Will Blum is obsessed with Floyd Collins. The Broadway actor performed the title role in a college production of the musical by Adam Guettel and Tina Landau, but that nostalgia isn’t really the reason. The complexity of the score and the heartbreak of the story about a man who got trapped and died in a cave in Cave City, Kentucky, in 1925, resonated with Blum at his core.
During the first two weeks of the Broadway shutdown, Blum’s obsession resurfaced. And while you might think “that makes sense, we’re all feeling trapped right now,” that’s not really the reason either….
After weeks of making eight-part a cappella videos and digital hosting for awards ceremonies, Blum decided he wanted to go big and stage an excerpt of his musical obsession. By himself. In his Manhattan apartment. (After you watch the finished product, you must watch the Through the Mountain—Making “The Call/It Moves/Time To Go” or else you’ve only seen half the show.)
Trying to crack the code of “how,” Blum considered the options that have become familiar to every theatre artist in lockdown—studio recording, over-dubbing, singing apps. Until “I saw a big box of boxes by the door and I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m going to make the cave,’” Blum recalls in his making-of video. “I knew that was the answer, but I was like, ‘Oh no!’ Because this was going to be crazy.”
He started with a dry-run, using a selfie stick and wriggling around on his floor “to see how long I needed to make the cave in order to sustain seven minutes of crawling and singing [the three-song medley],” Blum says. “It became a game and a puzzle.”
After one month, 476 pieces of cardboard (thanks, neighborhood bodega), and 2,520 feet of Gorilla Tape, Blum had built the twisting path Floyd Collins traveled and the hollow cavern where he found his splendor.
The final piece of Blum singing live to sweeping orchestrations, spelunking through his apartment, carrying his own camera and light—though a video—is theatre in this new age. “I’ve been obsessed with the things I watch on film or television [that ask], ‘What makes that theatrical? That feels theatrical to me. Why?’” says Blum. His answer: “Believing in something wholeheartedly when you know it’s made up.”
Which is why he didn’t hire a set designer or build a lifelike cave or even paint the cardboard boxes. “To me that’s the whole point. I want you to see the Amazon logos and the address part and the tape and all of these things,” he says. “To me that’s why it’s theatrical.”
Blum’s voice and his art transcend. Part of that is the home-crafted aesthetic, the one-man labor force embedded in every tape strip. But the other part is what made Floyd Collins resonate with Blum in the first place. His father, Jeff, has early onset Alzheimer’s. Blum knows firsthand what it is to be able to see someone and not be able to reach them.
Knowing Collins died (in history and in the subsequent musical) and struggling to watch his father, Blum makes meaning out of art.
“I want to focus on the part of a human that is glorious and not let people be defined by the tragedy that ends their life,” he says. And though Blum says the spot in his apartment that corresponds to the point in the cave where Collins dies now has a spirit about it, it’s the feeling of being in that expansive cave and grabbing glory that sticks with him.
In the end, that’s also what sticks with us.
But what’s remarkable at this moment is that the theatre we are seeing while nearly the entire theatrical workforce is unemployed, is the absolute need to make art and the kind of art performers want to make (not just the jobs they’re given). “I’ve never made such purposeful art in my life. I have never done anything as thoroughly myself as this,” Blum, best known for comedic roles like Dewey in School of Rock and covering Beetlejuice in Beetlejuice tells Playbill. “I can make you laugh, but please let me make you cry.”
When you watch, you will.
Watch “The Call/It Moves/Time To Go” in the video above and the making of in Through the Mountain—Making “The Call/It Moves/Time To Go” in the video below. Please consider making a donation to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America at alzfdn.org.