Musical Theatre Piece in Two Acts. Written, composed and directed
by Liz Swados.
Settings by Douglas W. Schmidt, Woods Mackintosh.
Costumes by Hilary Rosenfeld.
Sound by Bill Dreisbach.
Lighting by Jennifer Tipton.
Production supervisor, Jay David Cohen.
Associate producer, Bernard Gersten.
A New York Shakespeare Festival Production. Produced by Joseph Papp.
First produced in New York Off-Broadway 9
March 1978 at the Public Theatre Cabaret/Martinson Hall for 62 performances.
Opened 13 May 1978 at the Plymouth Theatre and closed 31 December 1978 after 199 performances. Total, including Off-Broadway run: 261 peformances.
The Gathering of Runaways
by Elizabeth Swados
"Runaways is a musical theatre piece which was in the works for a year. When I went to Joseph Papp in May of 1977, I had no script, no songs, no story line — just an idea, and an intuition about the potential of adolescents and how they have been grossly underestimated. I wanted to make a collage about the profound effects of our deteriorating families. I wanted to explore the substitutes people find to deal with the loss of family and how these substitutes are sometimes effective and sometimes self-destructive. I wanted to tap the energy of young people. I have seen them excel professionally in athletics, pop and classical music, and I knew there was a real possibility fo rthe same kind of dedication in the theatre — beyond "cutesiness," beyond cliché.
Since that May until we opened on Broadway in May of 1978, I was subsidised by the New York Shakespeare Fesitval and did hundreds of interviews, auditions, workshops and rehearsals. I was uplifted by the imagination and spirit of some of the kids I met. I was also appalled at the potential apathy and resignation in these same individuals. In the four-month period of auditions, I saw over two thousand kids at schools, community centres and museums. I was looking for kids who were ornery, athletic, imaginative and, if not overtly political, somehow aware that the human race was in a mess. Contrary to some reports, the cast is not made up of twelve scraggly runaways whom I mercifully rescued from the streets. There are some runaways. But many of the kids are simply, or not so simply, from both broken and solid families. Also, there are three experienced actors who served as anchors and helped set a certain professional standard.
In the five months of rehearsals and workshops, I wrote hours of songs, and the company did multitudes of improvisations. One of the most important things we all learned is that the imagination can take you out of your own spiritual ghetto. I didn't want to be romantic about the project or deal with psychological and social problems in soap opera terms. There was an energy, a courage, an honesty in the kids that would constantly challenge my more clichéd artistic notions. Their way of speaking, their rhythms, the look in their eyes; they influenced me. I couldn't have done it without them. A lot of what I wanted to write was in my head, but much of it came from workshops. I'd ask them questions and they would tell me stories. I would sit for hours thinking what would be exactly the right questions that would help me write. They could lie, or they could tell the truth. I'd watch them, feel the pressures on them, become concerned about them. Then I'd go off, and suddenly there would be a song — just from having been with them. I would combine my own artistic sensibilities with the truth of their emotions.
The songs in this show are the folk music of a very special tribe called The Runaways. This is their music. There is no plot or story line in Runaways. It's a collage of speeches and songs for their rituals. The way I work music, there's no difference between the music and the words. I think you can make songs of how people talk. Where there is melody, like the Salsa or Latin of "Where Do People Go," the choice of style is directly related to what the words mean. This is the music that kids disco dance to today. But so do older people who learned the mambo and cha-cha. It's a universal kind of music that connects all generations, and with it we state the premise of the show — running away encompasses everything: "From theatre groups to therapy to jogging to long walks and long talks and arguments and reconciliations. It's all the same ... Runaways is not a documentary about hard-core street runaways. They're symbols for things that everybody does.
"Every Now And Then" is full of sadness we found at the runaway houses we visited, the regret they felt about having had to leave home. The music I chose is what moves me most personally. It's Brazilian, with a very slow samba beat It's the saddest music there is, without being sentimental. The blues in "Minnesota Strip" is sung by an older girl, a black woman who has been toughened, and she's commenting on the dangers of the street. Then a thirteen-year-old sings "Song Of A Child Prostitute." It's a monotone because this girl is dulled. A lot of pimps on the streets of New York take these runaway children and offer them drugs so they don't know what to think. They give them money, employment, nice clothes, and that creates an illusion of security. Then they intimidate them further by beating them up if they don't co-operate. It's much the same way they are treated by abusive parents. So they're used to it, and they feel like they are home. The next song is a kind of mock production number ("Find Me A Home"). It's crazy music — country-western; but since I have trouble writing something that's just regular, I put in some calypso and even a little oompah marching band.
"The Undiscovered Son" also connects with the theme of heroes
and famous people. Kids love to fantasise, so in one
of the workshops I said, "Pretend you're the son or daughter of someone very famous and tell me about your life with that person." "The Undiscovered Son" is a chant for one of their rituals. And it's about inner dreams, which are always chants to me.
"No Lullabies for Luis," which is based on Latin music and samba, is a dance, a life-giving ritual to keep a junkie away, to breathe life into him. "We Are Not Strangers" is a kind of hobo song, done to a calypso or reggae beat. It's a hymn for wanderers, a coming together of people who've been through hard times. "The Basketball Song," which is sort of reggae, sort of blues, is a celebration, almost religious, a love song between a boy and his basketball.
When we did interviews around the city, I would ask the more troubled kids, "What do you do in your spare time?" Most of the answers were things like smoke reefer or beat each other up. The only constructive thing they ever said was "play basketball." That was constant and common. "Let Me Be A Kid Again" is about children's rights and the expectations that parents and teachers put on kids which can smother a child. But it isn't just a kid's liberation song. As we get older, we apologise for play, for sport, for joy, and deprive ourselves of just experiencing life. In the background they're singing "Ring Around The Rosy" and "The Hokey Pokey."
