At an old abandoned high school on the outskirts of town, a group of loitering teenagers is suddenly surrounded by fire as the walls burn fast around them. They find a hole in a corner of the gymnasium floor. They jump in. They survive the flames. Then they realize...they are not alone...and someone is watching. As their nineteen days of captivity progress, personal demons and vendettas emerge with ferocity, forcing them to either turn forever against each other…or fight for survival. Based on his 2004 play, playwright and composer Matthew B. Zrebski has created a claustrophobic exploration of teenagers under the eye of a monstrous predator they can't see. Almost entirely sung with occasional percussive sounds and rhythmic spoken word, Ablaze: an a cappella musical thriller is a bold experiment in musical theatre, and an unapologetic look at the lives of adolescents and the issues they must face.
A note from the creator, Matthew B. Zrebski...
We tend to hide from that which scares us. We cover it up. We lock it in a closet. We avoid it for fear of being uncomfortable. Nowhere is this truer than in high schools. In my now twenty years as a teaching artist for teens, I have often noted the unfortunate disconnect between what is often addressed in classrooms – and what is actually going on in the hallways and in personal lives. Ablaze began as a non-musical play at Lincoln High School (Portland, OR) in 2004 and was based on lengthy interviews and discussions with teenagers. The idea was to create a high tension, terrifying situation – and in doing so, to lift the veil on difficult subject matter. My hope is that by highlighting challenging themes, the notion of empathy as ultimate power comes front and center. For how can anyone move though life with dignity and integrity if they have not learned how to walk in the shoes of another? For the musical adaptation, I continued to stay engaged with the teenaged voice. Having first developed the musical at Wilson High School (Portland, OR) where we would talk every day about these characters, I was able to expand many of the ideas in the play, and now with music, there is an abstraction that hopefully creates even greater emotional resonance. And during the journey to the professional premiere at Staged!, I was blessed to have the opportunity to revise further, flesh out stories, and hopefully land on a version that had the most impact. But regardless of the piece itself, the most extraordinary aspect of this process has been the dedication of numerous young people who have stepped into these roles. It’s important to me that this is not only a piece about young people – but is for them as well. We tend to underestimate youth, to devalue their voices, to over question their abilities – and they are an inspiration. There are no words to truly express my gratitude to the scores of people who have supported this concept for nearly a decade. I hope this musical may bring many people both scares and joys for many years to come.