One night at the Little Pub, then-Hamilton students Justin Tyler '01, Aurelia Fischer '03 and Aaron Wilton '03 were discussing post-Hamilton plans. "A group of us had been to see a play ... we got to talking about what we all wanted to do after Hamilton. The idea came up of how nice it would be to have a company of our own that would allow us to create our own kind of theatre," Tyler recalled. "It sounded outlandish at the time."
Fast-forward three years, and that idea has not only become a reality, but also a huge success. Fischer, Tyler and Wilton teamed up to work on a theater project Tyler had conceptualized after traveling extensively as a Bristol Fellow the year after his Hamilton graduation. Tyler visited England, Scotland, India, Australia, Vanuatu, New Zealand, Japan, France and Italy where he studied street theater and sociopolitical expression in theater performed in public spaces.
In 2003, the three students reconvened at Hamilton to develop a play based on Tyler's initial ideas. "When we started, I had a loose structure in mind. Aaron and I developed everything else together throughout the rehearsal process, and we were able to really play with our ideas and let them evolve through improvisation and experimentation," said Tyler, who got his first taste of improv performing as a student with the comedy troupe Yodapez.
The result is Happy Mundanes, a series of nine loosely connected scenes that illustrate the repetitive nature of daily urban life. Wilton and Tyler star in the production with Fischer assisting as stage manager/lighting designer.
The dialogue-free play, described by Tyler as a dark comedy, does not focus solely on the despair and loneliness often associated with dull activities; instead, it highlights how minds respond to everyday life. "Watching Happy Mundanes is like walking through someone else's dreams," Tyler explained. "You learn about the reality of that person by seeing his or her imagination at work."
After debuting the show at Hamilton, the aspiring thespians applied to the prestigious New York International Fringe Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America. Happy Mundanes was one of only 200 shows accepted from a pool of more than 800. The group soon formed Pig Brooch, Inc., a non-profit theatre company based in New York City, and dedicated their time to polishing the show. Tyler, Wilton, Fischer and Robb were joined by Jared Johnson '02, Gillian Smith '04 and Ben Fischer, Aurelia's brother, who helped with production, lighting and sound.
Happy Mundanes opened at the Greenwich Street Theatre on August 18 and ran through the end of the festival. Riley MacLeod wrote on NYtheatre.com: "Tyler and Wilton have an excellent, unstated chemistry between them ... Happy Mundanes never comes to any conclusions about how to make your work day less boring or 'sums it all up.' By looking at day-to-day living in a new way, this show presents the possibilities for change, excitement and humor with vitality and a degree of optimism."
Reviews aside, the actors agreed that participating in the Fringe Festival was a learning experience. "Being a part of the festival included singing a song for opening ceremonies, catching other shows at a downtown nightclub and meeting a lot of passionate artists from around the world," Wilton explained. "I think it challenged me as an artist in promoting my work, in adapting the show to a new venue, in the constant revision process."
So what's next for Pig Brooch, Inc.? A sister show to Happy Mundanes called Forces is already in the works, and the group is considering taking Mundanes to other festivals in the U.S. and abroad.
"A few other Hamilton graduates will be moving to New York this year, and we've already spoken about working together -- keeping that Hamilton bond strong," Tyler said. "One night [at the Fringe Festival] it felt like we were performing on campus there were so many Hamilton people there."
-- Emily Lemanczyk '05