Sci-fi things are happening with Shotgun Players. The nonprofit theater company’s community rehearsal space is located on University Avenue, boasting a wide array of artistic endeavors.
Originally a gem for Bay Area wine enthusiasts in the 1960s, it was a space where patrons could stomp their own grapes, barrel the wine and store it. Then, it became the warehouse of rare book collector Peter Howard, late owner of Serendipity Books, and now exists in its newest iteration — a home for nascent theater productions.
This is where an up-and-coming musical theater duo takes the stage. Through the winter, the two actors have been rehearsing their first show, an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day,” with an original book and musical score. The catch? They’re ninth- and 10th-graders in high school.
Leela Kiyawat and Hannah Mayer may be fresh faces in the Bay Area theater scene, but their work is more than just promising — it’s happening. In an interview with The Daily Californian, the freshman and sophomore at the Oakland School for the Arts, or OSA, talked about their writing process and rehearsed three of the numbers in the show.
The rehearsal took place in the Shotgun Studios, which has black, floor-to-ceiling curtains and large, wooden-shuttered windows. A skull sat on the stand up piano — poor Yorick’s skull to be exact, a prop from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
Before meeting up with their cast, Mayer, the composer, and Kiyawat, the writer and director, gathered around the piano and sang “The Sun,” a tune celebrating the center of the show’s universe.
“The children (in the show) live on Venus, and the sun only comes out every seven years,” Mayers said. “So this is the children fantasizing about what the sun would look like.”
“The Sun” is a song with vibrant metaphors, a catchy melody and a satisfying counterpoint at the finish. It bounces and rings. The musical motifs invoke the glittering, fractured movement of sunlight on water.
One of the main lyrics compares the sun to a coin in the sky that is “big enough to buy the world with.” This strikes a particularly resonant note with the central storyline, which tells the tale of a girl from Earth who immigrates to Venus, only to be met with childhood xenophobia and social othering.
Kiyawat’s lyrics invoke an interesting question: Who does the world belong to? By comparing the sun to a coin, Kiyawat incorporates themes of ownership and possession, reminding us that even children exercise — and abuse — their power.
“All Summer in a Day” tells a story close to Mayer and Kiyawat’s hearts. They described reading the Bradbury classic in the sixth grade and carrying the tale with them into high school. When they decided to write a musical together, they remembered how the short story had resonated with them.
Their partnership feels natural. Mayer asks Kiyawat to read her lyrics out loud to hear their rhythm before working out the melody. In Kiyawat’s words, Mayer puts the words to music “perfectly.”
Both Kiyawat and Mayer felt that writing the show was the easy part. After recording a demo, they transitioned into production, casting their friends from OSA in the show.
When the cast of 10 high schoolers arrived at Shotgun Studios, the studio came alive. In between warm-ups and blocking, the cast chatted about their BART to the San Francisco Women’s March earlier that day and how rehearsals had been flying by.
The players are eager and energetic, bringing a youthful warmth to the characters that makes the story realistic. This is, of course, what also gives the show its subtler, more troubling meaning — with the the performers playing their ages on stage, their portrayal of childhood’s cruelty is tangible.
There is a great deal to be said about Kiyawat and Mayer choosing material that could be interpreted and brought to life by their peers.There’s something to be said about writing what you know — while the musical may be set in outer space, its subject matter is something the performers have ready in their acting toolkit.
This story is bigger than a particular theater troupe or studio or production. It is a story about community. It’s about a group of individuals who come together with their own artistic visions and find a way to make it happen not just for themselves, but for each other.
Mayer and Kiyawat are remarkably talented young adults — talented young adults who are being given the opportunity to put their talent into practice, to be taken seriously, to see their creative process into its fruition. The community support that makes this possible is itself a work of art. The work of parents, craftspeople, teachers, young artists moonlighting as high schoolers and people with vision — such as Patrick Dooley, founding artistic director of Shotgun — allows these two high schoolers to possess this platform.
“It works like this,” Dooley said with a smile, moving his finger around and around in a circle. For Shotgun Players’ “All Summer in a Day” on Saturday, everything will have come together.
“All Summer in a Day” will have two performances Saturday, Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Contact Blue Fay at [email protected].