It’s rare in art for someone to explicitly state what they mean. Yet the most remarkable aspect of Curran Foster’s musical “The Village of Yelm,” this past weekend was its emotional transparency. Foster’s work was his second installment in his trilogy of “stoner fairy rock musicals.” Its dialog and lyrics seemed almost naively plain. It’s like someone put a microphone up to the subtext of normal conversations. Even though we watched everyday life–where people hung out, broke up, hooked up, felt alienated at parties, went to their friends’ shows– we heard some kind of meta-dialog, even from the very first lines:
SIDNEY: I am utterly paranoid, Loo.
LOO: What do you mean?
SIDNEY: Something appears to be weighing on you.
LOO: What do you mean, partner?
SIDNEY: You’ve had something pretty big on your mind for a few
days – and it’s worse when I’m around isn’t it?
SIDNEY: My boat’s sinking over here, bee.
LOO: You’re my apple…
SIDNEY: You could stay…
It’d be easy to call the honesty in “The Village of Yelm” sophomoric, but it wasn’t—it was innovative, bold and intentionally unlike traditional musical theater.
“I don’t even want to call it a musical because it denotes that style of performance, which I’m not interested in at all,” Foster told me. “When I started writing musicals, I thought the art form was really cool, but I’d never seen one that made any sense to me.”
“The Village of Yelm” felt weird, campy and surreal. But it made more emotional sense than anything I’ve seen on a stage. Foster said he assembled his cast, crew and backing band from “a group of young people who aren’t necessarily part of the theater subculture.” It seemed like the whole production recruited a bunch of talented buddies who volunteered their time because they believed in the project and the music Foster wrote for it.
Foster’s songs didn’t sound like the soundtrack to any kind of musical I’ve heard before. But they didn’t sound like a rock band either (even though almost everyone in the backing band are also involved in the local rock scene). The songs progressed most of the action. Since all of that “action” was the protagonist doing the emotional legwork of a dissatisfied 20-something-year-old, the songs all seemed moving and urgent. The music switched from spooky and neurotic to uplifting and inclusive and dynamic instrumentals resonated a medieval hokeyness.
There wasn’t a pit—the backing band stood onstage. The band members also had speaking roles. At the end of the musical the band ended up playing a “band” and having a “show.” In another unusual move for a no-budget amateur production, there were almost a dozen characters, and some scenes looked like one big party onstage. Which was funny, because Foster’s cast performed all the songs at an after-party house show last Saturday, even managing to clear a space on the floor for Lorraine Lau’s incredible dance solo. The weird and hyper-sincere songs rocked everyone in that U-District DIY basement gig.
“I wanted to write songs that are catchy the first time, because they’re for theater,” said Foster, and every song is a vividly memorable jam.
Though this past weekend marked the musical’s last three days of running at Annex Theater, the band will keep performing the songs at shows. Foster is even considering writing the third musical in the series to be performed exclusively in DIY settings. He wants to tour “like any other band” through living rooms and pop-up spaces. “The Village of Yelm” has so much strength as a cross-genre performance. It brings a strangeness to the table that innovates rock, musical theater and performance dialog—it’s not one to miss, because it’s the only one of its kind.