Heidi Heilig and Mike Pettry's full-length musical, The Time Travelers Convention, debuted as a podcast about a month ago, bringing the story of three friends looking for answers through time travel straight to your living room via Youtube and iTunes. With a wonderful cast starring Nick Blaemire, Lorinda Lisitza, Jeff Essex, Stephanie Spano, Phoebe Strole, and even Mike Pettry himself, this radio play way of experiencing a new show boasts a lot of talent and fun presentation. Luckily for us, Heidi and Mike offered to answer a few questions about the process of recording a podcast, fusing nerd and musical theatre culture, and everything in between:
(First part of Youtube podcast of The Time Traveler's Convention)
Me: The big party in The Time Travelers Convention is based on a real event organized by MIT students. How did you decide to turn the idea into a musical?
Heidi: In the summer of 2005, Mike and I were looking for an idea for our thesis musical for the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU, and my mother, who is a musical theatre writer herself, sent me an article she’d seen in the New York Times about these wacky young science nerds at MIT and the party they were holding to try to attract visitors from the future. She sent it in an email with just the heading “Time traveler convention – GREAT IDEA FOR A MUSICAL.” I’m not joking, that’s how I decided – an all caps email heading from my mother.
Although I don’t do everything she suggests to me in all caps. (If I did I may have tried for a more lucrative career than ‘bookwriter/lyricist.’) And I had to convince Mike, too, but that wasn’t too hard because the idea really grabbed me and I can be really pushy when an idea takes hold.
Mike: It didn’t take much to convince me – I was excited by the idea of writing music from the perspective of nerdy high-schoolers. Before, I had been writing more cerebral art-song stuff, and was getting very tired of that. The Time Travelers Convention was a great opportunity to dive into more pop-rock styles, although the score ultimately found a balance between both worlds (like if Stephen Sondheim were to start an Arcade Fire cover band).
My favorite part of our first meeting about the show was that Heidi had pitched it to another collaborator first, who wasn’t that excited about it. He was like, “Time travel? Enh,” but I was like “BEST IDEA FOR A MUSICAL EVER.”
Heidi: What really sung to me about the whole story was that Amal Dorai (the organizer) and others were asking for things from the potential time traveler – cold fusion reactors, cures for AIDS, solutions to mathematical mysteries – and I thought, well, what would I ask for, if a time traveler showed up?
And the answer that came back in my head was “I’d want the time machine.”
I think a lot of people feel that they have turning points in their lives that they look back on and say “If only I’d—" or “I wish I could have–" or “I never should have–" and they end that sentence with “because then everything would be okay.” I know I have. (And I would sing about it, too.) And for me, characters are formed quite easily out of a mixture of dreams and regrets.