Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: The award-winning musical production, The Bully Problem, will soon be appearing as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival this summer. For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about its premise?
Michael Gordon Shapiro: The Bully Problem is a David-versus-Goliath story about nerdy teens taking on the bullies at their school. It’s also the story of an isolated tech-head coming out of his shell and finding his community. At the center of both stories is a prototype android who’s brimming with enthusiasm but isn’t entirely functional. The story takes place in a funny universe, but one that stays sincere. The tone might be comparable to that of a musical like Matilda or Putnam County Spelling Bee.
BD: As a writer, composer, and veteran of the Fringe Festival, what was the inspiration for bringing this story to life, and what were your creative influences?
MGS: I wanted to write a show that would be rewarding to all audiences — accessible to kids but emotionally satisfying to adults. Topically, I wanted to celebrate the creative underclass of the student population: all the eccentric techies and artists and science geeks who will go on to move the world one day. Bullies make a natural antagonist for that kind of story. And robots are cool. My course was clear.
The three biggest creative influences on my life have been the Henson Company, Tom Lehrer, and George Lucas. Henson gave me a sense of whimsy and optimism, Lehrer an appreciation for wit, and Lucas a sense of exhilaration and adventure. Those three elements make up my emotional core, and I try to bring them to every musical I write.
BD: You have a tremendous cast and crew involved with the production. What can you share with us about the creative process of working with the team, including director Joanna Syiek?
MGS: A show like this appeals to the kind of performer who in some ways resembles its characters. I’m delighted by the cohort of imaginative individuals who responded to our audition notice and have given the story life and personalty. I don’t think Joanna needed to tell them how to be nerds. It came naturally to them, and you can see this in the loving details of their interpretations. I love their enthusiasm for the show, which is palpable and constant. They’re clearly having a good time, and that makes me really happy.
Joanna was a lucky find. I saw her production of the musical, Lizzie, last year and was blown away. I immediately recognized her ability to make larger-than-life characters feel sympathetic and human, which was precisely what my show needed. She’s also a startlingly good choreographer and has helped me appreciate how movement can amplify a story’s emotion, or suggest moments that aren’t literally present in the script, but are clearly part of the story. I feel like the show is in very good hands.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
MGS: Uplift, optimism, laughter, and exhilaration. Also a pressing desire to write a positive review on the Fringe website. Word of mouth is our friend!
BD: What makes the Hollywood Fringe Festival an ideal venue for The Bully Problem?
MGS: The Fringe allows us to mount the show far more cost-effectively than we’d be able to outside a festival environment. There’s real synergy in sharing proximity and a marketing brand and with other productions. The Fringe community has also been tremendously supportive and friendly — and Fringers make great audience members!
BD: The show will be appearing at The Broadwater - Main Stage - from June 6-29, 2019. Are there any future plans to perform the show at other venues?
MGS: The show’s been in active development for three and a half years, with long-term ambitions driving the process. This premiere is the beginning of what I hope to be a long life for this show, with its ultimate destination likely being publication. In the immediate future, I’d love to put on a production with student-age performers, perhaps at an arts-focused high or middle school.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for The Bully Problem?
MGS: Our website, www.thebullyproblem.com, is a great portal for everything related to the show, including ticketing info and the usual social media links. But if you’re raring to grab your tickets right now, you can head over to www.hff19.org/5900.