Reserve & Green: A New Missoula Musical

By MARK VOSBURGH

In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.

– John Muir

This summer I had an intriguing request from writer and composer Amy Martin.

Amy told me that since 2009, she has been working on a new musical. Most of her characters have never walked in nature. The play is set inside a shelter decades after the world falls into a time of massive destruction called the Great Chaos. For fear of nuclear, chemical, and biological contamination, no one has stepped foot outside the shelter for all that time.

With this “happy context” for a backdrop, Amy said she was looking for a group of folks to read and sing through a draft of her unfinished creation. Drawn to a collaborative model of creating art, she was ready to step back, observe, listen, and seek feedback on what was and wasn’t working. Was I interested in participating?

 

Writer and composer AmyMartin.

I first met Amy when she was the Community Music Director for the Missoula YMCA. I had signed up for a vocal harmony class and bluegrass band workshop. As has become standard with Amy Martin, I was about to get far more that I was seeking.

From that first YMCA class, one thing led to another and I found myself onstage, at a microphone, under the lights, in front of the packed house at the Wilma, playing mandolin and singing in a band for my first time ever. Later in the same show (YMCA’s Jamophilia Extravaganza) I watched Amy coax Mayor Engen into a pink boa, and have him sing “I Will Survive”. The crowd went wild.

Since that performance initiation, I’ve had a blast playing and singing bluegrass at bars, fundraisers, a bakery, Southgate Mall, the USFS Fire Lab, and the farmer’s market. Now was the time to give a little bit back to Amy. I said yes to her request.

 

Mark and the other actors rehearse for Reserve &Green.

I had some concerns. I don’t picture myself as an actor. I haven’t been in a play since sixth grade (Mystery Action!). I had no idea I would later be auditioning for singing and acting parts (Yikes!). I didn’t know that I’d be working with a nationally recognized playwright and director, acting with really gifted UM drama students, singing with some of the best vocalists around, being backed up by a band of Missoula’s coolest musicians, and, once again, standing before the public performing on a stage.

Amy is inspiring me in many ways, including inspiring me to get over myself. She once described the project as a “mutual vulnerability fest.” Seeing her work, it’s easy to forget that this is the first performance of her first musical using a collaborative process she is inventing on the fly and based on two years’ life work. My nervousness about acting in public pales in comparison to what Amy is putting on the line.

 

The student actors of Reserve &Green.

In 2004, I went to a play at the UM called the Puzzle Club. Based on real life experiences, the play told the story of a group of people who suffer from various brain injuries. In addition to being one of the most memorable and powerful performances I’ve ever seen, the play informed me about brain injuries from the survivor’s perspective. This understanding was to serve as my frame of reference years later when a life-long friend and co-worker suffered a serious brain injury in an accident.

At our first read-through session, Amy introduced us to her director and collaborator Jillian Campana. Jillian quickly assigned us parts, gave solid, useful, direction, and generally whipped us into shape. I didn’t realize for several weeks that Jillian was the playwright and director of the Puzzle Club. Her work has received national acclaim including being recognized by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Working under the direction of this kind of talent is an honor that falls squarely into the “more that I was seeking” category.

 

Director Jillian Campana, hard atwork.

A post on Amy’s Facebook page caught my eye. The dream becomes the musical.

The process of moving dreams into reality takes traits that Amy, Jillian, and volunteer cast and musicians demonstrate in spades: Talent, creativity, passion, leadership, inspiration, and drive, to name a few. Business and government search desperately for these qualities. It’s wonderful to be involved in a project where these skills thrive.

I’ve had the pleasure and fun of watching the process evolve from a handful of people sitting in circle reading a script, to a cast of 25 singers and actors and a four-piece band preparing for a public workshop performance of act one of of Amy’s musical-in-the-making.

From Amy: “The show stars local actors and musicians, and we want YOU to be a part of it. There will be an audience talk-back immediately following the performance where you will have the opportunity to give your feedback and help make this musical the best it can be.”

What will you get if you step out there and become part of Amy’s collaboration? Far more that you seek, I’m betting.

Reserve and Green public performance: Saturday, December 17, 8:00 p.m. at the Downtown Dance Collective, 121 West Main. $10 at the door.

 

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Mark Vosburgh is a fourth-generation Montanan from Boulder and a 26-year resident of Missoula. He’s worked as a chemical engineer, backcountry ski guide, and wildfire scientist. He plays in several local bluegrass bands and enjoys the usual assortment of Missoula’s great outdoor opportunities. Check out the Ski It Missoula archives for more ski posts by Mark and more local skiers.