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Sleepaway Camp: The Musical

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Sleepaway Camp: The Musical

Amongst Sacramento’s varied, thriving, and disparate art scenes are large and passionate audiences for both live theater and the trashiest of trash films. Finally, those two audiences can co-exist, and pairs of significant others with significantly different tastes can find a mutually satisfactory outlet in Sleepaway Camp: The Musical.

Officially entry #62 (or rather LXII) in the hit midtown cabaret series Graham-A-Rama, this is a new and original musical adaptation for the stage of the campy and bloody 1983 film that spawned five sequels, Sleepaway Camp. I had the opportunity to sit in on one of the final rehearsals (OMG: ROTFLMAO!) and to bounce a few impromptu questions off the exhaustedly dazed and confused (another potential musical?) creative team: Rob Bean, Freddy Molitch and Andrew Heringer (the twisted trio who adapted and musicalized Robert Hiltzik’s original film screenplay), and Graham Sobelman (producer, music director, and the Graham of the fabulously narcissistically titled Graham-A-Rama).

Q: How did all this start – Why Sleepaway Camp?

The whole Sleepaway thing started really when Rob, Andrew and I were on the staff at a summer camp together. Out of the three of us I am the biggest horror movie fan, so every year I would bring weird movies for the staff to watch after the campers had gone to sleep. Sleepaway Camp has always been one of my favorite movies so I couldn’t wait to show it to them AT a summer camp. I brought it back to camp every summer to watch and pretty early on I was trying to convince Rob and Andrew that it would make an incredible musical. One night they jokingly started to riff on a love song sung to the main character Angela and it snowballed into a really great song. We tidied it up a bit and it was that moment that really convinced all of us that it could actually be done.

Watching Sleepaway Camp I always felt that it had such rich and bizarre subtext which made it into almost a Greek-level tragedy if you actually focus on why these characters do what they do. At first glance it seems like some of the actions in the movie are unexplainable but once you dig deep into the story you see that these people have twisted and passionate reasons for falling in love, killing or just acting almost cartoonish.

Rob (clarifying the timeline):
Freddy and I starting creating theatre pieces together in 1997 when we met in college in Seattle (Cornish College of the Arts). In 1999 we met Andrew because he was one of our students at a fine arts camp in El Dorado County, where Freddy and I were teaching theatre…. Andrew started teaching with us in 2002 and we’ve been a team ever since.

Freddy brought the film version of Sleepaway Camp one year for a group of to watch as it really is one of his favorite movies ever. Definitely a "so bad its good" type of movie. At some point we started joking about the concept of Sleepaway Camp as a musical – with absolutely no intention of making a full length musical. I remember grabbing my guitar and playing with the song that is now "Angela" coming up with ridiculous lyrics which slowly morphed into real lyrics that we actually enjoyed which in turn morphed into us writing more and more songs.

Q: What were each of your roles in as the project developed?

During work on the piece Rob was getting his Master’s Degree in Theatre Management, so he started to work more on the business side of the production, I took a little more of the text and Andrew was our musical genius, though we all worked in little was on every aspect of it. Fairly early on Rob contacted the original writer/director of the movie Robert Hiltzik and he seems very excited and supportive about a musical based on his work.

Rob and I had gone to Cornish College of the Arts together, both studying Directing and Playwriting and at one point Andrew was one of our theatre students at summer camp. Those two are more fans of musicals where I am more the horror movie guy so we really worked toward a balance to please fans of either genre. For a while, teaching at camp was one of the only times that we could get together and work on Sleepaway Camp since I live in Seattle, Rob was working and going to school in Oregon and Andrew was going to college in California. But as the project got bigger and we got more excited about it, we would take retreats together to work on it throughout the year, usually in Lake Tahoe.

Rob brought Freddy down to teach at Sugarloaf and once I started working there we all hit it off really well. The idea of Sleepaway Camp as a musical is ironic to me as we all met teaching at a summer camp. The style of the songwriting reflects that folky, campfire feel. When writing the songs – we would usually watch the movie and pinpoint some ridiculous aspect of a certain character and try to play off that. We were all a part of the lyric writing.

