What happens when the elements of musical theater, science fiction and original student creativity are combined into one? The product is “NOVA: An Original Music Drama.” The 2013 recipient of the UC Berkeley department of music’s annual Musical Theater Prize, NOVA is an original music drama written, directed and produced by Weston Scott, Adam Niemann and Peter DeMarzio with music by Masis Parunyan. All profits from the show, funded by previous contest winners, are returned as funds for the following year’s winner.
The location: space. The time: the future. “NOVA” is the story of a futuristic society in which the Earth has degraded into a planet-wide civil war. The victors remain on Earth, while the losers are exiled to an established penal colony on Mars. The Martian humans, in an effort to free themselves from the oppressive force known as the SPINE, stage a rebellion, headed by a mysterious and faceless leader, NOVA. The insurgents are known as the Cluster. Though the revolution fails, the remaining revolutionaries do not give up their chase of freedom. In an effort to reintegrate the remnants of the Cluster, the SPINE is deporting ex-revolutionaries. The story of “NOVA” follows a man named Dante and the events that occur on a single space cruiser as the rebels make a mass exodus in hopes of returning home to planet Earth.
“NOVA” draws its inspiration from a collection of elements from film, musical theater and opera. Weston Scott, “NOVA” co-writer and a third-year English major at UC Berkeley, said, “We were very pressed for time. We only had three months to complete the show after we were told that we won the prize.” The idea for “NOVA” began in December 2012, shortly after the completion of Scott’s first original musical production, “Death and Other Hobbies.” He remarked, “When I write new shows, I want to be original and write something that has never been written before.” Scott describes the show as a fast-paced, action-packed adventure in which the audience will be “thrown into the middle of everything happening all at once.”
Parunyan, an alumnus of the Berkeley music department as well as the show’s composer and music director, spoke extensively about “NOVA’s” creation process from the musical side of the production. “I worked off of the script and focused on the feelings in the story,” Parunyan said. “I started with a simple musical motif and then integrated it into the show. Eventually, I developed more themes, and each theme latched onto a different character in the show.” Parunyan spoke about how he wrote the show’s soundtrack with opera as an influence. “I feel like the show can be best classified as a music drama — it isn’t entirely one or the other. I wrote it with the idea of the German ‘singspiel’ (sung text) in mind, much like Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute.’”
This production also marks the debut of a new Bay Area theater company, Usually Strawberry Productions, which was founded entirely by UC Berkeley students. According to its website, USP strives to “expand conventional theater into an adventurous, creative space for any and all with deep passions for the stage and what it can do.”
“There aren’t many opportunities for the music and theater departments to collaborate,” Scott reflected. “I hope that USP can bridge that gap and provide more opportunities for those with an interest in musical theater.” The release of “NOVA,” along with the creation of USP, marks the establishment of original student musical theater as an important element in the Berkeley theater scene.