“One Day,” a powerful new musical about the complicated lives of young people, will open Thursday at Lower Manhattan’s 3-Legged Dog (3LD) Art and Technology Center. “It’s about all the issues facing teenagers today, from bullying to drug abuse to sexual awakening,” says Michael Sottile, who wrote the score and book for “One Day,” as well as co-directing.
Mr. Sottile’s approach to writing “One Day” was fact-based, rather than the product of his imagination. “All of the stories are drawn between 300 and 400 diaries and journals, written by real teenagers, that I gathered over the last decade,” he recalls. Some of these journals were submitted to him online, while “others came to me after I went to schools and asked guidance counselors to request students to supply me with things they had written about their lives, along with permission to use the material, anonymously.”
This approach in some ways mirrors that of “A Chorus Line,” the classic 1970s musical that drew inspiration from the tape-recorded life stories of dozens of real-life Broadway dancers. But in the case of “One Day,” the material is deeper, and sometimes darker. “This is not a storybook musical,” Mr. Sottile observes, “but a collage of moments in multiple lives. It’s more like a conversation than a narrative.”
“The themes are universal, even when the situations are not,” he reflects. “For example, in a passage that looks at sexual abuse, even people like me, who have not been victims, can relate to the dilemma of a naive individual seeking love, but finding the wrong kind, with the wrong person.”
But while some vignettes spring from a process that it equal parts investigative and inventive, others are more purely autobiographical. “Most of the journals I used had passages about bullying,” reflects Mr. Sottile, “but about three quarters of the scene focused on this theme come from my life, growing up in West Hartford, Connecticut. I used as a jumping off point material from the journal of a boy whose mother used to dress him as a girl, which didn’t happen to me. But the interaction with abusive peers is based on a reality that I lived with on a daily basis for years. One of the ways I got through it was feeling horrible for these kids who were doing this to me, because there was no way they could have been happy. I remember thinking that nobody that cruel can possibly be enjoying life.” The empathy that Mr. Sottile brings to the song in this scene, “Growing Dimmer,” and the characters who populate it, suffuses the entire show.
“We don’t offer answers,” he explains, “because raising the questions is more important. But even when the show moves in a dark direction, it never lets go of the light, and always comes out hopeful on the other side.”
The format of the production takes full advantage of technical capabilities at 3LD, which was consciously designed as a multimedia performance space. This is a sharp contrast to more traditional theaters, which, for example, require retrofitting for video screens. At 3LD, this translates into the opportunity for online posts written by the characters appearing on screens alongside as the stage as they are typed. “We use social media as both a theme and a prism to capture all the complexity and nuance of the lives of teenagers,” notes Mr. Sottile.
“One Day,” which has been in previews at 3LD since February 7, will continue its pre-opening run tomorrow (Wednesday), then formally premiere on Thursday (February 19), beginning a limited engagement that is slated to continue through March 1. “3LD is on the approach path to Broadway,” says Mr. Sottile, “and there are a number of possibilities for where the show could go next. But I’m hoping it stays here in New York for a while.”
3LD is located at 80 Greenwich Street (between Rector and Greenwich Streets). Performances of “One Day” are scheduled for 7:00 pm on Mondays, and 8:00 pm on Wednesday through Sunday, along with matinees (at 3:00 pm) on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information or to purchase tickets, click HERE. To contact 3LD, please call 212-645-0374.