One of the biggest Broadway shows over the last decade, the Tony Award-winning musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” is powered by a contemporary and profound plot that touches on topics including social media, teen suicide and mental health.
Lead producer Stacey Mindich ’86, nurtured the show through eight years of development to worldwide acclaim, including the Tony Award for Best New Musical in 2017. Mindich recently appeared on the podcast “StoryTech,” with host Jeff Kofman, to discuss the origin of “Dear Evan Hansen” and how technology helped capture the emotions of the heartfelt production.
“StoryTech” examines how technology shapes the way stories are told, and how technological innovation has inspired and enabled new paradigms in storytelling. The Newhouse School launched the podcast this year in partnership with Antica Productions and Trint, and in association with WAER.
While “Dear Evan Hansen” closed on Broadway last year, the musical is currently on a North American tour, including a six-day run at the Landmark Theater in Syracuse in May.
On the podcast, Mindich talked about how social media became a character in the musical. Listen to her full conversation with Kofman at WAER.org or on your favorite podcast app.
Social media plays a huge part in this production. It’s not just a kind of backdrop. It’s almost a character.
Well, the authors have called social media the ninth character in the show. And yes, the technology and the age of social media and how it affects young people is central to the show.
But the theme, it’s very important to note that the theme of a boy struggling to connect to parents love for a child, and yet an inability to help that child, is central to the show as well. And that theme could have happened in ancient Greece and 100 years into the dystopian future. You have a mix of a classic story with the enhancement of social media.
So, what was the challenge of making social media that ninth character on the stage?
The challenge was not to do it the way anybody else has done it before, and the challenge was not to do it in a way that said “high school.” There are all these charming, cute movies out there where you see people texting each other and they bring it down to a very young level. And we were dealing with some very important and sophisticated themes about life in the way we live it, and we didn’t want it to feel that way.
And so there had to be a sophistication about this. I mean, one of the great things our director, Michael Greif, added to the show was we took away the ensemble. So, you don’t see 10 dancing teenagers holding cell phones. The ensemble is virtual. And I was very determined that the ensemble that you see in the projections on the stage were people of all races and ages.
When you experimented with this idea of making social media a character on stage – was there anything that just didn’t work?
Lots of things didn’t work. God knows how many times we rejected the projection design plan because the goal was always to make it feel as authentic as possible. So, anything too scripted or anything too theatrical didn’t work, which is sort of the opposite of what you try to do on stage. It had to feel like you saw it on your screen two minutes ago.
Can you paint a picture of what that stage looks like from the audience?
The thing I didn’t like in the early days about the show was that it was it’s very dark, literally physically dark, because in order for the screens to really do their job, and they’re projections on screens behind the set and on the floor. So, the best seat in the house is really the front row mezzanine, because then you can see everything.
And so, the show is very, very dark at some points, not just in theme but in physicality, so that all of that pops. And in the end, it works brilliantly because at the moment of catharsis in the last five minutes of the show, when Evan walks into the apple orchard that he somehow helped to build without even really trying. You see blue skies and you see that Evan has literally taken a lyric from our show and stepped into the sun. And that was so important to making sure that people left our show feeling they had had a catharsis, and the show ended with hope after a dark journey.