Local musical takes on reality

“Pier 1.0: Staging Reality” celebrates Pier One Theatre’s 50th birthday

“Pier 1.0: Staging Reality” is a new musical composed and written by Homer musician David Webster. It opened at Pier One Theatre on the Spit for the first weekend on Aug. 24 and will be performed for a second weekend starting on the evening of Sept. 1.

Webster moved back to Homer a few years ago and joined the Pier One Theatre 50th anniversary committee this year.

The rest of the members of the committee suggested he write a musical for the anniversary year, Webster said.

He was hesitant because in the other musicals he composed, he said, he also directed and he knew he wouldn’t have time to do that this summer and commit to being at the theater for weeks of rehearsal.

The committee wanted the show to be a tribute to Pier One Theatre and Lance Petersen who passed away in 2023, but without making the content so localized that people from outside of the community wouldn’t understand the storyline of the show, Webster said.

Webster participated in the first show on the current Pier One stage in 1986, “The Drunkard,” helping with carpentry work and getting the new theater ready for production as it had just moved from the original Pier One location closer to Land’s End on the Spit.

His wife, Annie Webster, was also involved in acting in many of the early shows, while David was more involved in the musical components.

At some point Webster mentioned to Petersen, founder and original director of the theater, that he would be interested in writing an original musical.

Petersen encouraged him and he wrote two, “On the Road” in 1993 and later the “Electric Rolaids Antacid Test.” He also composed the music for Shirley Timmerick’s “When the Poppies Are in Bloom in Hidden Hills.” All of these were performed at Pier One Theatre, according to Webster.

He agreed to compose something for the anniversary of the theater this year if someone else would direct it.

“I originally talked to Val Sheppard about this. We talked through an idea for the show and I started writing songs for it. For a musical, at least for me, the songs come first and then the text is built to explain the songs,” Webster said.

The first plot idea that came up was to have a reality show come in to town and create conflict with the community so that they’d have a story to tell. The next component that came up was the reality show people investing in cryptocurrency.

“Then the idea related to artificial intelligence came up and I went online and looked at ChatGPT and asked the website to write a song about iambic pentameter in iambic pentameter. It was terrible, but it was there,” Webster said.

“Finally, the entire underlying theme turned into ‘what makes something real.’ Reality shows aren’t ‘real’ but neither is theater, so, what qualifies as ‘real’ communication?” Webster said.

Webster started working on the script in January 2023 and director Laura Norton needed the script around June 1. At that point the only music available was the lead sheets, or as Webster explains, basically just notation of the tune and the chords.

“Keyboard player for the show, Karen Strid, took the lead sheets and arranged the piano accompaniment. Mark Robinson agreed to get the singers started and laying out the choral numbers and Laura Norton took what we had an ran with it,” Webster said.

The show is really about the importance of theater in community culture. It is a collaborative art that includes the playwright, the actors and the director. The audience is critical, too. “Without all of those components combined, there isn’t a show. That family and community building aspect is the most important thing I wanted to have in this show,” Webster said.

The cast includes many well-known and seasoned Pier One actors as well as newer and younger members of the Homer community. One particularly significant actor is Sascha Petersen who has the opportunity to play his father, Lance.

Final performances of “Pier 1.0: Staging Reality” will take place at Pier One Theatre on the Homer Spit on Sept. 1, 2 and 3 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the door or online at https://pieronetheatre.org/tickets.