Staging a musical is no easy task. Recording and assembling an audio-only musical to be broadcasted on KRRC? Well— that’s never been done before. Maria Wilkerson, senior theatre major and director of Leaving Eden, tackled this challenge for the performance component of her thesis. Maria sat down with Quest writer Brewster Durbin to discuss her thesis, the intersection of church and theatre, and the challenges of staging a musical during a pandemic.
What is Leaving Eden? Would you mind explaining a little bit about the show for those that are unfamiliar?
Leaving Eden is centered around Lilith, a character that in certain apocryphal versions of the Bible and some Jewish texts… is the original wife of Adam. The story is told through two storylines; one, you have Lilith, Adam, and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and then a modern storyline … with Modern Adam, [Lilith who’s going by] Lily, and Eve. If you don’t know [the story of Lilith], she came first and wanted to be treated as an equal to Adam and not be seen as submissive… which got her banished from the Garden of Eden. In this, it’s pretty similar, but updated slightly to where she wants to kind of “top” Adam. [laughs] The modern timeline concerns the relationship between Lily and Adam… and them reconciling with not being able to have children.
When you do a production as part of your thesis as a theatre major, you also have a traditional component involving research. Your hypothesis is laid out in the first few chapters, and your production is you testing your hypothesis. [I’m] focused on the dividing line between church and theatre. So, if you were to do a show that tells the story of Genesis, what makes that different from going to church? That’s basically the most simple way of putting my thesis. The original plan was to do it in the chapel and pass out little programs like they give out in a church, different from a typical “Playbill”. Because we can’t do that, we’re doing it in a more Christian radio-type setting. It’s at 2 PM on a Sunday, which is about the most “church-y” you can get at this point.
Was examining the line between church and theatre the biggest influence in deciding that Leaving Eden was the specific production you wanted to put on?
Yeah. The interesting thing about the show is that it does, essentially, change what happens in Genesis… [and adds a] modern storyline, which is a complete fictionalization. As it relates to my thesis, I think it would have been equally as interesting to do a show like Godspell or Jesus Christ Superstar, which is literally just the Jesus story. Historically when people do theatre about religion they don’t change anything. But I like [taking a] text that people think shouldn’t be altered and alter[ing] it. Different sects and denominations… don’t necessarily change things [in the Bible] but they interpret things differently, highlight certain things. This show kind of does the same thing. I don’t think that [Leaving Eden] replicates that but [it’s] a similar idea. Like, this person Jenny [the writer of Leaving Eden] really liked the story of Lilith so that’s what she chose to highlight. Jenny and I, [we] actually get to email back and forth, that’s how new [the show] is. This is the first time it’s been staged.
How did you feel when you learned you had to make the show come together 100 percent virtually? I can imagine how difficult it must have been.
I think at the beginning it seemed nearly impossible to do… an hour and a half long musical completely online. That does kind of seem impossible looking back, but ultimately once it got approved it became a matter of “Which software do we use?”… “Is this something that people are even going to want to, like, do?”. We decided that radio would be a good way to present it as opposed to a Zoom musical, which would be a disaster for a lot of reasons. It was a lot of reading scripts… Me and two friends did a readthrough and timed it to see how long it would be [over the air]. I was convinced that no one would audition and I was… gonna have to end up being in my own show. A lot of people auditioned, which was great, and after that everything just kind of fell into place.
The most rewarding thing about putting it all together is that there were a lot of factors that made it seem like I wouldn’t be able to do it. The idea of doing a musical for my thesis was something that was always a struggle. I had talked about [doing a musical for a thesis] since I was a sophomore, and I was immediately met with, “You know, musicals are way harder to put on than plays”— which, they are. You also have to have a great knowledge of music to do a musical, which I think I do, but I don’t really think of myself as a musician… So, you know, I had quite a few people bring up real concerns about why this might not be able to happen. Not because they don’t like me, there were truly just a lot of obstacles in the way. And it was great that it was like, “Oh, well, it worked out anyway.”
Act 1 of Leaving Eden will be broadcasted on KRRC at 2 PM on February 7th, and Act 2 will be at 2PM on February 14th. Listen at krrc.fm.