Joel Dinicola wrote, directed, and co-produced a musical titled “Conventional Musical” this past August at the Edmonton Fringe Festival. This is his story.
Macalan: How did you meet the composer?
Joel: I met Preston in Drama 149 in Caroline’s Haworth’s class. We did our final project together, and we made into a musical with a couple other people in 2014. It was skeleton-scripted: we wrote the songs and then improvised for all the parts in between. It kind of had the bones for what “Conventional Musical” turned into. It was kind of postmodern, kind of nudging and winking and the audience the whole time. And then he approached me after that and asked if I wanted to actually write something rather than just improvising, and I said yes. I’ve always wanted to write a musical; he’s good at music, and I’m an okay writer.
Was the Edmonton Fringe always plan A?
Yes, the plan was always to write it for one act festivals, and if it went well, modify it for the Fringe the following year. And we agreed that it did, so we decided to move forward with it. So there were really three steps to this. First it was the skeleton script, then it turned into “Apathy” that was put on a Caroline’s Carnival, and finally “Conventional Musical.”
What have been the biggest changes from “Apathy” to “Conventional Musical”?
“Apathy” had a lot more to do with apathy and the whole millennial Aesthetic and energy and not really caring about world events or about our own lives. In “Conventional Musical”, that was shed less for theme and more for jokes about breaking the fourth wall and musicals themselves.
What was Concordia’s role in the production?
Concordia has been totally instrumental to the dramaturgy and the production in general: they’ve let us rent their space, they have given us professional insight, and Randy Ritz and Caroline Haworth have given me tips and encouragement to actually pursue putting it in the Fringe. Concordia has been absolutely necessary for this production. Concordia gave me space to make mistakes and create things in a low-pressure environment, which I think is very important for creators of art. Artists need to be able to fail safely, so you can then learn how to succeed.
In “Apathy” you had a very different cast than in “Conventional Musical”. Did that help to evolve the show?
A different cast? Yeah, I think so. There are quite a few differences within the characters, and obviously, two actors or not going to play a character the same way at all. I think that if we had retained a majority of the cast, there would have been threads that remained from “Apathy” that might have strengthened it yet might’ve not been what I wanted. Having a fresh set of eyes to look at this new version was positive. I feel like the roots are the same, but the leaves are a lot different, so having new actors to water those leaves is nice.
You’re not in a class, you’re at The Fringe. What’s that like?
Yeah, it does feel a lot more high-risk. I try to remind myself that it’s still low-stakes: if we fail, we get a bad review and we can move on. The challenges of classes versus the real world is like administrative problems. Keeping communication lines open with The Fringe Administration, meeting deadlines–it is reminiscent of meeting deadlines for classes, but in classes, you do a lot more fun kind of creative work. You get to do deep dives into characters and things like that. You still do that on your own time here, it’s just that getting the sheets signed and getting the posters made in time is scarier and kind of more boring. Yeah, I like the artistic side; it’s more interesting, but both are necessary.
What advice would you give to a freshman writer/director?
Just write. You’re not going to make something good for a long time. Lots of writers say that. Lin-Manuel Miranda is active on twitter saying just how much you have to write before you get something good, and I think that’s definitely true. Don’t be afraid of putting on the things that are mediocre, because during those processes, you learn so much more by doing rather than theorizing. Directing is like spinning plates: trying to get the art department, the actors, and the stage management on the same page. You’re the facilitator they all have to go through, and you can’t know what that’s like until you’re actually doing it.