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As Years Go By – The Original Cast tackles Shifting Identity Through Time

Posted by on Monday, April 3, 2017 in 1010 blog posts, Blog posts.

When my director, Logan Keller, called me to notify me of the set list, I was sitting in Alumni Hall, clad with a jar of nutella, trying to crank out a paper for my Endocrinology class. I picked up the call, ecstatic to have a distraction, and quickly was notified that I was not only going to be playing a pregnant character in the upcoming Original Cast show, but that I was going to be playing a pregnant character while tap dancing. I laughed in the middle of the silent room – thinking, truly, he was kidding. However, to my utter surprise, three months later, I found myself sporting an oh-so fluffy baby bump in tap shoes, literally getting lifted through the second act of the Original Cast’s As Years Go By with a smile plastered across my face. “Me and My Baby,” indeed. Emma: 0, Logan:1.

Despite its comedic (reference above) and musical strengths, As Years Go By presented many logistical plot challenges for the cast and crew. Behind the scenes, it was simple to understand the transitions many of us helped bring to life. The concept? 14 humans, male and female, representing just about every body type possible (literally, hence baby bump), all portraying one gender-ambiguous character, Casey, who also happens to narrate their earlier memories throughout the show from later in time. Easy to follow, right? Difficult logistically as well as conceptually, numerous strategies were employed to communicate the message.

To research the task, Keller (alongside Producer, Becca Weires) watched various films where multiple actors portrayed similar characters. Freaky Friday (both the 1979 Jodie Foster version, as well as the 2003 Jamie Lee Curtis version) provided particular shape to the planning. Pulling from the films, Keller advised all the actors to acquire certain specialized tics – hand twitches, walking styles, as well as certain facial responses – which remained consistent across actors playing Casey regardless of their age and progression throughout the show. Additionally, the film It’s a Boy Girl Thing (2006, with Samare Armstrong and Kevin Zeger) proved particularly helpful, as its characters swapped gender identities – a process with which the entire cast had to familiarize themselves. From there, Keller relied on a series of directing and design techniques to further the plot point of one character shifting through the stages of their life. Just as in The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime, strong choices by Director and Producer (executed by actors and a stellar design team) proved absolutely crucial in bringing the show to three-dimensional life.

For starters, costuming choices underscored actors’ identity as main character Casey. Each person, while playing Casey, wore royal blue garments – be they shirts, dresses, suit coats, etc. – to communicate their transitional status as protagonist. While playing additional characters – girlfriends, friends, parents, or extras – a wide range of other costuming colors were selected. Additionally, characters playing the narrator version of Casey (again, an older Casey, looking back on memories of his/her youth), wore the same royal blue T-shirt with a black suit jacket on top, conveying their specific unity as one “phase” of Casey’s identity. Costume director Kristen Barnes truly had her hands full, responsible for 8-10 costume changes per actor.

Additionally, spoken word scenes between musical numbers served to connect various plotlines, communicating the unified character’s message. The first spoken word involved various Casey figures stating their places in time, with the narrator literally weaving through actors as she reflects (from her status, later in time) to connect the dots. To close the scene, each character on stage (as well as unseen chorus members, offstage) emphatically stated the phrase, “I’m Casey” – relaying that they are all playing one human, aging in and out of life events. As the show progresses, various Casey characters state their soliloquies through time, covering major transitions from Puberty to Pregnancy to Mid-life Crisis. Through these clear verbal cues written by the entire cast, the audience absorbs that Casey is one character, growing through their life. Subtle clue lines (i.e., chorus members referring to the various blue actors by the name Casey) also framed the piece by directly outlining which character was meant to be which.

Furthermore, lyrical choices / rewrites and song development, solidified by Keller and Weires, served to frame the passage of time. By arranging song choices chronologically, audience members were encouraged quickly to expect the linear passage of time. Beginning with “Kindergarten Love Song” (the childhood phase), moving through “Michael in the Bathroom” (puberty / adolescence), “Seventeen” (adolescence), “Fly Into the Future” (college), “9 to 5” (adulthood), “Always Starting Over” (midlife crisis), and ending with “Everything Changes” and “Holding On” (growing older) to name a few, the clear arc of time represented made logistical sense.

