When Evan Johnson and Socks Whitmore took a class together at the California Institute of Arts in fall 2017, they started working on a final project centering on composing multiple original songs.
But outlining what would become an original musical of their creation ended up being a lot of fun and quite inspiring, they said.
Now, in just a matter of days, the pair will see their work from over a year and a half ago come to fruition for the first time.
The musical, “We Are Here,” will have its free premiere Feb. 2 at 5 p.m. at the Wild Beast Hall on CalArts’ campus.
The show revolves around a guidance counselor named Valerie and the four students she works with. Each scene, set in Valerie’s office, depicts the characters explaining events going on in their lives that eventually have an impact on themselves and Valerie, Whitmore said.
“It takes place over the year in this high school, and it’s speaking to how issues of mental health, sexual assault and trauma are relevant in an educational setting,” said Whitmore, a sophomore.
Johnson, a senior, said the songs came together originally because of the composition class, but were further staged in a workshop for another class.
“We used that as testing ground for finding out if this idea would actually work, and we decided it would,” he said. “From there, we put in the intense work on developing the rest of the show starting in the summer.”
Much of the show’s content was inspired by real-life interviews Whitmore and Johnson held with CalArts students.
Their frank, vulnerable testimonies provided a framework for them to create a storyline for “We Are Here.”
“We interviewed multiple people who have different mental health conditions or are experienced with it,” Whitmore said. “And those helped inform our creative process in terms of what things people wanted the show to address.”
“We saw commonalities between the things we asked people and the answers,” Johnson said.
The pair said the show, unlike other musicals, is conceptually more like a play with songs than one would typically think of for a Broadway show.
“It is a pretty small cast,” Johnson said. “It feels more like a chamber piece, about very few characters and focuses on their relationships.”
Whitmore said every song comments on an emotional point and was very intentional.
“You should only use music as a function to achieve what dialogue can’t and advance the plot,” they said.
The CalArts campus is located at 24700 McBean Parkway in Valencia.