For a musical theater piece so deeply personal — one that examines the body in all its naked successes and failures, joys and pains — the Prince Theatre premiere of "In My Body" (Nov. 9-12) comes from a loving team, rather than a single soul or source.
Based upon Philadelphia fine artist Leah Macdonald's gorgeously detailed and empathetic encaustic photographic nudes, director Kathryn MacMillan, composer Dan Martin, lyricist Michael Biello and book writers Lis Kalogris, Kate Cipriano and Melissa Hays have banded together for a unique look (and sound) at all the human form holds dear.
"I hope it reminds people to enjoy and embrace all that the body is," says Macdonald, who created new nude photos as a set for the piece. "I think between technology, fear and people's insensitivity to very heightened states of trauma, people are moving away from taking care of the body, being present of and within their body."
Kate Cipriano, the mother of writing partner Lis Kalogris, furthers Macdonald's thought by saying, "There is nothing simple about living in our bodies, particularly today. Our society is obsessed with body culture and body image."
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Their journey toward "In My Body" started in 2006, when their spouses were in a near-fatal car crash which exposed the mother and daughter to what extreme body trauma could be "and the physical and emotional aftermath of it," says Kalogoris. In 2008, they met Leah Macdonald, whose intense encaustic photographs — road maps of the physical self — tell stories about people living in diverse bodied — the disabled, the altered, all which happen to be beautiful and hold mystery and purpose.
"My work speaks directly to people's experience of living in their bodies — whether to heal or accept something about their naked selves that is different; what their life was like in their body," says Macdonald. "These are not artistic nudes, but nudes of women who suffered life trauma or injury, specifically dealing with physical or mental challenges with their bodies."
Cipriano goes on to say that Macdonald's photographs are stories with the encaustic and coloring processes she uses giving dark and vivid life to her images. "The wax is like skin. Her photographs speak to body loathing, body pride, body trauma, aging, beauty, obesity, gender, sexuality and love. Her work embodies the spirit of this play."
Once these women decided upon collaboration, the music of Martin and Biello ("I stored their amazing anthems in my heart," says Kalogris) and the direction of MacMillan became guideposts to great drama and harmony. "The composer/lyricist duo have a gift for exploring tension between what's happening musically and lyrically," says MacMillan. For example, the musical key might feel dark, minor, but the lyrics are celebratory. "What's fun about that for me is that I have to find how I triangulate that tension in the staging. What can I add to honor, highlight and complete the beauty of their creation?"
From there, MacMillan states that "In My Body" is a collage of different characters, and different kinds of songs, stylistically. "Characters pop up for a single piece then disappear, and in some ways it's like directing 20 short plays. So our job, the cast and I, is to inhabit each little world then find the universality that strings the evening together. For the writers and me, living in your body successfully takes resilience, courage, vulnerability and joy. So the evening becomes a journey toward those things."