I love being introduced to our next generation of musical theatre artists. Oliver Houser is no exception, so needless to say, I was quite excited to talk with Oliver about his show Held Momentarily which is being presented in the 2015 New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) from July 20-27. Click here for tickets!
Held Momentarily is about six strangers that are stuck on a stalled subway line learn it's not just the train that is stuck.
1. Your show, Held Momentarily, about six strangers are stuck on a stalled subway line learn it's not just the train that is stuck, is being presented in NYMF 2015. What made you want to write this show? I began working on Held Momentarily a few years after graduating from the LaGuardia High School for Performing Arts (the "Fame School"), and wanted to create an ensemble piece in the vein of A Chorus Line or The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee to showcase the particular talents of some of my extraordinarily gifted friends, including fellow LaGuardia alum India Carney, who is rejoining the cast this summer after making it as a finalist on NBC’s The Voice. I’m a New York boy through and through, so the subway felt like the right setting. And I think childbirth is a really unfathomable thing, and the most remarkable feat of the human body. So I thought, "I want to write a show where strangers come together to help a woman give birth on the subway." It’s a love letter to New York about living in the moment and the beauty of unexpected connections.
2. You and Hunter Bird co-created Held Momentarily. How did the two of you come to work together? What has been the best part about working with him? Working with Hunter is magic. He co-produced the Festival of New American Musicals’ Show Search competition in LA, for which I was a finalist. When I first met him, I thought what I’ve since learned most people think when they meet him, which is that he is going to take over the world. It’s like how everyone who meets Bill Clinton says he makes you feel like you’re the only person alive. Hunter has something like that. So I said, "ok, I want to work this guy." I invited him to direct a workshop of Held Momentarily in January 2014 and he’s since been integral to the piece’s development. Working (well, playing) with him is intoxicating and overwhelming. We’ll sit down somewhere, I’ll pull out my voice memo app and hit record, and he’ll just become the characters and have conversations with himself (usually very loud, always very entertaining), and that often becomes dialogue that goes into the show verbatim. He is so unbelievably articulate that he will say a phrase that I immediately know has to be a song title. It’s frustrating sometimes because I leave our meetings overflowing with these ideas and kernels he’s dumped into my brain, and it’s hard to keep track. But that’s a good problem to have.
3. What excites you about having Held Momentarily in NYMF? So many things. I’m 22 years old, and this feels like a pretty tremendous step to be taking in my career. I am in love with my cast and creative team, and they bring such humor and depth to my work that I could never begin to imagine was there when I wrote it. It is a total thrill to watch such consummate artists use my words and music as a springboard for their own whimsical artistic invention. Additionally, most of the actors have now lived with these characters for a year and a half and grown with them through the show’s various incarnations (including our acclaimed run last summer at the NY Fringe Festival and Fringe "Encore" series), so they feel really free to play and dig deep into who these people are.
4. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing Held Momentarily? First and foremost, I hope they come away having laughed a lot, and with some new little light shed on the universal human experience, which is what I’m striving for in my art right now. More specifically to this piece, I hope people come away with a heightened sense of awareness and mindfulness, even if it just means noticing something they hadn’t before on the subway ride home. That’s what the show’s really about—learning to be in the moment, and finding the beauty in the everyday. So often it’s the funny glance we exchange with a stranger on our morning commute that puts the joy and spice in our lives, but we are increasingly closed off to having those interactions as we become further isolated from one another.
5. If you could give people one reason as to why they should come see Held Momentarily, what would that reason be? To laugh, to cry, and to see the next generation of Broadway performers before they are famous.
6. Held Momentarily is a poignant musical comedy about making connections, living in the moment, and moving on in life. When was there a time in your life where you 100% lived in the moment? made a connection that was important to your next move in life, and when did you move on from something you knew you had to? Ironically, this rehearsal process has been the most I have truly lived and been in the moment in a long time. We are all having so much fun and working as such a collaborative unit and listening to each other so closely, that it is virtually impossible to not get lost in what is exactly in front of us. I can go five hours without realizing I haven’t checked my phone, which feels like a sad accomplishment, but it’s a big deal! In terms of making connections important to my next move in life, I actually fall a little bit in love with a lot of people on the subway and fantasize about getting into serious relationships with them. I’ve been too shy to say anything to anyone yet. It’s a fine line between sharing a pleasant moment with a stranger and hitting on a stranger, you know?
7. What has been the best advice you've ever received? This is a hard one. I’ve received so much great advice over the years that I call upon daily to help make my decisions. Bill Murray once told me not to "fuck the nurses" before I underwent an endoscopy. (He had given money to the hospital and was taking a tour). In terms of my art, I’ve held very close something David Zippel (lyricist for Mulan, Hercules and City of Angels) shared when he was mentoring me and my collaborator on our short musical, Preschool. He said, "The audience is always right, and the audience is never right." Meaning that you cannot deny an audience’s reaction to your work when they are watching it: if something isn’t getting a laugh, or if the energy in the room isn’t electric, then there is a problem. But when people not involved in the creation of the piece come up to you and offer their two cents on how to fix it, they are very often wrong.
8. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Invisibility. No question. I would do naughty things. No one would know!
9. If you could create your own signature drink, what would you call it and what ingredients would you put in it? Siracha hot sauce in a glass of Kombucha. The Kombacha. Bam. Delicious, tangy, perfect for the summer.
Oliver Houser is a writer, composer, actor and recent graduate of the Macaulay Honors Program at Hunter College, NY. His musical, Held Momentarily, ran at the 2014 NY International Fringe Festival, and was one of a small selection of shows to receive an extended run at the Fringe’s Off-Broadway "Encores" series at the SoHo Playhouse. Tony-winning composer Bill Finn has showcased Oliver’s work at Barrington Stage Company and 54 Below. Oliver’s short musical, Preschool, was a finalist at the Festival of New American Musicals’ 2013 Show Search competition. His musical adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull debuted at the On the Verge Theater Festival in Glasgow, Scotland in 2014. Oliver is currently developing new work with the Musical Theatre Factory and is a member of the BMI musical theatre workshop. Acting credits include "Melchior" in Spring Awakening (Virginia Rep, RTCC nomination), TV: What Would You Do? (ABC, featured on unworthy), Phowned (Spike TV), Life on the Line (Oxygen, starring Ally Sheedy), and the lead role in the Ben Folds Five music video "Sky High." Oliver is a graduate of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Performing Arts and was awarded the Franklin Keller Award in recognition of talent in 2011.