By Bryn Criddle
Rewind to November of 2017. Studying his Sophomore year at ASF, Jang Ho ‘Rick’ Sohn sits inspired at the piano. Circling his mind are the melodies for a collection of songs he dreams of developing into a musical production complete with cast, crew, and stage orchestra. No easy task. So he turns to friend and fellow student Sebastián Baca for creative support and together, they embark on a journey of turning a dream into reality.
On Saturday, April 27, that reality played out on the stage of the Ángeles Espinosa Yglesias Fine Arts Center with the premiere of Escape; ASF’s first student-created musical.
Set in the age of information hacking and digital network infiltration, Escape follows a group of impoverished 20-something year-olds as they conspire to transform their lives by stealing sensitive data from companies and politicians in order to get rich quick.
Creating a world where they [the characters] can feel comfortable was super exciting for us. Can we live in one of these grey areas where you can commit a criminal activity, but for a noble cause?” - Sebastián Baca
The lives of the leading characters evoke a distinct resemblance to hacking contemporaries like Julian Assange or Edward Snowden. It's also not a coincidence that many of the musical’s 13 tracks could be easily slotted into recent Broadway hit Hamilton. Rick says these were major influences in the compositional process and such references work well to give the work a legitimate pop culture currency.
Establishing relevance to younger generations was central to the boys’ decision to explore such a novel plot idea. “Creating a world where they can feel comfortable was super exciting for us”, Sebastián explains. He says that at its core, the work explores a moral haze that merges the black and white of right and wrong. “Can we live in one of these grey areas where you can commit a criminal activity, but for a noble cause?” With a running of time of over three hours, the boys dig deep to find out.
Now in their Senior year, Sebastián and Rick have become the artistic muses for younger students that they themselves were inspired by. Around the time of Escape’s inception, former faculty member Rob McCabe was detailing the finishing touches to his own debut musical Why Me. Rick recalls how watching the musical come to life convinced him to take his idea further. “Originally we wanted to perform it at Blue Moon,” an annual performing arts event organized by the Tech Club. But Escape was destined for something bigger.
The summer leading into their senior year, fellow student Jankel Gelman teamed with Sebastián and Rick to help develop the musical’s the plot and script. With the draft taking shape, the boys petitioned Chad Schwaberow, Head of Upper School, and authorization was given to begin production.
Incorporating the knowledge and skills they have learnt in the classroom and transferring them to real world situations legitimizes the learning process”. - Pearce Littler, MS teacher and Escape's Musical Director
The next stop was to meet with Teruhi Yoshioka, Cultural Affairs Coordinator, for logistical and artistic advice. “The most valuable thing was their enthusiasm”, she says. “It got a lot of people on board”. Despite an extremely tight time frame, Teruhi miraculously created space in the FAC’s hectic schedule and in doing so, granting the opportunity for the boys to realize their vision. In addition to contributing a wealth of support through artistic, production, and acting advice, Teruhi declares that “More than anything, I was their number one supporter and cheerleader”.
Consultation between Teruhi, Rick and Sebastián, along with fellow students María del Río and Mateo Pisinger led to the decision to use a Black Box stage setup in performances. Having the orchestra situated at the rear of the stage meant that scenes were played out toward the front, with the cast sat on benches surrounding the actors. Working with a stripped back, simple stage design proved effective in augmenting the intimacy of the performance.
What began with Rick and Sebastián writing the play together ultimately evolved into a truly collaborative project, where each cast member contributed ideas and suggestions for the final script and lyrics. The participation of over 50 students, staff and faculty exhibited the true capacity of the school’s Performing Arts community to produce such an ambitious project.
Rick recalls seeking out the expertise of Middle School faculty member Pearce Littler to coach him through conceptualizing his musical ideas into workable scores. “One of the main challenges for me was adjusting the compositions to cater for each instrument and musician”. With some songs still not notated only two weeks before opening, Pearce’s wealth of experience as a musician and conductor was invaluable in meeting the tight deadlines.
