On May 20-24, the Hopkins Drama Association (HDA) put on its first original musical, Killing Time, in the Thompson atrium.
Hopkins’ very own English and Arts department faculty Ian Melchinger and Director of Choral Music Erika Schroth “decided in the ‘before times’ that [they] wanted to make a show,” according to Melchinger. The two began working on the show in late summer of 2019 after being inspired by a small, off-Broadway musical called “Octet.” Schroth recalled that, shortly after they both saw the show, they were “talking about it and nerding out on it, and I don’t remember who said it first but we both were like ‘I want to write a musical like that!’”
In the fall of 2019, the duo “decided to carve out some time to talk about ideas. We started with who the characters were and what their relationships and characteristics would be,” said Schroth. They had a unique development process for creating their characters. Melchinger admitted that “Ms. Schroth brought over a bunch of LEGO figures, and we moved them around on the table to talk about relationships.” They were very adamant about creating characters that “have no gender identity, sexuality, culture, or racial identity, so it could be put on by any group and still function,” said Melchinger, who also“loved the idea of not naming the characters,” so that there truly were no restrictions on who could play them.
After they developed a general idea, the two agreed to meet for one block each week to work on the show. From there, Schroth said they would “play with an idea, then one of [them] would go home and sit with it a little bit, and then come back the next day and work it out.” Melchinger added that the two “started playing tunes, and the story grew from there!” Schroth and Melchinger developed a system for teamwork where they both could bounce ideas off of each other and the other would give feedback. Melchinger said that he’s “very good at throwing ideas out. It’s not a natural ability, it’s a trained ability,” but Schroth said that “getting over the hurdle of collaborating was difficult.” Eventually, the two found a balance and were able to make the show a reality.
Melchinger wrote the script in December of 2019 while he was home with the flu. Schroth said that “the script was Mr. Mel’s domain. He had to find the right words for the characters.” Melchinger added that he “generated a lot of material, and Ms. Schroth nurtured the things she thought were worthy.” This process was not entirely new to Melchinger; he said, “I wrote and directed a musical for my thesis in college” however the collaborative element was new. Unlike Melchinger, the writing process was a completely new experience for Schroth. “I’ve only written tiny tiny things, like a song here or there, but I’ve never written a whole big piece,” she said. The project took an unexpected turn when Drama faculty member Michael Calderone suggested they put on the show at Hopkins. Calderone said, “Ms. Schroth and Mr. Mel gingerly mentioned that they had been working on a show for the past couple of months and thought it might be good for us. It was written by our very own, we would be the world premiere, and it’s really good! Ms. Schroth and Mr. Mel knew it was ready to leave their nest and see if it could fly and I was honored that they trusted me to see it through to production.”
Calderone admitted that at first he had his doubts, even saying that it “took [him] a couple of tries to get through the first act! Originally, the audience is launched immediately into the world of ‘Bears’ and news and music and tech and corporation; but the music was so good I stuck it out and made one quick realization: the show seemed to be missing an opening song.” Melchinger recalled that “Mike commissioned a second opening number, and now it’s more like a traditional musical than we had ever planned. His need to serve HDA [Hopkins Drama Association] and the community drove a bunch of decisions that are super fun to the point where no one in the show could imagine not being there.” The whole
show started to grow and change after the three began to work together in ways none of them ever expected. Schroth adds that “when [they] were reading and getting to know the show, Mike said he thought it would be great if there was an upbeat opening number, where you saw the company at work. Mr. Mel and I pondered that, and the idea led to “Works For Me”, and the whole idea of the Feed, which then led to “What I Saw,” and the opening of Act II where the Feed interjects as the workers are settling in for “So Do We.” That aspect of collaboration has not only been enjoyable, it’s also really helped to shape the show as it is now, which is pretty cool.”
The community is excited to be able to return to live theater. Prior to opening night, Calderone said, “For many people, this is going to be the first live, fully-produced theatrical experience in over a year. For theater people, the most beautiful and thrilling words you can hear are what a stage manager says on the headset, ‘House to half; house out; Light Cue 1 - Go.’ For those of us who missed those words, Killing Time is going to be a satisfying, cathartic, emotional, and joyous experience. I’m nervously excited thinking about that moment.”