Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A conversation with Chris Hamby, the creator of TWILIGHT'S QUEST, opening this Friday at YOUth Works at Theater Works

Chris Hamby
by Gil Benbrook

For twenty years Chris Hamby has been working on Twilight's Quest. What started out as a play has blossomed into a full fledged musical which opens this Friday at Theater Works in Peoria.

This fantasy musical centers on our young heroine Twilight, who is on a quest to solve a riddle in order to forever vanquish darkness in the magical forest of Callowell.

Hamby, Theater Works' Director of Education and Outreach, took a break during rehearsals to answer some questions about his own personal journey in the creation of this production, which includes mystical creatures and is a blend of the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. We also asked Hamby about Daniel Schay, Theater Works' Artistic Director, who passed away last month right when Twilight's Quest was starting rehearsals.

What made you decide to write Twilight’s Quest?

"I began the process just to get an idea out of my head and never thought it would turn into a career long adventure of my own."

Lily Castle as Twilight
photo: Wade Moran/Moran Imaging
What can you tell us about the play and how long have you been working on it?

"The show is a pure fantasy. It has all the fantastical elements from all the stories I have always loved. It is a very mythic telling of good versus evil. Our heroine Twilight is on a mission to find a hero and discovers along her journey that she is the hero she has been looking for. I have been working on this show for about 20 years in one incarnation or another."

I know you’ve written plays before. How did writing this one compare to those? 

"This show has had the most evolution from my other works. It has also developed its own following. People always ask about it and if it is being done again or anywhere else."

So, there have been productions before? 

"Well, in 1998 the Vagabond Youth Theater produced the play version and then in 2006 the Phoenix Center Youth Theater produced the musical version in its first incarnation. The current version is newly and fully orchestrated with six new songs."

“Twilight’s Quest” is a play in the Fantasy genre. Is this a genre you’ve written in before? If not, how challenging was it to write in this genre? 

"This genre is limited to Twilight's Quest in my writing. However, everything I write has always had an element of the supernatural  or a fantastical element to it."

Since this is an original show, what was your inspiration for creating the characters and situations? 

"I think this would be a great case study for Joseph Campbell to break down and look at the mythic heroes journey in comparison to the musical. As a young man it was a way just to showcase things that I'd never seen on stage ie: mermaids, pirates, goblins. My inspirations come from pop culture elements. I adore Jim Henson's Labyrinth, Ridley Scott's Legend, Tolkien, Alice in Wonderland, the OZ stories. I think they have all played some role in the development of what you will see on stage."

Lily Castle as Twilight and Griifin LeBlanc as Chuclainn
photo: Wade Moran/Moran Imaging
I understand that you originally wrote this as a play. What made you decide to turn it into a musical?

"The plot didn't advance quickly enough originally. It was playing too much like a novel or book and music seemed to be a natural way to keep the plot and events moving forward as musicals tend to do."

What can you tell us about your Twilight’s Quest collaborators who wrote the music? 

"I have had an amazing team throughout the years working on this show. Melissa Alvarez the co-lyricist has been with me almost from the beginning. She ironically enough played Maevilin, the Queen of Darkness in her teen years. Joseph Martinez, was a student at the Arizona School for the Arts when I was working as Artistic Director of the Phoenix Center Youth Theater when he wrote the music for the musical version ten years ago. He was a very gifted student who breathed life into the words penned by Melissa and I. Joseph didn't work on this version because he has moved on from theater and has other life pursuits. In the latest version we have had the pleasure of having Stephen Schermitzler on the musical team. Stephen works with Detour Theatre Company in Scottsdale. He has orchestrated all of Joseph's music and has created original music for some new songs that will premier in this version of the show. All three of these individuals have left a lasting imprint on me and this show."

Sounds like a good group of collaborators. Is it a typical musical, with a dozen or more songs throughout the show? Or, is it more like a play with a few songs scattered throughout?  

"We have have about 14 songs in the show not including underscores, a ballet and incidental music. We have the privilege of utilizing an orchestra of seven musicians under the direction of James Melberg, the music director on this project."

How much has the play changed over twenty years? And have you made any major changes to it during the rehearsal process? 

"Obviously the biggest change was the addition of music. There were some character changes in this version and some new songs that help solidify the story. No major changes have occurred during the rehearsal process but this cast has created their own mythology around the world of these characters that is honestly more brilliant than anything I could have ever imagined. It's quite fun to debate the origins of these characters that have been with me for so long."

Did you encounter any difficulties in writing the play? 

"I think all writers doubt their art at times and I am certainly no exception. I am not a very musically minded person, so to venture into creating a musical was intimidating for me. However, I think the final product is incredible and I hope audiences will agree. "
Alexa Pedersen as Beam and Nicole Hedges as Foxglove and Lily Castle as Twilight
photo: Wade Moran/Moran Imaging

What type of message do you think your play offers for audiences and what do you wish audiences will take away from it? 

"I hope the message of belief in ones' self despite setbacks and obstacles will resonate with young people and adults alike."

With the recent passing of Dan Schay I just wanted to ask you a few questions about him. What is your most favorite Dan Schay story? 

"I am not sure I have just one favorite Dan story because hearing his stories was one of my favorite qualities about him. He had an anecdote or personal story that he could relate to almost any situation and they were usually very humorous."

Based on an endless stream of Facebook postings after his passing, Dan’s advice and guidance touched hundreds of people across the Valley. How did working with Dan impact you personally? 

"Dan had such a rich theater career and his view of the theater was multi faceted that I really learned a lot about approaching the art of  theater and the people of the theater from him. He was also a big advocate for art education and I always valued his support of what I was doing and what Theater Works was doing for young people."

What were the most important words of advice that Dan gave you concerning Twilight’s Quest

"Dan always believed in the development of new works and their importance to theater. After our sing through of some of the music earlier this year he sat down with me and told me how rich he thought the piece was but also to make sure it never fell into routine. I've taken that advice and I think I've succeeded."

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