Just how far will the long arm of the law reach to crush the wild dreams of a young twee indie pop band stuck in a small town? And how far will the Electric Arc Radio Show crew go from their beloved ‘hood of three years to top their outrageous, wildly brilliant shows of angst, love, obsession and song?
Don’t Crush My Heart!, a musical presented September 20 and October 18 by Electric Arc Radio at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. N.E., Minneapolis. For tickets ($15) and information, see ritztheaterfoundation.org.
You will find the answers to these and other gripping questions—including what ever happened to Strawberry Coxx, 80s hair band rock star—at Don’t Crush Our Heart!, a full-length musical presented and recorded as live radio theater on September 20 and October 18. Written by the Electric Arc Radio Show (EARS) writers/players/musicians, this new musical “is about an indie band, urban planning, the long arm of the law, and, of course, L-O-V-E.”
|What is the Electric Arc Radio Show?
Electric Arc Radio Show has been a literary-musical tragicomedy live theater series, the most popular radio show that’s not on the radio (it’s on the Internet). EARS began at the legendary Creative Electric Studios three years ago to the accolades of dozens—quickly growing to hundreds—of fans. Members of Lit 6 contributed collaboratively to the creation of the hilarious series about four angst-ridden writers who share a home and also “booze and hugs and punches and a toaster.” Alan Greenspan lives in a treehouse behind them—“or did, before we killed him.” They later performed at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, and performed a season at the Ritz Theater and two seasons at the Woman’s Club, with the last being broadcast on The Current.
When I first saw Electric Arc Radio perform at Creative Electric, I laughed until I cried. It was replete with wacky (and wacked) characters, with hilariously bad one-liners, hot tub humor, Greenspan’s squirrel hunting in the backyard, writers compulsively bursting into sentimental song and Britney and Madonna covers, and sad but true tales of life in a little house in a small neighborhood in a big city.
Electric Arc Radio makes lit hip, not highbrow, and no subject is sacred as the writers candidly reveal their hopes and fears, anger and angst “getting lost in their forest minds, wondering why the world left them behind.” The shows are filled with storytelling and songs, including musical performances by local guests such as The New Standards, the Owls, and Dark Dark Dark.
Returning to the smaller Ritz Theater, where EARS performed for a nine-month season before moving to the Women’s Club, they are returning to their roots: bawdy, zany comedy and fearless improv in an intimate setting.
Twee pop band Moon Island—Mary Everest and Geoff Herbach, playing a brother-sister duo singing of kittens and sadness—have big dreams of leaving small-town Armitage Heights for Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Megafan Marisha (Jenny Adams), administrative assistant to Councilman Sherman Larson, introduces Larson to Moon Island. He believes they will attract giant iPod ads, Asian fusion restaurants, and urban revitalization to Armitage Heights. Learning of Moon Island’s starry-eyed dreams, Councilman Larson files a legal injunction to keep them from leaving.
What happens next? “The young (and old) [and] the musically gifted (and not) all converge on the Pierce County Courthouse to collectively tell—and sing—a harrowing tale of ambition, money, skinny jeans, urban gentrification, 19th century agricultural subsidies, Ukrainian electro DJs, converted lofts, tandem bicycles, the Staten Island ferry, trade tariffs, the American legal system, and 9.5 Pitchfork ratings,” promise EARS.
Don’t Crush Our Heart! features a musical score by EARS musical director Dave Salmela, 12 full-length songs, and performances by all the EARS players and musicians (members of Work of Saws, Walker Kong, and more) in addition to special musical guests Everest, Chris Bierbrauer, and Paul D. Dickinson of punk band Frances Gumm.
Don’t Crush Our Heart! is based on EARS player Andy Sturdevant’s fictitious Armitage Heights Clarion blog. He came up with the idea for the blog while attending a Lit 6 guerilla-writing workshop over two years ago. The story now comes full circle, as original Lit 6 members who taught the workshop are among the EARS players writing and performing this musical.
Sturdevant is a visual artist, arts writer/reviewer (The Rake, ARP!) and guest curator for the Soap Factory’s 2008 season. He became involved with EARS after attending their first shows at Creative Electric three years ago. “I approached them about artwork, to do a comic book to go with their show. I did that—it’s really cool and crude.”
