Trailblazers: Village Theatre Debuts Hiking Musical
Catch Issaquah’s Village Theatre's newest musical, Trails, which follows the journey of two childhood friends who reconnect in their early thirties and undertake the adventure of hiking the 2,180- mile Appalachian Trail.
by Deanna Duff
Issaquah’s Village Theatre is renowned for its trailblazing work in musical theater. With the world premiere of their newest musical, Trails, they are yet again covering new ground—both literally and figuratively.
Trails follows the journey of two childhood friends who reconnect in their early thirties and undertake the adventure of hiking the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail, which spans 14 states along the East Coast. Both friends wrestle with life’s unexpected twists and tragedies—death of a parent, career changes, lost loves, getting older. The journey tests the endurance of mind, body and spirit.
“Trails, in a nutshell, is about the emotional miles—not just the physical—that you need to journey in order to genuinely recover when life throws you a curveball,” says Jeff Thomson, Trails’ composer.
A production inspired by a trail
Thomson is the original mastermind of Trails, and he was inspired by a similar proposal from a boyhood friend. While their reunion hike never occurred, it hooked his attention as an interesting musical concept, which he began formulating in 2009.
“I pitched the idea to my longtime collaborator, Jordan Mann (Trails’ lyricist). He immediately said, ‘Are you out of your mind? How do we sustain an evening of two characters walking around for six months?’” Thomson laughingly recalls.
For more information, visit villagetheatre.org or contact Village Theatre’s Box Office, 425.392.2202.
Performance times and prices vary. Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes (one intermission)
Trails runs at Issaquah’s Francis J. Gaudette theatre thru April 16, 2013
Performances at Everett’s Performing Arts Center: April 26 - May 19, 2013
Audience members may initially wonder the same thing. How can a stage capture a sense of the outdoors? The musical’s backdrop is an impressive mountain that looms over the action and serves as a blank canvas that represents settings from Georgia to Maine. The narrative also alternates between present-day and the past, which alleviates the characters always being “on the trail” and walking in circles. Writer Christy Hall shaped the narrative with an astute eye towards keeping the characters moving both in time and space.
Trails found its footing as part of Village Originals, the company’s program dedicated to developing new musicals. Each season, two of the five productions are new works. Some, such as Next to Normal and Million Dollar Quartet, became award-winning, Broadway hits after debuting in Issaquah. Trails launched as a reading during the 2011 Festival of New Musicals. The current run marks its world premiere staging.
“Village Theatre cares so much about their audiences and I feel we’re giving them a beautiful show (with Trails). This whole process has been absolutely extraordinary. I can only hope to experience something like this again in my career,” says Thomson.
Exploring the nature of relationships
Thomson is a hiker himself and his parents live in Massachusetts literally yards from the Appalachian Trail. For the musical, the Appalachian Trail is particularly evocative due to its fame—established in 1937, 2-3 million visitors annually hike part of the span. Upwards of 2,000 attempt the thru-hike, which requires approximately 5-7 months. However, the themes and appeal are universal. It speaks to the value of an experience that could occur anywhere—in the Northwest on the Pacific Crest Trail or during an outing at the local park.
“There is something about being in nature that strips everything away,” says Thomson. “In nature we emotionally can’t hide beyond anything like your job or relationship.”
Julie Cassata, Washington Trails Association’s Volunteer Coordinator, agrees. Before joining WTA, she thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. She hiked the Appalachian Trail in two parts during and after college, which was a needed “big adventure” during a time of transition.
“When you’re out there, it’s an opportunity to think about things and work through them,” says Cassata. “I experience a sense of freedom and peacefulness that I don’t seem able to get in my day-to-day life with the hustle and bustle.”
She befriended fellow hikers on the Appalachian Trail with whom she has remained in touch. After seeing Trails, the musical’s focus on relationships resonated with Cassata’s own experiences.
“An hour with somebody on the trail can have more of an impact than an hour talking to someone at a cocktail party,” she says. “You’re more of who you are when you’re hiking. You didn’t specially select your outfit that day or style your hair. That’s really freeing. People are closer to being a truer version of themselves.”
Audience response to Trails has been overwhelmingly positive. There are already discussions of eventually staging it to New York City. In the meantime, Thomson looks forward to catching his breath and hitting the local trails while he’s still in the Northwest. Shepherding Trails to the stage has been a long trek, but well worth the effort.
“I personally believe that nobody knows progress until they’ve stood at the top of a mountain—until they’ve climbed something whether it’s literally or figuratively,” he says.