Playwright Ethan Lipton on creating a new musical, ‘Talent Show’
As New York theater begins to reopen, The Civilians will return to in-person presentations with its own workshop. Ethan Lipton talent show is a musical composed of songs inspired by interviews with teachers, parents, and administrators about the state of public education in America, each reimagined as a performance in a child-hosted talent show. “I have this powerful memory of singing folk songs with my dad (a high school teacher) at my elementary school talent show,” Lipton said of his inspiration for the show’s setting. “This setting felt like a fun, open place for people to speak their truth about a complicated issue, so I decided to explore it as a setting, and the show kind of opened up from the.”
The project originally began in a residency with The Civilians at Duke University, during which Lipton and company interviewed people from all sides of the charter school issue. However, Lipton’s relationship with the subject began much earlier. “I have many educators in my family, who teach at all levels, from primary to higher education. Education is an issue I grew up thinking about. Charter schools are part of a movement in this country to put public institutions in private hands with the intention of providing better services. I wanted to see if they kept that promise and at what cost.
With this subject in mind, they traveled to North Carolina, collecting testimonials from those administrators and decision makers who would eventually become the musical talent of talent show. For several years, however, the idea of creating such a line-up of songs from this material would not occur to Lipton. “For a long time, I tried to stay away, to let the people we interview speak entirely for themselves. But I couldn’t make the show theatrical that way, and in our universe, when a show doesn’t find its theatricality, it’s actually harder for the audience to hear it. Then one day, on a long walk to the 92nd Street Y, I realized that I had to turn many of the show’s monologues into songs – not to get away from the voices of the people we were talking to, but to amplify them.
And hearing each of those voices is ultimately what Lipton expects from his talented viewers. “I hope the audience will have a good time and learn some things, and find voices to sympathize with on all sides of the issue. But more than anything, I hope they question their own ideas about public education and public institutions more broadly.
A work in progress showing talent show directed by Jade King Carroll will be held on December 13 at ART/New York. To learn more, click here. “This show has a lot of good dumb jokes!” Lipton added. “I mean, like, a lot of them!”
Extended Play is a project of The Civilians. To learn more about The Civilians and access exclusive discounts on shows, visit us and join our mailing list at TheCivilians.org.