The atmosphere of creative incubation fostered at Shenandoah Conservatory led two musical theatre students to forge a partnership and craft a musical, “Lilac,” which they unveiled to the general public at a staged reading in downtown Winchester in March.
The pair – Jack Murphy ’20 (in the above photo, in the first row, wearing a vest and bow tie) and Bailey Baker ’20 (shown above standing to the right of Murphy and wearing a gray dress) – hope to fine-tune the musical in the coming months, and they have discussed ideas for perhaps presenting the completed piece at the conservatory during their senior year.
The duo connected as sophomores, after Murphy heard Baker in a practice room and they decided to write together. They built their work from an idea, which explores LGBTQ+ issues, that Murphy generated during the summer before their sophomore year. Murphy’s original idea was about a couple, in which one half (a writer) is fed up with his workaholic boyfriend, the workaholic is ready to propose, and their views collide in song from either side of a closed door.
Once Murphy and Baker connected, her music helped develop a different flavor for one of the main characters, and they learned how to write together, she said. Soon, their work progressed, and they presented what they had at the conservatory Playwrights’ program that fall. They were asked to perform before the group again that spring in its yearly awards show.
The Influence of Student Performance Week
The vast majority of “Lilac,” which developed into a story of a relationship, told through flashbacks, came together during the conservatory’s annual Student Performance Week (SPW) in November 2018, when classes were suspended to allow students to focus on their creative work.
Murphy said SPW was crucial to the piece’s development. They honed and, even in one case, wrote, songs; devoted time to choreography (the show features a tap-dance number); and developed characters by using two sets of actors for the main roles. “We would stay here until 4 a.m. and the cleaning crew would show up,” Murphy said.
“I discovered that I really really had passion for this during SPW. It was the happiest that I had ever been,” Baker added.
They performed the show, as it was up to that point, as a work in progress at the SPW’s culminating Festival of Arts, Ideas and Exploration.
Growing as a Creative Team
Their process isn’t a set one. In musical theatre, “content dictates form,” Murphy said. So in every case, they determine where they want the song or scene to go, and then work from there. They approach each song differently, sometimes even transforming dialogue into lyrics. “We want it to all sound very natural,” Baker said.
The twosome also work on all parts of their show together, sharing composition duties for the book, music and lyrics. Murphy and Baker say they are both driven, share a common, intense work ethic, and have complementary strengths. They also adore the process of creating a work. “It’s a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle,” that one relishes assembling, even knowing that it will never be truly finished, Murphy said.
Fine-Tuning & Faculty Feedback
When the show was presented to the public in March through the Liminality Theatre Company, at the Bright Box Theater in downtown Winchester, the pair knew that their writing had hit the mark. Moments they had hoped were funny went over well, Murphy said, and audience members were obviously touched by the show’s end. The reading also raised a bit of money to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
By being part of Shenandoah Conservatory, the pair has also received feedback from faculty, including veteran Broadway conductor Patrick Brady. Baker said Brady talked with them about having strong rhymes, and to make sure the dance elements furthered the story.
Now, the pair will continue to refine the show and perhaps add a bit more content, as they work in different North Carolina playhouses over summer break. After finishing edits and the libretto, and working on staging and scenic design elements, they hope to present a fully staged version of the show that forged their creative partnership.
The pair is such a team that they plan to cement their connection in ink over the summer, too. They plan to get matching tattoos – of a pen with lilacs growing out of it.