On Saturday, Feb. 2, CalArts’ Herb Alpert School of Music students Socks Whitmore (Music BFA 21) and Evan Johnson (Music BFA 21) debut their first full-length musical, “We Are Here,” at The Wild Beast.
Directed by Johnson, and produced by Whitmore, and written and composed by both, the new work seeks to address and break down the stigma surrounding discussion of mental health. Starring and featuring an orchestra of CalArts students – and two alums – the story follows a high school counselor (played by Whitmore), four students and their impact on one another.
Bonding over a love for musical theater, Johnson and Whitmore say they were driven by the challenge to prove that the art form could tackle important and controversial subjects, like mental illness, anxiety, sexual assault, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.
“Mental health is not talked about positively in many places or artwork, and when it is, it’s usually as a plot device,” said Whitmore. “We wanted to subvert misconceptions about the subject.”
Johnson added, “We’re trying as hard as we can to be truthful and present our understanding of mental health honestly, not simply positively or negatively.”
In service of that authenticity, material for the production was drawn from original research conducted over the course of a year by Johnson and Whitmore. In addition to questionnaires created for CalArts students, mental health professionals, and others, the pair conducted interviews to learn about students’ varying experiences with mental health (and related stigma) in high school. They also held a series of weekly group meetings during which students discussed the relationship between mental health and art.
Born in Mark Lowenstein’s Words for Music class in the fall of 2017, We Are Here was staged in Paul Berkolds’ Opera Theater class in spring 2018 and developed in earnest throughout the summer and fall of 2018. Running close to two hours, it features 13 original songs across two acts and one 10-minute intermission.
Tickets to Saturday’s performance and reception afterwards are free, but reservations are encouraged. A preview of the production will also take place on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. Those who cannot make either performance are encouraged to watch the live stream, which will also be available afterward.
We Are Here
We Are Here
Preview: Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 8 pm
Performance: Saturday, Feb. 2 at 5 pm
The Wild Beast at CalArts
24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia
Free, but reservations are greatly appreciated. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.