Additionally, slight modifications to lyrics underscored plot choices, subtly nudging the audience towards practical conclusions regarding the passage of time. For instance, during the scene of the show where the Casey character caught up to the narrator’s age (“Always Starting Over”), lyrics sang by the narrator to the Casey character, such as “I Know You, I Am You” represented the shift / meshing of character without deviating extensively from original lyrical intentions.

Finally, Keller’s staging choices served to underscore the passage of time, incorporating set as well as blocking to develop predictable time passage patterns. Casey characters entered and exited extremely deliberately throughout the show, maximizing meaning associated with stage right and stage left. This choice, though small, framed movement as if audience members were watching a dynamic, moving panorama. Moreover, the physical set (a skewed, four stair staircase, rising across the stage) was also utilized to align with specific points in time. Young Casey remained often on lower “stairs” on the set, as older Casey (and the narrator) localized closer to the other, higher end of the stairs. These choices, albeit slight, contributed to a larger metaphor regarding the passage of time in Casey’s life.

Consequently, As Years Go By represented a dramatic reflection regarding the roller coaster of time, completely aging one human in the blink of ~two hours~. As a Senior completing her last vocal performance before graduating, I couldn’t have related more to the tragic ending of the show, singing backup vocals offstage to “Everything Changes,” subtly ignoring the fact that a) I am graduating in a month and b) I was never going to be onstage with this wacky group of theater geeks again. Why did this show come about? Likely because Keller, and Weires, the masterminds, also fall into the dismal category of the Class of 2017. As they illustrated the concept for As Years Go By, they both actively reflected on their college experiences, facing the future (or, “Flying Into their Futures”) as their lives sped forward through their final semester on campus. Why now? Keller and Weires certainly felt emotionally attached enough to Vanderbilt to write a show about aging and ultimately leaving it.

Dr. Jim Lovensheimer, the faculty advisor for the group, provided the note during a rehearsal that the show’s success intrinsically coupled to its relatability. Every person in the audience, as well as those onstage, ages – setting the scene (if you would pardon the pun) for a microcosm for their daily lives. Everyone can relate to having a crush in preschool, having a bad time at a party, finding “Simple Joys” in working your “9 to 5” job, and having a Midlife Crisis during the attempt to find a “Purpose.” Though the actors shifted identity with each number, the character, Casey, didn’t disappear at all. Both the actors on stage as well as the members of the audience embodied Casey, an ever-aging, ever-changing human, struggling for success, satisfaction, and happiness.

Consequently, As Years Go By wasn’t just put on by 14 actors, a phenomenal musical quartet, nor a run crew of diligent rockstars. As Years Go By didn’t end on March 25th. On the contrary – As Years Go By continues to play each and every day, with each actor and audience member growing older, slipping into a new skin, and assuming a new identity as time passes by. All that’s missing, in the real world? A royal blue T-shirt.


Works Cited –

Freaky Friday. Dir Gary Nelson. Perf. Jodie Foster. DVD. Walt Disney Productions, 1976.

Freaky Friday. Dir Mark Waters. Perf. Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsey Lohan. DVD. Walt Disney Productions, 2003.

It’s a Boy Girl Thing. Dir. Nick Hurran. Perf. Samare Armstrong, Kevin Zeger. DVD. Icon Entertainment International, 2006.

Keller, Logan. Personal Interview. 30 Mar 2017.

Lunden, Jeff. “The Unadaptable ‘Curious Incident’ Gets A Stage Adaptation.” NPR. 7 Oct 2014. 30 Mar 2017 <http://www.npr.org/2014/10/07/354139148/the-unadaptable-curious- incident-gets-a-stage-adaptation>.