Over the course of the last 6 years the show has been written with us living in three different states. This piece was written with all of us collaborating for a couple days at a time whenever we could find the time in Seattle, Eugene and Tahoe. The distance has been our biggest obstacle in getting the show finished and produced.

We owe a lot to Graham Sobelman for taking the initiative to help us get the first reading off the ground. He and I have been meeting for the last couple of months to write out the music for the cast and the band. He was instrumental in getting together this great cast and band for the reading.

Andrew played me some demos of the songs from their musical one of the first times we hung out. I immediately loved the humor infused with more folky music. I absolutely loved the movie and was very excited when he told me they had musicalized it. When I found out the script was all written and he had demos of all these songs, I thought it would be a great idea to do a reading of the show. I loved how the musical stayed true to all the important elements of the movie, but capitalized on some perfect moments to create songs out of (sometimes bizarre) dialogue. The show is so fun, I can’t imagine it won’t go on to have a fully staged production in the near future. The music has to be some of the most clever of recent years. Sacramento will be the first audience to hear any of it!

Graham-A-Rama has been such a wonderful space to experiment with new material, I thought it would be perfectly appropriate to do a reading of Sleepaway Camp in lieu of one of the more typical shows. People already know (and love) Andrew’s music, so having this event a week after his Andrew Heringer Band CD release is like finding out there’s a whole separate bonus cd with all new songs on it! Luckily, I was able to utilize some of the Graham-A-Rama regulars and also find a couple newcomers to put on the reading.

Q: (To Freddy and Rob) What do each of you do when not setting bloody stabbings to music?

When I’m back in Seattle I act a little but my main job is being a DJ in Seattle nightclubs.

I’m the Audience Services Manager for Cal Performances, running things like the Greek Theater, Zellerbach Hall and alike on UC Berkeley’s campus.

Q: (To Graham) What else can we expect from Graham-A-Rama in the near future?

Graham-A-Rama returns in October with some more "traditional" Graham-A-Rama fare: We will have a lesbian-themed night, a night for the cast of [title of show]* and a special Halloween show! Also, shows starring performers from LA and SF. And hopefully Graham-A-Rama will be returning to NY to do a show in late fall, early spring.


Opportunistic low quality iPhone4 photos by Tony Sheppard :
1) The creative team of Heringer, Sobelman, Bean and Molitch pose gratuitously for an entirely inauthentic working shot
2) The Sleepaway Camp uniform t-shirt, modeled by Andrew Heringer

Other really important stuff:
Sleepaway Camp: The Musical is playing at the Geery Theater, on the corner of 22nd and L Streets.

Thursday, September 9th: 7:30pm
Friday, September 10th: 8:00pm
Sunday, September 12th: 7:00pm & 9:00pm (the regular Graham-A-Rama Sunday showtimes)

Tickets are available online here: Sacramento Press readers can use the code "murder" to get tickets discounted at $9.99 (regular price $15).

This is a “reading” and not a fully staged show.
*[title of show] is, in fact, the title of the Fall production of New Helvetia Theatre

For more information:
andrewheringer.bandcamp.com (for a download of “Under California Skies” – the new Andrew Heringer Band album)
www.newhelvetia.org (for information on the upcoming production of [title of show])
www.brownpapertickets.com (for all Graham-A-Rama and New Helvetia Theatre show tickets)
Sleepaway Camp: The Musical tickets (direct link)
[title of show] tickets (direct link)

Full disclosure:
The author is the regular photographer for Graham-A-Rama, a donor/producer of “Under California Skies” by the Andrew Heringer Band, a founding donor of New Helvetia Theatre, a veteran ex-employee of the children’s residential summer camping industry (11 years), and a local film festival director and film writer – and therefore the key demographic for Sleepaway Camp: The Musical.



About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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