If you have yet to hear of Oceanborn, chances are you know someone who has liked their Instagram page or has come across them on YouTube. This new musical, showcased at 54 Below, has a huge fan base online, and will be performed in the upcoming new Off-Broadway Rave Theater Festival. The writers of Oceanborn, Mhairi Cameron and Morgan Smith, are changing the ways of how musical theatre is done. These young female writers decided one day that they would like to write a musical together and so they did just that. They took six days to plan in which they read some good books on how to write a musical and did research on their chosen musical topic. Then Morgan and Mhairi spent ten days sitting side by side in the living room, on the carpet, writing the book and songs. Everything flows very well in the musical because Morgan was creating plot points at the same time that Mhairi was strumming a new song on the guitar. At the end of the ten days creating, they had a new show which they titled Oceanborn.
The inspiration behind the musical comes from an article that they read about how the bones of warriors were falsely assumed to be men just because they were revered warriors. These bones were misgendered for a couple of decades and were discovered as actually being women warriors. Mhairi explained that this misgendering stems from an “assumption that white affluent men are the standard and you either fall below that standard or you reach it. If you fall below that standard, then you have to make up for it by being even more impressive or successful than a white rich man to be recognized or respected in your field. That goes for viking warriors that lived thousands of years ago and for us who live in 2019 as young creators.” Morgan continued, "Viking women probably had more respect or rights than we do now. They had full rights to prosecute and punish men that sexually assaulted or harassed them. They had rights that women in the United States did not get until this last century.”
Mhairi and Morgan are not only changing the landscape of musical theatre but are also changing how musical theatre is done in terms of marketing. The first thing that they did once they finished the musical was to create social media accounts. Oceanborn marked the start of their social media accounts around April 4th, 2018 and then Mhairi and Morgan were able to begin releasing snippets of the songs and posting about the characters. This allowed the musical to take a life of its own before even reaching a stage. Mhairi remarked that, “Social media was the easiest way to take this product and make it into a realized, actualized creation because I think that the problem with creating musicals is it is really hard to get it anywhere. The average process from writing to first staging is seven years so your average musical theatre writer will create with their collaborators and it exists in their head and on paper but nobody actually knows about it. Taking it to social media was a way to start bringing it into the real world and see its effects on people.” Oceanborn now has over 10,000 followers on Instagram and a large fan base on other social media platforms.
How to get to 54 Below? Not “practice, practice, practice,” though that is certainly still important to the performance. The answer: emails. “I started hunting down people’s emails online and sending them demos of the songs and telling them who we are. Shockingly enough, 54 Below emailed us back telling us that they were interested and then the booking agent hired us. It was very wild for a shot in the dark email to work like that,” stated Morgan. 54 Below was interested in the large fanbase aspect that Morgan and Mhairi had created. It just so happens that industry people showed up as well to the concert including Valerie Novakoff, one of the executive directors of the Rave Theater Festival.
Morgan and Mhairi are unique to show business. They are young female writers, just on the cusp of their early twenties. They are the first of their generation to start writing so they get to set the stage for how their generation (Gen Z) is going to create musicals. Show business in New York is very insular so when you are new it can be very hard to break in. Morgan articulated that, “trying to break into a male dominated industry is hard. We have shown that we are financially viable and we have proven time and time again that we are a good investment. Still, some people won’t give us the time of day which they would give a male with the same accomplishments.” Mhairi noted that in dealing with the patriarchy, “there is not really a way to exist in a purely feminine way if you are going to be successful and make it in this industry. You have to be a bit ruthless and say what you want and need. Men do that all the time and sometimes you have to respond in the same way that they would. The other thing we are trying to do is create conversation about these topics in the industry.” Morgan emphasized that, “we also need to acknowledge that we are not women of color so we do not face the same obstacles that a woman of color would face. We hope that, as things become easier for us and we are more accepted, we start to see more and more girls rising up and taking the place of male writers and directors so when it comes to women of color in the industry, we need to be mindful, sit down and listen to them.”
The upcoming production at the Rave Theater Festival is the first time that Oceanborn is going to be fully staged. The writers are most excited to work with actors, take an objective third party viewing perspective, and improve with rewrites as needed. Mhairi said, “It will also be incredible to get to see Oceanborn as it should be. Theatre is not a finished product once you finish writing. Theatre is an art form that you are making in the hypothetical before it goes onstage. You can’t understand what a show is really about and how it works until you actually see it onstage.” Morgan added that, “There are a million different variables completely outside your control that the audience bring and the actors bring and it will be really cool to see what Oceanborn should be, not just what we imagined it as.”
Oceanborn is currently in rehearsals for the Rave Theater Festival. Here is the kickstarter to help fund this project that is changing the future of musical theater: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1672304428/oceanborn-musical-premiere
To buy tickets for the Rave Theater Festival performances, please visit http://ravetheaterfestival.com/tickets-and-passes/