Tales from the O'Neill: Technology and Theatre Combine in Broadcast at the National Music Theater Conference

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05 Jul 2013

Nathan Christensen
Nathan Christensen

Playbill.com previews the new musical Broadcast, in development at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. 

Technology binds us together in ways that were unheard of a decade ago. As we move ever closer to each other, we are also perpetually drifting further away. Today it's Instagram video, while yesterday it was Vine. Who knows what tomorrow will hold? 

One wonders how it all began? What was the catalyst that pushed society's constant thirst for interconnectivity?

For composer Scott Murphy and writer Nathan Christensen, the answer lies in the advent of radio, and it is the wonders of wireless that eternally shaped our destinies for better or for worse. It is an argument and tale that they have portrayed deeply and with much wit in their multilayered musical Broadcast, which traces the history of radio from its invention in 1901 to its decline in 1950, when the golden age of television began. Through a series of interlinked vignettes, Broadcast explores the lives that were touched by these invisible waves of sound.

Broadcast is one of three musicals in development at Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Music Theater Conference (NMTC). Over a period of two weeks, the musical went through as many changes as the subject matter it was dealing with. One day a prelude was added, while another day the entire ending was completely changed. Constant transformations however have been a part of Broadcast's development from its inception in 2004, when Murphy and Christensen were graduate students at NYU.

"Nathan and I were scouring for ideas," Murphy said when explaining the inspiration behind the musical. "I went into a video store and I found this documentary called 'Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio' by Ken Burns. It's when we learnt about the first time that a man courted a woman by wireless and stories like that made us think that this has to be a musical."

After much initial excitement the project was then placed in a drawer, where it stayed for many years until Murphy and Christensen decided to revisit it. What was just a series of 14 separate stories would be fused together to create a more cohesive piece.

"We wanted more of a flow so that people could carry the emotions from one story to another," said Christensen, explaining the process that brought Broadcast to the O'Neill. "We wanted to hear it. So we contacted Joe Calarco (the director) and we did a table reading. Joe said the O'Neill would be a perfect place (to work on it). And it has been."



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