Start with ABBA and throw in some Prince and the Muppets' Swedish Chef, and you've got the recipe for the Drama Club's new musical, Parables (for sleeping in daylight or dark).
Its writers, Ian Ferguson and Michael Federico, are no strangers to musical theater. Ferguson, a musician, is a member of several Dallas-based bands, including Mur, Sister and Veteran Children. He was also onstage in the Dallas Theater Center's recent world-premiere production of the musical Hood.
Federico wrote the book for On the Eve, a sci-fi musical that began as a staged reading in 2012 and went on to have its world premiere at Theatre Three. It also received a concert production at Joe’s Pub in New York last year.
The pair is now teaming up on Parables, which Ferguson initially conceived as a movie. The story follows Eveline, 27, as she faces a major life event: Her brother is about to marry her best friend, and they're moving away.
Eveline feels directionless. She's struggling to make sense of her life and what she thought it was “supposed to be.” Parables walks the boundary between real life and fantasy.
Federico, who will direct, drew inspiration from his time living in Chicago. He remembers walking through the bitter cold to a job that didn't excite him, his headphones in. He felt like a star in his own movie as he imagined another life.
“Really, it was probably just a montage in someone else’s story. The guy you see for a quick second,” he says, laughing. “I was on my way to wait tables.”
"If all a play ever gets is a world premiere, it's like a wedding reception with no marriage." – Ian Ferguson
“We wanted to write a dream where [Eveline] imagines being a Nobel Prize winner,” Ferguson says. “But of course, Eveline doesn’t really even know anything about getting a Nobel Prize, so her imagination is somewhere between like ABBA and the Swedish Chef. That’s probably all she knows about Sweden.”
The pair could be their own comic duo. Together, they created the musical like a “game of chess in the mail,” Ferguson says. They wrote alone and together. Ferguson wrote and composed music in his car — recording it and sending it to Federico — and his wife, a singer, would help put life into the songs.
They both cringe when the subject of Prince comes up.
“We aren’t trying to be Prince! It’s just, like, the style of Prince,” Federico says. Both take their musical tastes very seriously. Ferguson, the son of a chorale director, says his appreciation of music began with the Beatles.
“I went from a passive music listener to being truly engaged," he says.
Federico, an artistic associate with the Drama Club, says the project wouldn’t have happened without the support of Jeffrey Schmidt, artistic director at Theatre Three, and Lydia Mackay, inaugural Drama Club member and producer for Parables.
“Jeff and Lydia were committed to being a starting point,” Federico says. The Drama Club was looking for a new play to start developing, and Federico and Ferguson hope the staged reading of Parables is the beginning of something bigger for their musical.
“It falls somewhere between a staged reading and a full production,” Ferguson says. “And we know it will lead to changes for the play.”
“It’s not set in stone, but it’s pretty firmly in its skeleton,” Federico adds. He says he's been excited by theaters and artistic directors in Dallas who are committed to putting out not just world premieres, but also second productions of new plays.
For the past two years, the Drama Club has produced new plays in October. Federico also acknowledges Tina Parker at Kitchen Dog and Joanie Schultz, the newly minted artistic director at WaterTower Theatre in Addison.
“If all a play ever gets is a world premiere, it’s like a wedding reception with no marriage," Ferguson says.
Parables staged reading, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 9, Bryant Hall, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Tickets are pay what you can. See Facebook for more information.