Budding musical-theater composers and performers are being given a unique chance for stage time, thanks to Stripped, an Oklahoma City University student-run group. By scrimping to keep expenses down, Stripped is able to present three 45-minute excerpts from new musicals picked from submissions worldwide: “Placebo,” “Piggy in the Middle” and “Seasons.”
Billy Lowrimore, student director of “Seasons,” said that, like many OCU students, his own first time onstage was in a Stripped production.
“We have something like 500 music majors; it’s pretty intense,” Lowrimore said. “It’s interesting to see how talented the younger people are, to see the cycle. There is so much energy, that the Stripped shows end up being really good. We don’t have the technical aspect, but we have the same amount of talent.”
Upperclassmen direct, offering a mentoring opportunity to the younger actors. Stripped productions are still staged with the same expectation of quality as regular OCU performances, but set design, costuming and lighting is kept at a minimum since every show is funded on a donation-only basis. Lowrimore said it is actually tougher for the performers, because the focus is entirely on them and the composition.
“It is almost more interesting than a full show because we get to see just the music and just the words,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the house that just got put together or the giant lighting scene. It’s not about the visual aspect; the only visuals we use are what we absolutely have to have in order for the story to be told.”
Actors are only allowed grayscale costuming with one accent color, so performances have to be embellished to make up for what the costumes lack.
“People shouldn’t expect a scaleddown performance,” student director Margaret Dietrich said. “The characters are just as fully realized, acted, sung and danced.”
She said that picking scripts wasn’t just as simple as looking for the best out of 26 submissions; a number of factors played into finding the ideal fit.
“We are looking for something that has a clear story and a clear message,” Dietrich said. “We were also looking for shows that didn’t have a lot of technical specifications. You learn a lot, too, even looking at the ‘bad’ musicals. By seeing what you don’t like about a submission, you get a better understanding of what makes for a good submission — what would work on the stage and what wouldn’t.”
Lowrimore said a benefit of producing “Seasons” is that he has been collaborating with its composers, Katie Hammond and Elaine Pechacek. The two will travel from New York to see this weekend’s production.
“I was so excited to hear about all the things that they wanted to happen, but then I still had artistic liberty,” he said. “I could modify the music how I want, change whatever, but there were a few things she thought were really important to the plot. You get this really truthful performance because you have all your creativity, but then get to pay respect to what they really wanted.”