'Fall Springs': A rocking musical with an 'apocalyptic theme'

New indie rock musical about fracking at BSC embraces the absurdity

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PITTSFIELD — Don't know what hydraulic fracturing, better known as "fracking," is? Let a song from Niko Tsakalakos and Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's new indie rock musical, "Fall Springs," explain.

"It's a process of drilling / by pumping and filling / fluid through cracks in the shale. / High-pressure injections / open new sections / where oil that's trapped can exhale," the opening to "Hydraulic Fracturing" goes.

The Act 1 tune epitomizes the play's satirical and scientific approach. Premiering through Aug. 31 at Barrington Stage Company's Boyd-Quinson Mainstage in Pittsfield, "Fall Springs" examines a fictional town desperate to capitalize on its reserve of cosmetic essential oils but destined for disaster by allowing fracking to cloud its environmental judgment.

"We both cared about climate change, and we both wanted to write a contemporary, fun, modern show," Tsakalakos said of working with Nachtrieb during a group interview with his collaborator and actress Alyse Alan Louis.

Prior to the project, Nachtrieb had a penchant for writing apocalyptic works, and Tsakalakos, who produced music and lyrics for the 2010 premiere of "Pool Boy" at BSC, had an indie rock background. Combining their talents, they were able to create a truly original concept.

"We can merge this apocalyptic theme with a rock score," Tsakalakos recalled of the musical's beginnings.

Tsakalakos and Nachtrieb also drew inspiration from Hollywood along the way.

"We did a lot of modeling off of disaster movies, looking at a lot of those tropes," Nachtrieb said.

While the play's first draft was "a little more broad in its satire" of the genre, the final script will still pay homage to those films, according to Nachtrieb. For example, he noticed that they often feature fractured relationships between single parents and children. So, in "Fall Springs," 17-year-old Eloise (Louis) has a difficult time with her single father, Mayor Robert Bradley (Matt McGrath). Eloise shares her late mother's passion for science, but her father discourages her from pursuing that interest, noting that her mother died while conducting research in a cave. Unlike Eloise, the possibility that fracking can transform the town also excites the mayor.

"They're struggling to understand one another," Louis said.

Their conflict doesn't deter Eloise from taking soil samples and performing other forms of scientific inquiry as Falls Springs begins sinking. Before that time, the town has been experiencing a different kind of descent.

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"It's a place that's had better times," Nachtrieb said. "There is some sort of weird parallel, coincidental, between some of the history of Pittsfield, or of a town that maybe had industry in the past and that industry is gone and the town is sort of struggling to bring itself up and redefine itself in a new way."

For the adults, fracking seems like a solution, but it comes at a steep environmental cost.

"I'm interested in how we make decisions as human beings, and this is sort of a fun look at how easy it is to ... make the wrong choice," Nachtrieb said.

Fall Springs' sinking alters both the physical and emotional landscape of the town, shifting the relationships among the play's four 17-year-olds and four single parents.

"The heart has moved into the story," Nachtrieb said of the script's development. "We've become really attached to the characters and wanting to create a real personal story that is as strong as the big disaster story."

Eloise's journey is at the play's core. Louis is pleased to see a teenage female protagonist who uses her love for science to better the world.

"That's important because that's a subject and a type of person, especially a type of female character, that you're not seeing onstage a lot," she said.

Louis has been involved with "Fall Springs" since its first reading in 2012, when she met Tsakalakos, Nachtrieb and director Stephen Brackett. She appreciates the multifaceted Eloise they've created.

"She's assertive at times. Sometimes, she's awkward. Sometimes, she knows exactly what to say. Other times, she's at a loss for words. Sometimes, she doesn't necessarily — yes, maybe she is an outcast, but other times, she brings the whole group together. That can exist in one character. The contradictions can exist," Louis said.

She's hoping that a certain demographic is represented in the audiences.

"It's important for me to have a little girl who sees the show who's excited about science, who, say, also plays sports, who also possibly has a love for theater," Louis said. "I want that little girl to be excited about the show and also learn something about our Earth while she's seeing it."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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