‘The Golden Record’ launches new space-age musical

‘The Golden Record’ launches new space-age musical

In 1977, NASA approved the idea of sending a “Golden Record” into the cosmos with the Voyager spacecraft. Astronomers Carl Sagan and Frank Drake, author Ann Druyan, artist Jon Lomberg and Timothy Ferris, a science writer who was a friend of Sagan’s and a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, chose 115 analog-encoded photographs, greetings in 55 languages, a 12-minute montage of sounds on Earth and 90 minutes of music to serve as an introduction to any alien species Voyager might meet.

Nearly half a century later, New York-based playwright and composer Angela Sclafani chose the making of “The Golden Record” as the centerpiece for a new musical of the same name, currently being workshopped in Fayetteville by theater company Pilot Arts. It’s not Sclafani’s first interaction with Pilot Arts founder Missy Gipson. The company produced Sclafani’s “Passion Project: Love Songs from Women to their Work” in April 2021.

“I was searching for a new work to produce for Pilot Arts for our first show post-shutdown, and I found a song cycle all about incredibly brilliant women from history,” Gipson says. “I absolutely fell in love with the music and her style of storytelling, so I reached out to her about producing it, and she said yes. It was such a moving experience that I wanted to see if she had a more fully formed show, and that’s how I found out about ‘The Golden Record.’”

Gipson says she was attracted to the musical because “it’s magical, but it’s true!”

“We honestly put a record on a spacecraft and shot it out into the solar system,” she marvels. “I was the kid who always wanted to go to space camp, so when I heard about a musical that detailed a true story from our space history, I was hooked. Truth is so much better than fiction, and this musical is a perfect example!”

“Angela Sclafani’s writing style has just been so much fun to learn and sing,” says Abbey Pierce, a Fayetteville singer/songwriter who is playing Ann Druyan. “There are lots of variations in the styles of the musical numbers as they blur the lines between the genres of folk, pop and rock.

“You have to be prepared to change at the drop of a hat if the writer or director wants to hear or see something done differently than it’s written and you’ve memorized it,” she says of the challenge. “The reward is that we’re bringing a brand-new script and score to life. There’s something magical about that process when it all starts to come together.”

Braden Clapp is traveling from Tulsa, Okla., to play Carl Sagan. He’s a recent graduate of Oral Roberts University with a degree in acting and theater and says he’s “always been a sucker for performing.”

“In a world where prequels, sequels and remakes are currently dominating the entertainment industry, I think new stories are begging to be told,” he says. “It’s very rewarding to work with such like-minded and collaborative people, all with our sights at the same end goal. Working with a new show that is changing and morphing as we work on it is a beautiful challenge as an artist that keeps me on my toes and makes the experience feel very fresh.

“The musical composition of this show is gorgeously written,” he adds. “It sounds so incredible. But in order to make it sound so incredible, there has to be a lot of intricate rehearsal and preparation to keep all the vocals and things very tight. So there is a lot of hard work that goes into learning the beautiful harmonies of each song, but there is going to be an astounding final product because of it.”

“One of the greatest gifts for this project is also one of the greatest challenges in that we have a blueprint for the sound in front of us — the musical score — but we only have a skeletal idea of the final sound that will eventually blend all of the intended harmonic and rhythmic elements,” elaborates Rebecca McBride, the vocal coach for the project. “As the words and music on the page are brought to life through our rehearsals, we get the privilege to be part of molding the blueprint of the score into the creators’ intended sound.”

Learning a brand-new musical is “a curve ball,” says Edward Mountz, who plays Jon Lomberg. Being fresh off of “Disaster,” a ’70s jukebox musical, gives him a leg up on the ’70s inspired music of “The Golden Record,” he says, but “it’s definitely the hardest music challenge I’ve ever had.” Unlike learning any popular musical, “we have almost nothing to go off of.”

“The rewards are born out of the challenge,” says Gipson. “Getting introduced to a new story you’ve never heard, possibly finding a new song that will be added to your favorite playlist or, as with ‘The Golden Record,’ hearing stories that inspire and expand your humanity.”

“Much like the challenge the original team faced summarizing all of human and Earth history into 90 minutes of content, we’ve had to distill this incredible story into a 70-minute musical,” says Hunter Bird, the project’s co-developer, who will also be in Fayetteville to guest direct the show. “We hope that this show honors the tremendous achievements of the original Golden Record team, because they did something unimaginable with very little time or resources. It would be a privilege and an honor to share our musical with them, and that’s the next step we’re working towards. Once we have their blessing, we’d love to share the show with as many people as possible.”



‘The Golden Record’

WHEN — 7 p.m. Oct. 6-7; 2 & 7 p.m. Oct. 8

WHERE — Rockhill Studios, 240 E. Township St. in Fayetteville

COST — $20-$30

INFO — pilotarts.org

Categories: Theater