ATI Lab Series features new spin on play


When Alisa Hauser read A.A. Milne’s play “Belinda: An April Folly,” she immediately thought it would make a good musical.

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She was looking for a project to work with her friend David Mallamud, so she suggested the play.

“From there, we set out on our collaboration, with me doing the script adaptation and lyrics and David composing the music,” Hauser said. “David and I met at the BMI Workshop in New York City, where we were paired together to write a song as an assignment for the class. We have worked on a number of smaller projects over the years since then, but ‘Belinda’ has been the biggest project of our collaboration.”

As part of Actors Theatre of Indiana’s Lab Series, “Belinda: An April Folly” will be presented as a free reading at 2 p.m. March 25 at Carmel Clay Public Library’s community large meeting room on the first floor. This is the first time the ATI LAB Series has been held anywhere besides the ATI’s Studio Theater home at the Center for the Performing Arts.

Before Milne’s “Winnie-the-Book” book was published in 1926, “Belinda: An April Folly” premiered in 1918. The play is set in 1914.

“The characters in ‘Belinda’ go through the world with a kind of naiveté and silliness, though they are completely passionate about their motivations,” Hauser said. “This speaks to my love of musical theater. I choose to spend my life escaping into a world where characters sing and dance, so it felt like a natural fit for my sensibilities.”

Having the reading with music in front of an audience will help the creative process, Hauser said.

“As writers. we spend our time creating on paper, or in today’s world, computers,” Hauser said. “The characters only come to life in my head as we work on the piece. So, to hear and see them come to life with professional actors helps us tremendously. The audience really tells us what is working or not. We get to see if what we imagine is there is really there. Will this moment work? Will this song forward the plot in the way we think it will? Will this line get a laugh? I may think it’s hilarious on paper, but the actors and audience will tell us for sure. David and I also think it’s fascinating to see when something is revealed in a reading that we didn’t expect, a minor subplot that ends up getting expanded, for example.”

There have been two previous readings.

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“Each time, we are able to make changes based on what we learn,” Hauser said. “For example, for this reading at ATI, we have added a brand-new song and a new scene.”

Mallamud agreed the process is extremely important.

“Even a completed musical doesn’t really exist until you get it in front of an audience,” Mallamud said. “Readings can definitely answer questions we might have about whether a certain line, song or plot line works, but they can also reveal so much to you about your musical that you never even thought to think about, questions you never thought to ask. There’s always a lot of surprises. Something you thought was the greatest moment in your show might fall flat, and a moment you thought of as purely utilitarian, expositional or transitional could end up being the moment that draws the audience in the most.”

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Indianapolis resident Jeff Stockberger said he sees his role as director as trying to find the needs of the creators along with bringing new ideas to the table.

Stockberger said he is always seeking opportunities to work with ATI co-founder Don Farrell, who will be the stage manager. The fact Milne wrote the play was intriguing to Stockberger.

“It’s more of an adult piece, but still has a childlike wonder about it,” Stockberger said. “It’s simple, light and quite funny.”

Debbie Myers is the music director.

“Since it’s a musical I’ve never done before, I thought it would be great to be part of the weeklong process,” Myers said. “I’ve done a lot of shows but never in this kind of setting.”

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