Miami University students are taking their talents to every avenue of the theatrical world with the production of “Octets,” a brand new musical that will premiere next semester in Studio 88. The project will be written, composed, directed, produced, designed and performed by students.
The musical tells the story of two feuding singing groups, headed by leads Clay and Vicki, at a university resembling Miami. The show explores relationships that form between various characters, including a Shakespearean romance that is emphasized by lyrics written in iambic pentameter.
Sophomore marketing and arts management double major Austin Lamewona first came up with the concept for “Octets” three years ago.
“I initially wrote a couple scenes, but I don’t know how to compose music, so I set it aside for awhile,” Lamewona said. “And then the summer before coming to Miami, I wasn’t majoring in theatre like I thought I would, and I felt like I needed a project to dive into so I wouldn’t lose that part of myself. I found the scenes I had written and decided to give it another try.”
After a few years of practice writing plays, Lamewona felt more confident coming back to his stowed-away idea for a musical.
“I have never written a musical before, or written lyrics for music very seriously, but I am a playwright, so it’s not a completely foreign venture for me,” he said. “I had to do a lot of research, trial and error, which is fun for me. I’m working on my fifth draft right now.”
Still lacking the musical insight needed to tackle such a project, Lamewona turned to a fellow Miami student whom he had known and looked up to in high school, senior secondary English education major Nick Witzeman.
“Austin and I were in shows together in high school, including one my senior year that I wrote the music for,” Witzeman said. “He contacted me two summers ago to talk about maybe writing a show together, so we’ve been doing it since then. It’s a great partnership — we work really well together.”
Since the initial Facebook message that catalyzed the partnership, Lamewona and Witzeman have finished their final draft of “Octets” and will begin rehearsals in February 2018, with Lamewona as director and Witzeman as vocal director.
Surprisingly for someone so young, this will not be Lamewona’s first attempt at directing. He has previously written and directed a play that went up at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.
“I think it’s a really good thing to be able to direct something you’ve written,” he said. “Especially to be the first one to direct it after writing it, so you can see the play the way you’ve imagined it.”
Through applying for grants and partnering with the Department of Theatre to acquire performance space and potential design guidance, Lamewona’s concept is slowly but surely coming to fruition.
To help with logistics, marketing and the overall running of the production, junior theatre and arts management double major Caroline Avolio has joined the team as producer.
“When Austin pitched the show to me and showed me some samples of music and the text, I was on board automatically because it sounded like a cool project,” she said. “And once I read through the whole thing it solidified my decision. To be honest I was pretty amazed that students created the show. I really enjoyed the story.”
To put on a show that is fully student-produced takes a lot of trust and group effort, which is symbolically reflected in a constant motif throughout “Octets.”
“I think the major theme of the show is about the importance of collaboration,” Witzeman said. “And so the music is a very ensemble-driven show, not a show that is dependent solely on the leads to carry it forward, but a team effort. That’s what I’m striving for in the music, to have every voice be important.”
As the project exits the drawing table and heads to the production stage, there is only one hesitation coming from the producer. Avolio’s main concern moving forward is that people might not take the musical as seriously because of the youth of the show’s creators.
“That’s the main thing I’m nervous for, because of preconceived notions about student work,” she said. “But I’m most excited to prove all of that wrong. Because I think it will be a really cool thing. There is a lot of talent behind this. We’re excited to see it come to life.”
Auditions for “Octets” will take place from 6-10 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28, in the Center for Performing Arts room 114 and on Wednesday, Nov. 29, in Presser Hall room 008. For more information, go to the show’s Facebook page.