The past few weeks in our country have been incredibly emotionally charged with hate, fear, and strife. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. No matter how you feel about our new President, I think we can all agree that there’s a huge divide in the population. It’s going to take a lot of time to make sense of it, and a lot of work on behalf of everyone to mend it. But one place where the reality of this new administration has hit the hardest is the theatre community. Many members of the community, including composer Ryan Scott Oliver and book writer Nessie Nankivell, have taken their feelings during this tumultuous time and made it into art.
Oliver and Nanikvell’s most recent endeavor, Otherbody: A Brief Musical Allegory, is a direct response to the political and social climate in 2017 America. Released only on iTunes and Spotify in early January, the 20-minute recording features Nicholas Christoper as mysterious main character known only as “The Teller”. The Teller, a young black gay man – who has never seen his own face, heard his own voice, or seen daylight – ventures out into the world after the death of his “Goodtree” in the forest. He discovers an alluring party in a village full of “pale ones”, where he quickly witnesses the most horrifying parts of humanity as he is beaten and ridiculed for simply not conforming to societal standards the rest of the pale ones, although being exactly the same on the inside.
Returning from the traumatic experience in the village, The Teller contemplates his journey and concludes that despite what society has told him and all the hate he has seen, sometimes “woods have to burn to make a path for what’s new”. Meanwhile an “angry demon” sets the pale ones’ village on fire as The Teller convinces the listener to work to restore the forest to its true former glory, with the Goodtree and all.
Loosely suggested by H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Outsider, the genius of the allegory in Otherbody, comes in Oliver’s cleverly crafted lyrics that are relatively open to interpretation. The score will take at least a second listen to pick up on all the symbolism that The Teller’s story provides to make sense of the recent political rhetoric. Commenting on the racism, homophobia, and fear mongering that has occurred since the campaign trail, songs like “The Gayest Revelry” are filled with emotions that are all to familiar to those who are affected by such issues. The final song, “Roots Dig Deep” is a heartfelt and hopeful ballad that showcases the pain of accepting the evils in life and vowing to speak out against it, even if starts with one person.
At first, a dismal yet honest outlook on the nation’s unprecedented social and political situation, Otherbody is a gorgeously written allegory that leaves the listener with a cathartic release of feeling and a better sense of direction regarding what to do next in a time of discrimination and fear. But arguably most importantly, it’s a reminder to us all that there is still good left, and we can make it flourish – just as otherbodies have done time and time again throughout history.
Otherbody: A Brief Musical Allegory is available to stream on Spotify and for purchase on iTunes. For more info, visit otherbodymusical.com.