What makes a work or performer achieve the status of “cult”?
That may be hard to define, but Flying V Theatre's staff thinks it knows it when it sees it, in the person of Jonathan Coulton, singer/songwriter.
Coulton left the tech industry to create a podcast named “A Song a Week,” for which he wrote what Jason Schlafstein, the theater’s producing artistic director, called “quirky, humorous storytelling.”
“So many of Jonathan’s songs explore intimate struggles of people through highs and lows,” Schlafstein said.
In the songwriter’s “I’m Your Mom,” Pluto laments not being a planet anymore. In “I Crush Everything,” a sea monster longs impossibly to be close to people.
In tribute to him, Flying V is presenting a revue called “It’s the Rest of the World that Looks So Small.” Schlafstein and Vaughn Irving co-wrote it and are co-directing the seven-cast-member work.
Schlafstein calls the production “an exploration of loneliness and feeling out of place in the universe. It doesn’t have a linear story but does have an emotional arc. The songs connect thematically,” he said.
What the revue also has is puppetry, humor and dance, as well as a few returning characters, despite the lack of a formal plot.
Music direction is handled by Steve Przybylski and Jon Jon Johnson.
Pryzbylski – dedicated guitarist, violinist, cellist and percussionist – leads the five-member band, who will perform onstage. For this show, Pryzbylski will play guitar and keyboard.
Within a few months of moving into the area, Pryzbylski affiliated with Flying V.
“I like that the theater is willing to progress outside of the mainstream and develop new audiences outside of traditional theater,” he said.
Musically, Pryzbylski described Coulton’s music crossing “a bunch of genres” – including alternative rock with folk influences and sometimes tech sound, and rooted in the music of the ‘90s. Theatre V’s interpretations will mix in some pop and country.
“Yet, we’re holding onto the core of Coulton’s music, though in some cases expanding it,” he said.
Creating a revue out of Coulton’s songs was easy because “many of his songs are theatrical in nature,” said Vaughn Irving. “I consider him a storyteller as much as a songwriter. He crafts unique and exiting narratives starting with an accepted trope form pop culture and then turning them on their head. He makes the heroes into villains and the villains into nuanced sympathetic protagonists.”
The genesis of the revue dates to when Schlafstein and Irving were working on another show, “You or Whatever I Can Get,” which debuted at the 2014 Capital Fringe Festival and then had a run at Flying V. During the writing process, the artistic staff brought in pieces of music that had inspired them. Irving chose two Coulton songs, “Code Monkey” and “I Crush Everything.”
“We then conceived the idea of ‘just doing a ‘Jonathan Coulton’ show,” said Irving. “It was a joke at the time, but the idea percolated for a few years, and we both thought that there was actually a project there. We began to dive into it in 2016, and the more of his music we learned, the more excited we got.”
When he first heard Coulton's music, Irving recalled his mind “instantly filling with images.”
“His songs are all about the universal struggles of human existence but filtered through the lenses of the fantastic,” he said. “Though the stories were from the perspective of giant squids and mad scientists, they all seemed like they were written about me. Loneliness, ambition, love, and loss all examined through bold yet accessible metaphors. What's not to love?”
“It’s the Rest of the World that Looks So Small” runs Feb. 1 through Feb. 24 at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre, 8641 Colesville Road, in downtown Silver Spring,. For more information, visit: www.flyingvtheatre.com.