This Musical Theater Is Part of the Solution to Environmental Problems
Mark Durstewitz, the vice president and creative director for MadElf Arts and Education, discovered the power of music to spread a message when he wrote a rock musical about divorce that resonated with audiences.
Or the past two decades, he’s been applying his skills to create and share a musical that encourages discussion about the environment. The story is about a farm sitting atop the last clean, freshwater aquifer and the intrigue around the fight over it.
By sharing the musical in schools, he’s helping the next generation to develop skills in understanding and discussion difficult environmental issues.
Interview with Mark A. Durstewitz, the VP/Creative Director of MadElf Arts and Education, Inc.
The following is the pre-interview with Mark A. Durstewitz. Be sure to watch the recorded interview above.
For-profit/Nonprofit: 501(c)3 Nonprofit
Revenue model: Donations, investors, crowdfunding, ticket sales, curriculum (future)
Scale: We are small. Just the two of us, plus those hired during production.
What is the problem you solve and how do you solve it?
Awareness and the need for change. We are all witness to the power of a great story, expertly told. “Artists are Society’s Immune System.”
More about MadElf Arts and Education, Inc:
MadElf Arts and Education is a 501(3)C in North Carolina and is a sister company to MadElf Productions, LLC. We write, record and produce rock musicals depicting stories that are relevant in today’s world. Our current project, Water, Inc., is about the woman who owns the farm on top of the last clean freshwater aquifer, the name who owns the company that wants the water and the terrible secret they share.
We’re going to take this show to colleges, get the kids involved in the production, and bring environmental groups in to help the kids get organized in defense of their future.
We are also in the process of writing a curriculum for middle school through high school students which will make the connections between government lobbying and the current state of our lack of climate action. It will also show the kids that they have recourse protected in various ways by the Constitution.
Mark A. Durstewitz. Photo Credit: Craig Reynolds
Mark A. Durstewitz’s bio:
The Origin of MadElf Productions.
MadElf formed during the writing and recording of Madmen and Dreamers’ first project; The Children of Children, a story about a father who refused to divorce his kids. Mark began writing the music and lyrics in February of 1991 and began gathering the gear to start testing the music and arrangements shortly thereafter.
In early 1995, he began looking for a female vocalist who could help with the two female characters in the story. Through a close friend, he found Christine Hull who jumped at the chance to get in on the ground floor of an unusual and promising concept.
They hit it off personally and professionally and continued to write and rewrite the show. They formed MadElf Productions, Inc. as both a publishing and production company in 1997 and finished the writing of The Children of Children that same year. Recording the double album began shortly thereafter.
They originally started recording in Mark and Chris’ apartment. You can do that if you’re a keyboard player and a singer. You can work mostly under headphones. It became a problem when they tried to record bass and drums. The landlord threatened eviction and they scrambled for a working space, finding one quickly and continuing the recording there.
The recording and mixing processes were an exercise in adaptation and problem-solving. Where they came up short technologically, they either found a way to get the needed gear or found a good result without it. Mark became really adept at the entire recording process, finding himself extremely comfortable in their growing digital studio.
Once the double CD was mixed, mastered and duplicated, they started giving them away. They told everyone that the double CDs were “. . . very expensive business cards. Give them away.” They started sending out CDs for reviews and indie and college radio play, all over the world.
The response was breathtaking. The reviews were really good and the album enjoyed terrestrial indie and web play, as well as some major market web and terrestrial airplay. They had attempted to hit a nerve with the subject and succeeded.
They toured The Children of Children regionally (as the band, Madmen and Dreamers) in the NY/NJ area, playing all or part of the show at venues including The Windsor Theater (premier), 12 Miles West (NJ), Kenny’s Castaways (NYC) and Merkin Concert Hall (NYC) before landing a limited off-Broadway run at The Bleeker Street Theater in NYC during the winter and spring of 2008 and 2009.
While they were touring The Children of Children, they were writing. They wanted the next story to address a theme as well, so they picked water scarcity and its evil twin; climate change.
Originally, the story was to take place in the near future, but for a chance conversation with the International Coordinator of World Hunger Year. He told them that the story was taking place in the present day, all over the world. Not only was the world losing freshwater resources to the warming climate, but large corporations were buying up as much freshwater they could, bottling it and selling it back to consumers at a premium price. It was despicable and it was all backed up by hard data.
The story went through a bunch of readings with actors in NYC and each time they tweaked and tightened and refined it. Once they had the script where they wanted it, they began to write the music.
What came out was powerful, haunting and darkly humorous in turns. An epic, hard-hitting story with hard-hitting music that propels the audience to the brink of a civil war.
They brought MadElf Productions, LLC and its shows to beautiful North Carolina in the spring of 2017 to be closer to family (where they also opened MadElf Arts and Education). They plan on touring Water, Inc., starting in the southeast, while writing and recording the next show.
And, there are more stories to come. (for more info, google the band name: madmen and dreamers)
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