SMTD presents Green Day's 'American Idiot'
Since the ’60s, rock music has served the dual purposes of both communicating sociopolitical messages, as well as providing energetic, joyous entertainment. While most modern bands have abandoned that tradition, Bay Area punk rockers Green Day have been a notable exception. Their 2004 album American Idiot captured the paranoia and frustration of young people growing up in post-9/11 America, using a loose narrative and multi-part musical suites to create a 21st century rock opera.
After the success of the album, Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong and “Spring Awakening” writer Michael Mayer collaborated in adapting American Idiot into a stage play, which premiered in 2009 at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California to rave reviews, before moving on to a Broadway run in 2010. Now, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance is presenting the moving and lively play.
“It’s been a great labor of love from the beginning, from the audition process through rehearsals,” director Linda Goodrich said. “It’s a subject that’s relevant for the students, and it’s been a wonderful collaboration between faculty and students.”
Goodrich was inspired to direct the play after seeing it on Broadway.
“I was really shocked to know how much it did resonate with the students,” Goodrich said. “It’s written in the post-9/11 era and was very much about the disillusionment of that time and the saturation of media (with) some people feeling alienated and disempowered. If anything, it’s even more so, as social media (contributes) to the saturation of media.”
The use of rock singing makes “American Idiot” unique from the other plays in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s schedule, but also presented a great challenge in trying to blend the loud rock music with clear vocals, to keep the music from distracting from the story.
“It’s just unusual to have a Green Day rock sound in the theater, for getting the balance of making it feel like a rock concert and also keeping story firs; and we had a limited amount of time to tech that element,” Goodrich said. “In a professional setting, you would have a month of tech rehearsal, and in a school setting, because theater, dance and opera are working in the same space, we have a very short window to get in the theater to actually get all of the technical elements happening.”
Students who grew up with the album American Idiot may wonder how the story has changed in its translation to the stage. They can rest assured that the story remains intact.
“They’re all from the concept album,” Goodrich said of the songs featured in the show. “There are these letters that Johnny writes to his mother throughout the show, or to his friend Will, and those letters are the only interstitial dialogue in the show.”
While the plot of the story remains unchanged, seeing it onstage will make the plot clearer than it was on the record.
“It is in the album, but you’re kind of like a treasure hunter, finding those moments and what’s really in the poetry and what it’s saying,” Goodrich said. “Essentially it’s all there, but it becomes clearer as you put it on stage and give those character voices to individuals.”
Not only will the plot be clearer, but also the emotions conveyed through seeing actors perform the material onstage.
“We work for a certain amount of time to put a show up, and when an audience comes, that’s when the real communication happens,” Goodrich said. “We get to learn from the piece; the audience takes it in, and there’s that kind of synergy between actor and audience. It’s really magical, and when the idea’s actually communicated and taken in and responded to by an audience. Hopefully it’s more than entertainment — we really grapple with these issues together and go away from the theater and are changed by it.”
The show also boasts a style of dance that is looser and more unrestrained than what one would normally see in a musical.
“Visually, there’s almost a modern dance element,” Goodrich said. “The dance is not only telling the information of the story but also uses dance and movement in a way that captures the emotion of the music. Most of the original company weren’t dancers. It’s so interesting to see a raw mover express themselves choreographically. It’s different from seeing a trained dancer.”
With this in mind, Goodrich urges students to come see the show, enjoy the visual additions to the album’s story and bask in the community element of watching a live performance.
“It makes the storytelling so clear, to actually see the story and all of the richness of the poetry, it really comes to life in the stage play. And just the community of coming out and experiencing it together, and addressing it as a community. It promises great fun and enjoyment and thought and it’s going to hit you on many levels.”