Not only does this incredible viral hit hold up as an impressive work of choreography and performance 51,000,000 views later, but it is also now making its NYMF debut through a musical written by Romeo Candido (music, lyrics, and book) and Carmen De Jesus (book). Prison Dancer tells the story of the prisoners behind the video, creating a wonderful blend of real life events with fresh new characters. Even further blurring the lines between real life and viral video, Prison Dancer has also been existing online in the form of a web series. Below, Carmen and Romeo talk a little more about the project and what you can expect from their NYMF debut of the show's first fully staged production.
Me: How would you describe your show in one sentence?
Carmen De Jesus and Romeo Candido: A love letter to outsider in all of us, in the form of a musical inspired by the Cebu Inmates viral video.
Me: You did a lot of research for this show; what was that process like?
Carmen and Romeo: Much like how we discovered the phenomenon of Byron Garcia and the Dancing Inmates from Cebu, we turned to Youtube to do research. Everything is on Youtube! Regarding research, we didn't want to be accurate to any one specific in the real prison. Instead we wanted to create a fictional mythology and interpret what could have happened behind the scenes, and blur the lines between what is real, and what is not, to ultimately tell the tale about different people imprisoned by their circumstance.
Me: Prison Dancer will be on stage for NYMF, but it is also a musical web series. Where did the idea from that come from, and what has the experience been of putting that together?
Carmen and Romeo: We workshopped Prison Dancer - the stage musical - twice, in two separate Toronto theatre festivals (fuGEN's Potluck Festival, Summerworks Theatre Festival). Ana Serrano, who runs the Canadian Film Centre's Digital Media Lab. She specializes in developing and launching digital media projects. She was in the audience during one of those workshop performances and came on board our creative team, spearheading the move to "transmedia." She thought it would be great as a webseries, and encouraged us to adapt the work for Youtube.
It's not easy to truncate a 120 minute stage play to 12 5 minute episodes for Youtube. We had to sacrifice some characters, some songs, and some of the more theatrically dramatic storylines for the webseries because we just didn't have the time to develop the narrative to engage the Youtube audiences in some of the darker tones of the piece. So we fashioned each episode around a song, added interactive elements to extend the narrative of each character where possible, and the resulting webseries stands alone but also gives a great taste of what the full stage production will be.
Prison Dancer has had many iterations, from a screenplay, to a staged musical, to a webseries, and then revised back into a stage musical. While there are differences between the webseries and the NYMF production, all the stories and characters exist in the same world. We started creating rules to the 'storyworld' of Prison Dancer as to keep the experience between stage and screen consistent.
Me: How do you view the relationship between the web series and the stage show?
Carmen and Romeo: The webseries and the webseries cast stands alone as a complete show, a complete product - one that will exist for as long as Youtube exists. It's the "immortal" representation of our Prison Dancer story. It also serves as the evangelical platform for introducing people all around the world to our Prison Dancer universe - to the characters, the stories, the songs. The webseries exists to not only fulfill the audience members who can't come see a stage production of Prison Dancer - because of location or cost - but it also exists to help cultivate an audience and a hunger within the general public for the live stage experience.
Me: What are you most looking forward to about NYMF?
Carmen and Romeo: We've never had a fully staged production of Prison Dancer before - with the full out choreography - 12 dance numbers! So exciting. Even in our web series we didn't have the time to get all the hardcore "dancing" of Prison Dancer out. Also, the talent within our NYMF cast is truly awesome - Filipino triple threats of Broadway renown and caliber, that's got me giddy with excitement to see how they and our Director/Choreographer, Design and Music teams will interpret and breathe life into the material! We're so thankful to NYMF for this opportunity to take our show to the next level!
For more information on Prison Dancer, check out the show's official website, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.