Lonesome of the Road
- By gentleguide
- On Sun 12 Nov 2017
This year’s mainstage musical at Drake is Runaways, playing Thursday through Sunday, November 16-19. Taken from interviews with real life people impacted by the phenomenon, Runaways describes the experiences of those who find themselves far from their original homes, whether by choice or circumstance.
Featuring more than thirty different roles, Runaways portrays many different people, all under the umbrella of finding their way, often in a strange place and with no support system. Their search for purpose, belonging, and family is full of heartbreak, joy, and courage. Kayla Ferris, a member of the cast, reflects on the directions chosen by those who find themselves in this situation.
“The music reflects the kids’ current struggles,” says Kayla, “while the spoken word reflects more on their past and what caused them to run away. We mostly see that these kids don’t have much to go towards. They left everything behind, but now they’re sort of stuck in their situations, stranded on the streets to fend for themselves any way they can.”
Another actor in the large ensemble, Jeremy Berdin, has his own observations about the same idea. “The characters reflect on the means by which they survive on their own and a reality that isn’t as rosy as society had painted, then remember the forces that pushed them away from home - the dysfunctional families that abused them, the orphanages that didn’t give them proper attention, or the deaths of the only people keeping them from leaving.”
“I think this very much has to do with what they’re running “towards”: the desire for community after living with people who neglected their worth. In one of the songs, a group of runaways welcomes in some outsiders, assuring them in a lullaby ‘We are not strangers. In fact, I know you well.’ I think that speaks greatly to the fundamental need these children have of being understood.”
Another way of understanding is to put yourself in these characters’ shoes, so to speak. To discover which of the characters each actor most identified with, and felt closest to, auditions for this show were a bit different than most others at Drake.. After the usual “season” auditions, the cast for Runaways was assembled, but parts were not yet assigned. There was still one more step in the process, because of the unique nature of this show. Kayla tells about what was different:
“We were asked to read the show and select passages and music that spoke to us, and I believe that was taken into consideration at least a little bit while casting the individual pieces. While the original script does have named characters, no one really sticks to one particular character. Someone may portray a certain character in one monologue, but someone else could be singing the part assigned to that character somewhere else in the show.”
“We discussed that this show really focuses on ‘ensemble’ and sort-of that community that gets formed by those living on the streets, and the way the show was divided up really showcases that. Someone may step away from the crowd to share a portion of the story, but ultimately they re-join the collective groups afterwards.”
“I had never been through this type of casting process before,” adds Jeremy, “but I think that it works with this type of production. With the variety of characters and stories Runaways has, it was important that we were given pieces that we resonated with and felt a genuine connection with. This also allows the show to be an excellent ensemble piece where everyone in the cast gets an opportunity to tell the story.”
There Then, Here Now
Although the interviews that helped tell the story of Runaways originally took place back in the late 1970’s, things really haven’t changed all that much for those on the bottom rung of society’s ladder. Jeremy continues, “I would say that Runaways can still be placed very easily in our world today. I believe that there still exists an expectation for kids to be more than kids. What has changed is society’s idea of what families look like, so I believe that people will find a way into the stories by understanding the image of broken homes and households that are by no means perfect.”
Kayla acknowledges that many things have changed over the years since Runaways was written, but that’s a double-edged sword. “I know that in the 1970’s it was much easier to just ‘disappear’ than it is today. Many people would hitchhike and start their lives over somewhere else. But this also contributed negatively to things such as crime back then. Sometimes horrific crimes like kidnapping or murder were simply dismissed as ‘runaways’ and were never looked into. I think ‘runaways’ were somewhat considered less-than-human, and I think those themes appear in the show.”
“However, I think this can also be seen today with how our society interacts with homeless people. We are sort-of taught to ignore those asking for money on the street. We are taught to inherently distrust them, or see them as deceitful, when really most of these people truly are struggling just to survive. I think audiences will walk away thinking more about how everyone had to come from somewhere, and that may change their minds as to how they view those who may have different life experiences then themselves.”
Songs of Struggle and Strength
Jeremy reminds us that, while Runaways may sound like a sad and sorrowful topic for a musical, it’s not always that way. “Some of the songs do convey a tone of frustration - frustration these runaways have at being thrust into this world without being asked what they wanted, and frustration at not having any of the answers. But at the same time, the music can be wistful and bittersweet as these kids hang on to the hope that life gets better after the suffering.”
“One of my favorite pieces is ‘Sometimes’. To me, this song is exemplary of the attitude of longing in the show, as well as the simple dream that each of the characters hold.”
“The music is basically every style of music you can think of,” says Kayla. “From rock, to reggae, to punk, to country. This music reflects the music of the time period, and the various emotional places that each of these musical styles come from.”
“Most of the songs are songs of grief, despair, escapism, or rebellion. But ‘Lonesome of the Road,’ the closing number, is really about these children finding comfort in one another, finding comfort in this community they have built for themselves, and finding a way to push forward after all the hardships life has given them.”
Hear their songs and stories coming up this weekend. The Drake University Theatre Department presents the musical Runaways at the Harmon Fine Arts Center on the Drake Campus, beginning Thursday November 16 and running for one weekend only through Sunday November 19. Tickets are available in person from the Drake Fine Arts Box Office or at their Fine Arts website online.