7 Comments on “As Years Go By – The Original Cast tackles Shifting Identity Through Time”

I admire the depth of analysis this essay provides, attending to the smallest of details and reflecting on how they relate to broader themes of “As Years Go By”. One particularly striking aspect of the production is the varying choreography as the main character, Casey, ages through time. While the choreography of “When I Grow Up,” the opening number, conveys child-like movements, the dancing becomes more provocative during “Raise the Roof”, which takes place at a college party. Perhaps the most memorable movement occurs during the performance of “9 to 5”. At one point, three separate circles form stage left, stage right, and stage middle. As the performers dance in unison, rotating places around the circle, the mechanical choreography gives the appearance of gears turning in a machine, which represents Casey’s dissatisfaction with going through the motions of his/her life. This essay clearly highlights the societal relevance of this production; namely, all audience members are aging and searching for happiness. The story of Casey, who unsuccessfully seeks his/her happiness in the next relationship, the next achievement, or the next job reveals a powerful truth— one cannot place one’s fulfillment in the future, but rather must find joy in the present.

Jeremy Leganski on April 6th, 2017 at 2:55 pm

The depth this essay goes into is a blessing and curse. One really gets to understand the play before even seeing. I think it was well done specifically when it goes in depth about the main character “Casey” is going through life in different stages and its up to the audience about which stage of life it is. I was confused there for a little bit but once understood the play was enjoyable. It totally keeps the audience engaged the whole time with little clues here and there to eventually tie it altogether at the end. Another valid point brought about is the aging of life and putting into relatable situations. As many of us are approaching graduation and entering the real world this play puts it all into perspective. Very well done

Shawn Stankavage on April 6th, 2017 at 4:47 pm

I agree with Jeremy that this essay by Emma, provides a very thorough analysis of the themes of Original Cast’s “As Years Go By.” I would like to emphasize the spoken word scenes between sets that provided an emotional connection and served as a platform to address the unified characters message.

As Emma stated, the initial spoken word involved various Casey figures stating their places in time, with the narrator literally weaving through actors as she reflects (from her status, later in time) to connect the dots. Also at the conclusion of the scene, each character on stage (as well as unseen chorus members, offstage) emphatically clearly expressed the phrase, “I’m Casey” – restating the fact that they are all playing one person, aging in and out of life events. I admire this part of the play because it truly expresses the title of “As Years Goes By.”

To reiterate what Emma, I enjoy the fact that throughout the play, as the Casey characters declare their soliloquies, I too believe that this is powerful as the transition from puberty, to pregnancy and then on to mid-life crisis is all included.

Similar to Jeremy, I believe that this essay calls attention to the fact that everyone is in search of their own individual happiness. In regards to Casey, the main lesson that I believe she has learned that she must be live in the now and find any happiness she can in the present instead of anticipating for it in the future because she could come up short once again.

Nifae Lealao on April 6th, 2017 at 5:15 pm

While I agree with Emma Noyes’ ideas that The Original Cast’s production of As Years Go By portrays the struggles of identity change through time and that its plot is very relatable to the world today and current students at Vanderbilt, I disagree that the execution of the strategies used to communicate the production’s plot and message were successful. As the year is coming to an end at Vanderbilt, and students are trying to figure out their summer or post-graduation plans, many of us are reflecting on our lives thus far and our futures. We are also constantly changing as we learn more, meet more people, have new life events, and grow up—and it is not always a smooth process. Therefore, many Vanderbilt students right now can relate to Casey’s (played by all 14 members of The Original Cast) identity struggle and change. Also, the frequent change of Casey’s gender and activities associated with Casey’s gender allow the production to be relevant to today’s world where gender is at the center of societal discussion. For example, in one scene, Casey is as a girl reading storybooks. In another scene, Casey is a guy rushing a fraternity. In yet another scene, Casey’s gender remains ambiguous as Casey nervously departs for college. This allows the production to be relatable to men, woman, and even members of the gender non-conforming community. However, the execution of the strategies used to communicate the production’s plot and message were not successful. For example, despite the relatability of the gender ambiguity in the production, it was confusing that the actors portrayed Casey as a man and the actresses portrayed Casey as a woman, instead of the actors and actresses portraying Casey as a woman, the gender with which she identifies. In fact, throughout the entire production, the other audience members and I thought that Casey was two different people, or at least that the performers attempted to showcase the male version of Casey. Also, the meaning of the staging choices, like the placement of old Casey on stairs, looking down at young Casey placed closer to the floor, was not clear during the production, especially with the frequent change in performers playing old and young Casey. However, the music used in the production played a key role in helping the audience to follow the constant change in identity, and to making the production more relatable—taking songs like “How Far I’ll Go” and “9 to 5” that are well known and applying them to the context of Casey who is trying to find her place in the world, just like many of us at Vanderbilt regardless of our genders.