One. of the musical themes in the show is the juxtaposition of childhood songs with popular music. In the runaway houses we visited, sixteen-year-olds wanted to be eleven; eleven-year-olds wanted to be eight — just so they could go home again. The "Revenge Song" is old-time,. ragtime striptease music for a spoof about everyone's fantasies about getting back at their parents. "Enterprise" takes the spoken word and sets it to rhythm. One of my favourite things in the world is to take mountains of words and fit them into measures.
There's gorgeous music in the spoken voice that people never recognise as music. "Lullaby From Baby To Baby" is the "theme song" of Runaways, and it's done in a very popular disco style to say that running away is a universal experience. Mothers can be runaways. Fathers can be runaways. We're not shutting anyone out.
"Sometimes" has a very melodic, popular and loving sound. We don't want to represent just hardcore runaways. There are kids who live in mansions, or even a nice duplex, whose parents can buy them a nice jacket or a new dress but never give them a kiss. And that deprivation is as painful as not having material goods. I don't know the least thing about Punk, but "Where Are Those People Who Did Hair" is a Punk Song. It's intended to say that every generation has to hate the generation that comes before in order to define itself. It also brings out one horror of this decade, which is that the media are giving murderers a lot of publicity. In the workshops I found that this freaked out a lot of kids. If there's anyone that this song hates, it's not the people who did Hair, it's the media.
When some parents see the show, they sit there, they sweat, and they say, "Don't accuse us. It's not fair." So "To The Dead Of Family Wars" is a very important piece because it's the one moment where we say it's not your fault. It's not anybody's fault. It goes back to Adam & Eve. It offers forgiveness so that people can understand, so that maybe somewhere we can stop creating a world of runaways.
I wrote the last song, "Lonesome Of The Road," for the kids. It's a conventional pop tune which speaks in a very simple way, in their song language, of the difference between being alone and being lonely. We spent a lot of time talking about that and how, if you have to be alone, there's a good way to use it. It's their favourite song and you can tell they love singing it. It's a song of hope, a song of strength and, like all of Runaways, a song of life."
(in order of appearance):
Hubbell: Bruce Hlibok.
Interpreter for Hubbell: Lorie Robinson.
A.J.: Carlo Imperato.
Jackie: Rachael Kelly.
Luis: Ray Contreras.
Nikki Kay Kane: Nan-Lynn Nelson.
Lidia: Jossie deGuzman.
Manny: Randy Ruiz.
Eddie: Jon Matthews.
Sundar: Bernie Allison.
Roby: Venustra K. Robinson.
Lazar: David Schechter.
Eric: Evan H. Miranda.
Iggy: Jonathan Feig.
Jane: Kate Schellenbach.
Ez: Leonard D. Brown.
Mex-Mongo: Mark Anthony Butler.
Melinda: Trini Alvarado.
Deidre: Karen Evans.
Mocha: Sheila Gibbs.
Chorus: Paula Anderson, Kenya Brome, Jerome Dekie, Karin Dekie, Lisa Dekie, John Gallogly, Timmy Michaels, Toby Parker.
Musicians: Piano and Toy Drum: Judith Flesiher. String Bass: J. Schimmel. Congas, Timbales, Bongos, Bells Siren and Others: Lepoldo F. Fleming. Trap Set, Triangle, Glass and Ratchet: David Sawyer. Saxophones and Flutes: Patience Higgins. Guitar: Elizabeth Swados.
- "You Don't Understand" - Hubbell, Interpreter
- "I Had to Go" - A.J.,
- "Parent/Kid Dance" - Company
- "Appendectomy" - Jackie
- "Where Do People Go" - Company
- "Footstep" - Nikki, Lidia, Manny
- "Once Upon a Time" - Lidia, Company
- "Current Events" - Eddie
- "Every Now and Then" - A.J., Sundar, Company
- "Out on the Street" - Hubbell, Interpreter
- "Minnesota Strip" - Roby
- "Song of a Child Prostitute" - Jackie, Lidia, Manny, Luis
- "Christmas Puppies" - Nikki
- "Lazar's Heroes" - Lazar
- "Find Me a Hero" - Lazar, Company
- "Scrynatchkielooaw" - Nikki
- "The Undiscovered Son" - Eric, Piano, toy-drum and bass
- "I Went Back Home" - Iggy, Jane
- "This Is What I Do When I'm Angry" - A.J., Nikki
- "The Basketball Song" - Ez, Company
- Dance - Luis, Mex-Mongo
- "Spoons" - Manny
- "Lullaby for Luis" - Lidia, Luis, Company
- "We Are Not Strangers" - Eric, Company
- "In the Sleeping Line" - Company
- "Lullaby from Baby to Baby" - Melinda, Hubbell
- "Tra Gog Vo In Dein Whole" (I Will Not Tell a Soul) - Lazar, Hubbell
- "Revenge Song" - Company.
- "Enterprise" - Deidre, Nikki, Mex-Mongo, Company
- "Sometimes" - Roby, Lazar
- "Clothes" - Iggy
- "Mr. Graffiti" - Mex-Mongo
- "The Untrue Pigeon" - Nikki
- "Senoras de la Noche" - Lidia, Manny, Nikki
- "We Have to Die?" - Deidre
- "Where Are Those People Who Did 'Hair'?" - Lazar, Deidre, Company
- "Appendectomy II" - Jackie, Melinda
- "Let Me Be a Kid" - Company
- "To the Dead of Family Wars" - Deidre
- "Problem After Problem" - Hubbell, Interpreter
- "Lonesome of the Road" - Luis, Sundar, Company