Having a group of students develop an idea and take action to bring it to life is a powerful example of true IB learning and a fantastic initiative by all involved”. - Olivia Maekawa, Performing Arts Coordinator
Reflecting on his involvement as the Escape’s Musical Director, Pearce says he is most impressed by the project for being completely student driven. “Incorporating the knowledge and skills they have learnt in the classroom and transferring them to real world situations legitimizes the learning process”.
Everywhere you turn, a multitude of contributors have lent their support to ensure that Escape could come to life. An elaborate lighting design programmed by FAC stalwart Hugo Cabrera and ASF alumni José Herrera on the very day of performance complemented the action on stage beautifully. In addition, the unwavering commitment from parents and families led by the generous assistance of Trustee, Rosa Pisinger, was invaluable support for all involved.
Those outside the ASF institution were equally inspired to lend assistance. School vendor, Federico Anaya, says upon hearing of the students’ creativity and love of theatre, he immediately told Teruhi “Count me in, tell me what you need and it’s yours”. What arrived was an equipment rental donation of nearly $100,000.00 MXN in robotic lighting, microphones, a 90-channel sound board, a haze machine and the work of a sound engineer and two audio technicians.
Being satisfied in one’s own work and being open to the processes of creative collaboration was important in allowing the story to come across clearly”. - Sebastián Baca
Performing Arts Coordinator, Olivia Maekawa, who was also a member of the stage orchestra, says that Escape has been a fantastic initiative which is truly IB in its realization. “Having a group of students develop an idea and take action to bring it to life is a powerful example of true IB learning and a fantastic initiative by all involved”.
Both Rick and Sebastián talk about the personal growth that has come from striving to achieve such ambitious goals. For Rick, he has learned how to better time manage and communicate musical ideas more clearly with colleagues. Sebastián concludes that “being satisfied in one’s own work and being open to the processes of creative collaboration was important in allowing the story to come across clearly”.
Escape is a project that has traveled a long, and at times bumpy road. But for all of its challenges, it now shines as a powerful example of the creative rewards that spring from educational programs and institutions which foster independant, student centered learning. As for Rick and Sebastián, they’re grateful for seeing what began as a simple melody at a piano become a truly collaborative achievement for the whole ASF community.
For all involved, it's time to take a deep breath, and savor the fruits of their laurels. For Sebastián and Rick, it's time to remind themselves still have senior exams to prepare for. “Today’s the first time I can remember taking the 2:30 p.m. bus home”, Sebastián admits. An early escape at last.
Story by: Jang Ho "Rick" Sohn, Sebastián Baca, Yankel Gelman
Music & Lyrics by: Jang Ho "Rick" Sohn
Script by: Sebastián Baca
Director: María del Río
Musical Director: Pearce Littler
Artistic Advisor: Teruhi Yoshioka
Stage Manager: Mateo Pisinger
Light Design: Hugo Cabrera & Jos Herrera
Audio: Manuel Fagoaga
Costume Coordinator: Natasha Ciboulet
Choreographer: Pablo Gómez
Graphic Design: Alexander Farrell
- Sebastián Baca
- Diego Ortega
- Elise Lefler
- Julia Kuribreña
- Alejandra Díaz-Pizarro
- Chloe Roman
- Melanie Rimi
- Rodolfo Bonilla
- Sofía Gurrola
- Ana Cristina Reyes
- Mikel Ibarra
- Eugenio Robles
- Romina Treviño
- Teruhi Yoshioka
- Austin Farwell
- Rosanna Cesarman
- Mateo Pisinger
- María del Río
- Alexander Farrell
- Isabela Farrell
- Arantza Moreno
- Julia de la Fontaine
- Juliana Romero
- Alan Lask
- Sofia Sabogal
- Carlos Mejía
- Hugo Cabrera
- Jos Herrera
- Manuel Fagoaga
- Natasha Ciboulet
- Pablo Gómez
- Angelique Ariza
- Isa Cabal
- Teruhi Yoshioka
- Pearce Littler
- Rick Sohn
- Luis Betancourt
- Owen Xu Li
- Sofía Hidalgo
- Alex Hidalgo
- Emma Tebben
- Sofía Blasquez
- Jeong-In Lee
- Emiliano Albores
- Benjamin Tomczak
- Christopher Muller
- Regina Rivas
- Ji-Soo Lee
- Olivia Maekawa