Delilah Bennett on April 6th, 2017 at 10:33 pm

Emma does a great job dissecting each stage of Casey’s life through music and diversity. She does a great job explaining how the director, Logan Keller, attempted to make the play relatable but however I completely agree with Delilah Bennet. Yes, the play is relatable in many instances such as the changing of life stages from childhood to an adult (although I have not experienced all of them). The use of fourteen actors and actresses that all play the same role is useful to connect to different audiences, but is not realistic because as Delilah said, Casey identifies as a woman, which makes turning her into a man unrealistic. Despite the fact, Logan Keller, does make a play that is easily relatable and displays many of the struggles that we students endure at Vanderbilt.

Regardless of whether or not the directors attempt at making the play relatable, I do believe that the play in itself was fantastic and unique. A play does not necessarily need to be realistic to carry an important message. The light blue worn by all of the actors was an interesting way to unite all of the actors regardless of gender and tell a story that could be applicable to someone’s life. Overall the play was great and its usage of fourteen characters, music, color, and time are all major factors in making this play so intriguing and teach the audience that the must live for the present as the future is unpredictable.

Peter Briggs on April 12th, 2017 at 9:43 am

The insight Emma offers into the creative process behind As Years Go By was quite interesting and gave me a greater appreciation for the performance that the Original Cast showcased. I would, however, like to disagree with Delilah’s assertions that the execution of plot was unsuccessful in the play.

While it is true that the fluidity of Casey’s gender was unrealistic throughout the play, in no way did I find that hindering my understanding of the play’s plot structure. As Emma stated, the actor/actress playing Casey was always wearing blue, and it was clear that they were playing “one” Casey throughout the course of the production. The fact that Casey’s gender “changed” throughout the course of the production was not meant to be a part of the plot per se, but was rather a way of making Casey’s character more relatable to everyone in the audience. The choice was more related to the play’s characterization as a presentational piece as opposed to representational.

As modern audiences, we are used to representational stage art, play that come as close as possible to mimicking realism and don’t acknowledge the audience. But the one exception to this is musical theatre. Musical performances are almost always presentational because people don’t go around singing and dancing in their normal lives. There is always an aspect of presentationalism in musical performance, even if it is not explicit, because the audience knows that the singing and dancing is for solely their own benefit, not the characters on the stage.

With this in mind, the changing gender of Casey was a metaphorical acknowledgement of an audience with a wide array of experiences and struggles. It was the production team’s way of saying “we know, we’ve been there” to an audience that was clearly very moved by the performance. Seeing this production made me want to go back to my childhood and grow up and start a family all at the same time. Before seeing As Years Go By, I thought it impossible to feel nostalgia for the future. I was very wrong.

Stephen Robinson on April 12th, 2017 at 10:38 am

In this essay, I think it was great when when it goes in depth about the main character “Casey” is going through life in different stages and events. To me it becomes a challenge for the audience to figure out which piece that may be. The play keeps the audience engaged the whole time It totally keeps the audience engaged the whole time with important clues. I think it was all well done and made a valid point

Chassity Carter on April 25th, 2017 at 1:31 pm

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