2. How did the name, “Pigpen Theatre Co.” come about?
By accident really. We were entering a school play festival in college our freshman year and our application was due and we had to put a name on the form for our play. One of us was wearing a shirt with the word pigpen on it so we just jotted that down as a place holder and it stuck.
3. When did the “aha” moment to create a group specializing both in music and theatre occur, and how?
In the Drama Department at Carnegie Mellon there is a festival of student work called Playground every year. The school gives the students a whole week off of school to submit pieces they'd like to write and develop over the week and finally perform over the weekend. When we were freshman we decided to write a play together and do it at Playground. We had no idea what it would be, but as we spent the week working together we found we all had a love of music and animation and fables. So we decided to use folk music, movement, shadow puppetry, flashlights, lamps (really anything we had laying around) to tell a simple story of a man who went into the woods every day to hunt the bear that ate his son. People responded very positively to it so we decided to keep writing shows and music together and began performing them outside of school. Once we saw that audiences full of strangers had the same reactions our friends had we knew we were on to something and we haven't stopped.
4. I still remember your performance as the cat in your middle school play, "Honk" (also featuring my brother, Peter). How have these early performances influenced your current style on stage?
They have a huge influence. Our plays are fueled by the idea of bringing out the inner child in the audience. To be able to do that we have to tap into our own inner kid. So thinking back to shows we were in as kids helps a lot. When you a kid there are no rules when you're making a play with friends, and that's what we've been lucky enough to do as 20 somethings now.
5. In a world that's becoming continuously more reliant on technology and special effects, you use the simplest and most straightforward materials. Why?
We started doing it because we were college students with no other means. It was us grabbing our lamps, pots, pans, sheets and flashlights and instruments and making due with what we had. As we grew we knew that part of what worked and what people connected to was the idea that they could create our shows or shows like ours by themselves. It was like we were in their living room. It doesn't take much. It makes the whole experience so much more fun and a collaboration with the audience because rather than them wondering how we did a special effect with money and lights they are seeing us do it with normal objects and then it feels like they are making the effect with us. The audience becomes so much more of a integral part of the show.
6. What have you found to be the most effective methods of storytelling?
Music seems to be the fastest way to the bloodstream. People have such an immediate emotional and physical response to music. Also music can travel much faster than live theater, so we've seen and heard from people in various corners of the world that never would have heard of us if it wasn't for the music. But in any form of storytelling I think we've found that storytelling is as much about the person listening to the story as it is about the person telling it.
7. In your album, Bremen, and all of your music, how did you walk the line between being too theatrical without losing what makes Pigpen Theatre Co. special?
All but two of the songs on BREMEN are from plays that we have written, but the songs we have in our plays are unlike musical theater songs, because they rarely have a character singing about what they are literally going through and their point of view. The music in our shows act more like a movie soundtrack. They are songs that run parallel to the story in tone and emotion but the lyrics don't always match what is happening in the play. But as we record our new cd, almost all the songs are written to stand by themselves and not for a play, but because we love bands like The Decemberists, or Anais Mitchell, we still like songs that tell a story and put the listener in a specific place and time. So the songs remain theatrical but they don't get too cheesy or musical theater based.
Although the tour of "The Old Man and the Old Moon" just wrapped up this weekend, Pigpen Theatre Co. will be having a concert of their original music this Tuesday. Tickets are going fast and it's sure to be an unbelievable show. I highly recommend you grab your friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, sibling, grandparent, boss, ANYONE and check it out. Keep Pigpen Theatre on your radar, there are sure to be some great things coming from them in the future.