When Change Comes: A Movement Forward
Mark Stuart discusses the evolution of the dance phenomenon as it sets to premiere on Long Island.
By: Iris Wiener
When Change Comes: A Movement Forward is a poignant dance musical that asks the question: Can the act of “seeing” each other without judgment or fear break the cycle of intolerance? Featuring a cast of world-renowned dancers, singers and musicians, Change takes audiences through a century of music, movement and human connection in the shadow of our nation’s most defining moments. Known as Standard Time throughout its prior Off-Broadway and regional runs, the newly re-worked show will open for audiences on September 7th at Madison Theatre at Molloy College with special Broadway guest stars Laura Osnes (Bandstand, Cinderella) and Dan DeLuca (Newsies national tour), and on September 8th with Adam Kaplan (A Bronx Tale, Newsies). Change moves to New York Live Arts September 13th through September 16th. Director and co-producer Mark Stuart (Bandstand, ABC’s Dirty Dancing) spoke with Theaterlife about his show’s second life, and how he aims to make an impact with the important piece.
Theaterlife: How has the show changed since we saw Standard Time in New York a few years ago?
Mark Stuart: Pretty much all of it. We had this somewhat life-changing artistic retreat at Martha’s Vineyard in May that not only changed our lives, but the way we look at the show and the way we look at telling stories. We discovered the importance of learning to see each other and to be vulnerable, honest and genuine. The most powerful thing in it was the silence and the space in between the choreography when we were just standing there and seeing each other. In that moment I threw out the entire show. I said to the company, “We’re starting over and we’re going to start strictly with the story and with this idea of parameters. We’re going to ask questions and build parameters of choreography within the story. How it unfolds is entirely up to you and will be different every time.” It was mind-boggling. The general flow of the show is the same as Standard Time, but I don’t think that any of it will look the same, nor will any of it be the same twice.
TL: When people create shows they’re often drawn to write about causes with personal meaning. What drew you to tell this story?
MS: There were two big things that happened that made me want to make Change. I was ready to retire from show business, but I had enrolled in this program where we had to analyze businesses, so I analyzed Standard Time. I realized that over the years I had forgotten what it was for, which was to stand up to hate, speak out against intolerance, and prove that love wins. The day that I watched the March for Our Lives rally I was blown away. I am guilty of not getting involved. There are so many things going wrong in this country and in this world, how does one person make a difference? Where do you start? So I was thinking, “What can you do in an instant that doesn’t cost anything that can actually make positive change?” You can commit small, everyday acts of kindness. When you step out on the street and you smile at somebody who isn’t expecting it, that can really change their day and also open their hearts and minds. When people are angry and isolated, that turns into hate and intolerance. We can also learn to truly see each other. The whole political spectrum is about being loud and right now the voices of fear and division are louder than the voices of tolerance and equality. That will certainly swing back, but we’ve lost the ability to see each other as human beings. Rather than shouting at each other, hopefully we’ll be talking to each other.
TL: Why do you consider Change to be a social project?
MS: The goal is to get young people, students specifically, in the door to inspire them with this story about equality and tolerance. We’re going to have talkbacks every night after the show, during which we talk about three things we can do as soon as we leave: commit small, everyday acts of kindness; learn to see each other; and have honest conversations with people we disagree with (without trying to change their minds). Then we want to help build a community of those people to stay engaged and accountable with each other so they can say, “I did this, it worked,” or “I tried this, it was a miserable failure, anybody have any tips? What did you do?” We want to do a university tour next year, in which we’ll put students in a scene from the show with the cast and say, “You try these parameters, because this is just learning to see people. You don’t need to do the choreography, you just need to be human beings.” Eventually we want to give the show to schools and say, “Now do your version. Tell your story of equality and tolerance.” That is what I think will make change.
TL: What was it like to collaborate on When Change Comes with co-creator, star and your fiancée, Jaime Verazin?
MS: Jaime Lynn Verazin is one of the most magical creatures on this earth. When she’s on stage you can’t take your eyes off of her. When she’s creating it’s the exact same thing. Her questions, her vulnerability and her endless joy are so infectious. She’s the heart of the show and always has been. She knows how to challenge me and I know how to challenge her. We really just complete each other, so everything works when she’s around.
TL: How did Change find its way to Long Island?
MS: A miracle! A colleague recommended that I call Angelo Fraboni at Molloy College. He said, “Come use our theatre for free for three weeks, tech your show and work on it away from the city. Make it what it needs to be, and then we’ll do a couple of performances.” I thought, “Who are you? That doesn’t happen in this business!” He was a Broadway dancer and he knows how hard it is. He wants to support young artists and new shows, and give them an opportunity. The Madison Theatre is amazing.
TL: How did your experiences with Bandstand and Hamilton inform your work on When Change Comes?
MS: I am a totally different artist. I learned so much from Bandstand, specifically through being around [choreographer] Andy [Blankenhuehler] every day. He is a genius. I’m a different artist. I used to approach things as a choreographer, and now I approach them as a director. I think I learned what questions to ask and that sometimes the right answer is another question.
TL: You have said: “Art changes people and people change the world.” How has art changed you?
MS: There’s so much negativity in the world. It’s all over the news and in your face every day. With art (for me, it’s theatre, specifically) it reminds me of the best of humanity. There’s nothing like that feeling when you walk out of a good show. Being in a room with a couple thousand people experiencing an inspiring story is the most electric thing I think you can ever experience. You can walk out of a theatre inspired and ready to be different.
Tickets for September 7 and 8 at Madison Theatre are available by visiting http://madisontheatreny.org/event/when-change-comes/. Tickets for September 13-16 at New York Live Arts are available by visiting https://newyorklivearts.org/event/when-change-comes/.
Photography Courtesy of Mark Stuart Dance Theatre