What is innovation? What does it mean to create something brand new and original that will objectively better mankind? Perhaps in order to understand the true importance of invention and creation we need to go back in time. In “Me, Prometheus,” the musical thesis written by Simon Riker ’14 and Emerson Sieverts, a junior at The College of William and Mary, and directed by Daniel Froot ’16, it may just be that the greatest invention is the one we take most for granted: fire.
“Me, Prometheus” follows The Gurg, a community which, in spite of all the challenges of a hunter-gatherer system, still tries to make the best of its situation. However, life is difficult when berry-picking and pointed sticks are the only sources of sustenance, and when the closest thing the group has to medicine is the advice of a psychedelic mushroom-eating shaman (Nathan Repasz ’14). Furthermore, there are ominous warnings of a coming chill on the horizon, an Ice Age that might threaten the society’s very existence. With all of these challenges on the table, some inventions have become prized pre-historic commodities, allowing entrepreneurs such as the narcissistic Birns (Christopher Delaney ’14) to rise to fame.
The hero of this story is Herbert (Matthew Getz ’14), an aspiring inventor eager to prove himself to the community. Hearing the prophetic words of his mad grandfather (Henry Peterson ’14), Herbert learns of a strange element by the name of fire (pronounced “fai-are”), which could save his people from the coming Ice Age, and thus sets off on a journey to discover this strange object.
The most remarkable thing about the show is just how delightfully unpredictable its humor is. From an awkward dance number by Thomas Edison to the blue-grass musings of the hillbilly Flamp family (Will Durney ’14, Adam Johnson ’14, and Emerson Obus ’16), there is no predicting
where the show’s irreverent humor will lead. “Me, Prometheus” has such a wide range of characters that it’s a joy just to watch all the different members of The Gurg in action.
Riker discussed the hard work that went into the script, which is almost four years in the making.
“I came up with the original story freshman year and I started working on it, fleshed it out a little, and then gave up on it,” Riker explained. “But I got in touch with my buddy Emerson Sieverts, who I went to camp with when we were young, and he was really enthusiastic about the show and went, ‘Let’s write it together!’ And so we both had musical experience and collaborated on the music, book, and orchestrations. Dan [Froot ’16] came in, and he critiqued us and added some ideas on jokes and restructuring of the show, and so we worked with him toward the end of the writing process.”
Especially impressive are the 17 musical numbers of “Me, Prometheus,” each of which incorporates a 15-piece orchestra. These songs, all of which were originally composed by Riker and Sieverts, range from traditional Broadway-style tunes to more rock-oriented numbers, all of which keep up the same wacky humor as the rest of the show.
“We could have written a show like ‘Songs For A New World,’ that has just a bare-bones rock band with three or four musicians, but I like to do things big and I had experience in pit orchestras since I was in middle school, and I knew that this was the only time in my life, as far as I know, where I’ll have so many people excited to work with me for free in a space like this, so I said, ‘Let’s get this as full of songs from as many styles as we can,’” Riker said.
In many ways, the show’s theme of ambition and ingenuity seems to have been inspired by its creators. Before even starting work with the cast, which currently stands at more than 40 members, Froot, Riker, and Sieverts had to raise money through the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, which helped them successfully accumulate over $5,000. Sieverts even took a week off of classes at William and Mary to see the show through its final stages.
“I got permission to miss class for a week because…I wrote a musical, and when something goes up you never know when that’ll happen again,” Sieverts said. “I personally have plans to bring the show to William and Mary next year, but regardless, this will probably help bring that to fruition.”
Sieverts added that he hoped that audience members, aside from just enjoying the comedy and the music, might even learn a thing or two.
“Despite it being a musical comedy, we hope to instill some greater wisdom on human nature,” he said. “Because cavemen are all a little like us in a way.”
“Me, Prometheus” goes up in Beckham Hall this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. No tickets are needed for the performance.