Runaways Pushes the Boundaries of Conventional Theater


Jeffrey Zhai ’20

The Runaways cast performs a dance number to “Where Do People Go.”

Last Thursday, Runaways, the first musical under the Hotchkiss Drama Association (HDA)’s 2018-2019 theme of rebellion, debuted. Directed by Mr. Marcus Olson, instructor in theatre, the production was based on Elizabeth Swados’ original show and featured 20 student actors.

Runaways features a patchwork of stories and songs by young people who have run away from home, often fleeing abuse and family violence. Furthermore, the characters speak English, American sign language, and Spanish. Eric Chun ’19, a member of the ensemble, said, “In the past, [each performance had] a continuous story…[and] a big protagonist and an antagonist. This year, however, no one is really the main character.”

The content of Runaways is also more challenging than previous HDA musicals, which have often had a lighter tone. Runaways’ characters suffer hardships such as child prostitution, domestic violence, and addiction. Mr. Olson said, “From the very beginning, we talked about how horrible this situation was, and, for most of the cast, this hasn’t happened to them. I asked them to be empathic and imagine what it is like [to experience such hardships], and they have been very good about getting into character.” To understand the context of the story and get into character, the cast did research on the 1970’s. The set design by Derek Brashears, technical director, featured New York subway cars covered with graffiti,  and helped to set the tone for the performance by providing a realistic setting. Chun said, “This is 1970s New York, and we need to get into that mindset. We try to portray that toughness and ruggedness.” 

The actors started rehearsal back in October to learn their parts. Since all the actors had different levels of musical training, Mr. Joe Rose, musical director, helped them learn the songs. When the cast became more familiar with the music, the cast then worked on the dance movements choreographed by Ms. Amber Cameron. Elexis Diaz ’20 said, “We were all coming to the production with different skill sets and abilities. This caused some challenges, but also made for a really fun group.”

The musical also fused different styles and genres together in its score. The live band, composed of student musicians Josephine Li ’19, Aaron Stone ’19, and Desmond Teague ’20 and professional musicians, also worked together to create the diversity of musical genres. Mr. Olson said, “[The musical has] got a rock-and-rollish score, it’s also got some reggae. Some of the songs have a rap feel and some of them have a country-western feel, so the music is very appealing to all of us.”