An ACU professor will direct a new musical in an off-Broadway venue this summer as a part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
Adam Hester, chair of the Department of Theatre, has been chosen as a director for the festival and said [title of show], which he directed at ACU earlier this semester, is a product of NYMF. Its plot centers around the festival.
“It’s really a strange turn of events that I would direct that show and then get the opportunity to do this,” Hester said.
NYMF is essentially an off-Broadway showcase for new works. Hester said a few recognizable shows have come from the festival, including Next to Normal, Altar Boyz and [title of show]. Hester said 400 shows are submitted to NYMF and only 10 are selected to be performed.
Hester anticipates beginning rehearsals for his show, Mother Divine, in New York around the week of June 10. There will be at least five performances in July, with a potential of up to three more performances based on audience demand.
“A lot of the industry professionals will attend these performances looking to see if, as a producer, there are any shows they are willing to take to the next step,” Hester said.
Hester said he got the job through a family connection. One of his in-laws was writing the book and lyrics for the show and was familiar with his work as a director. She decided she would feel comfortable working with Hester.
“I actually initially said no because I was planning on directing the (Abilene) Shakespeare Festival,” Hester said. “My son actually called me and said, ‘Dad, why aren’t you taking this opportunity? It’s something you’ve dreamt about doing.’ I reconsidered that.”
Hester said he also talked to Gary Varner, professor of theatre who is also directing a show for the Abilene Shakespeare Festival, who also encouraged him to pursue this opportunity. Hester took the job and his show for the Shakespeare Festival has been cancelled.
Hester will be directing a new musical entitled Mother Divine, a show that he says is based on a real historical figure called Father Divine, one of the first cult leaders in America.
“His promise was ‘Live Ever, Die Never,'” Hester said. “So if you became a member of his flock you would not die. His wife becomes seriously ill, so he hides her away and she does indeed die. He tells his flock later that she has chosen to come back in a different body.”
Hester said the musical also has a strong fantasy element. When Father Divine takes a new wife and tells his flock Mother Divine has chosen a new body, Mother Divine then comes back to haunt the new wife.
“It reminds me a little bit of Guys and Dolls in some ways, just a little bit stylistically,” Hester said. “It’s very funny and it’s got some great numbers. Mother Divine especially and two or three of the other characters have got some show-stopping numbers.”
Hester also said two current students will be able to work with him in New York as production assistants. Annie Merritt, junior musical theatre major from Amarillo, and Will McInerny, freshmen musical theatre major from Fairview, will join Hester for the project.
“I saw that he needed volunteers for load-in and load-out and I went up and said I was going to be in New York- and he was like, ‘I’d love to have you at my elbow for this entire process,'” Merritt said. “I don’t really know what we’re doing yet. I’m kind of looking at it as a personal assistant to Adam.”
Merritt is also grateful for the opportunity this experience will provide for her as a theatre student hoping to work in New York after graduation.
“Theatre is a relationship-based business,” she said. “Meeting a lot of people and making a bunch of contacts and shaking a lot of people’s hands- is extremely important to getting hired because people hire who they want to work with and who they know.”
Merritt also said she is excited to work with Hester again, having stage-managed for him at ACU. She said they work in similar ways and work well together. She has also worked with McInerny in a directing class on campus and said she also works well with him.
“After stage managing [title of show] getting to actually be a part of the festival that [title of show] came from is really cool to me,” she said.
Hester said he is excited to work with the students.
“I’ll feel really good having some folks who I’m secure with and have worked with before,” he said.
Hester said he will also be bringing on an ACU theatre alum as an assistant stage manager, another as an associate producer and hopes to have other alumni working in New York audition for the show.
Hester is excited about what this opportunity could mean for his department.
“It takes our name in a different way into New York,” he said. “The momentum here could build.”