Sturdevant started handling the illustrations for their promo materials and later was asked to join the show. “I played myself as a foil to Brady’s character…then they asked me to do an Irish accent and I became ‘Sleany McFear,’” said bespectacled, bearded Sturdevant. “I’m a social realist. I could do a terrible hammy Irish accent.”
In DCOH, Sturdevant plays narrator and rock music critic Sid Stanewicz with a couple of strange twists. “He’s styled on 1930s Warner Brothers films, the man in a suit chomping on a cigar. He makes commentary on Black Flag and Van Halen like a news reporter would talk about the war, in that same voice. There’s a cheap low-level thrill hearing a 30s voice talking about Morissey while wearing a pair of 30s-style suspenders, a wide tie, and a dress shirt.”
What does critic Stanewicz say about twee indie pop bands? Initially, he says: “Twee’s dead. Finished. It was over 15 years ago. The world’s a nasty place now. There’s no room for sunshine and trains and shy boys at the record shop.” Then later he comes around, claiming that Moon Island are the “greatest story I have ever covered” in 50 years, and the story itself is “a platinum-plated, heart-rending piece of primo Pulitzer-bait,’” says Sturdevant.
Herbach, co-writer of the musical and half of Moon Island, says, “Belle and Sebastian’s first album, Tigermilk, is the definition of twee in my head. There’s this Midwestern town—Sturdevant’s blog has a fake alderman writing for his community, in a rundown neighborhood. It’s not gentrified because he doesn’t do a good job of it, but twee indie-pop bands and DJs are prevalent. There’s this conflict between the alderman and a twee indie-pop band wanting to move to Williamsburg, as they all do,” laughs Herbach.
Meanwhile, aging rocker Strawberry Coxx (Stephanie Wilbur Ash) returns from L.A. to this sleepy town, waitressing at the Cold Shoulder diner and saving tips to go to Tel Aviv. She tells her story in the song “Abandoned Wife.” A crucial witness for the trial, Coxx is a Lita-Ford-esque rocker who once opened for the Crüe at the Roxx in the late 80s along with punk rocker Paul D., who sings a song with the refrain: “Have you ever been in a band?/ Locked yourself into a windowless van/ Driven your gear across this great land/ Have you ever been in a band?”
“It’s twice as large as anything we’ve done. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but it really tweaks us as well.”
With no experience in musical theaterr, Ash and cast members began writing and performing songs when the Electric Arc Radio Show was founded three years ago. “One of the leaps we took with EARS was writing songs. It went from one, to four or five a show. Herbach and I were each writing 2 or 3 songs, and performed all of them,” says Ash. Don’t Crush Our Heart! is a much bigger show, a full-length musical—which Ash says is exciting for EARS. “It’s twice as large as anything we’ve done. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but it really tweaks us as well. We’re putting our aesthetics and process into a new format and shape. The story is bigger. The jokes have to have a different purpose. It’s a brand-new, exciting medium for us. We’ve been watching musicals, like Godspell. It’s been fun!”
For Don’t Crush Our Heart!, EARS are writing more collaboratively than ever before, says Herbach. Ash, Herbach and Sturdevant write equally, and Brady Bergeson and Sam Osterhout are generally writing their own parts. “Andy lives above me…He’d park himself at my table, and he, Steph, and I would write, read our writing out loud and laugh and make changes together,” says Herbach. “It’s a real joy working with Andy, writing together in a salon-writing way. Before, for EARS, we’d each bring a chunk of writing we wrote separately, put them together, and create this overarching theme. It’s more collaborative now.”
Herbach and Ash both appreciate Sturdevant’s contribution, as a first-time writer of musical theater. “He’s a breath of fresh air for this creatively,” says Herbach, “like sunshine.” Ash adds, “He brings something totally different to the aesthetic that totally matches us.”
“It feels pretty natural,” says Sturdevant, who’s previously written arts reviews and fiction. “It’s interesting to write things that will be spoken out loud. I’ve been writing the character for a year and a half. It’s different getting to know the characters better as they come to life onstage. It changes the blog a lot—the characters have voices in my head I have control over. With others writing them, they’ve developed voices I don’t have control over. Now,” he laughs, “the characters in the blog are talking about a play being written about them. Marisha might go to Minneapolis to see it.”