By Jake Mouchawar, Production Dramaturg (This Golden Day: A virtual musical)
Director Devanand Janki is always on the move. He’s previously worked both on-and-off Broadawy as an actor, a choreographer, and a director in venues including the Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and Winter Garden Theatre to name a few. Alongside directing This Golden Day, he runs his own theatre company, Live & in Color, which helps develop new work promoting and lifting up artists of color all around the world.
The ideas that helped shape This Golden Day were developed during the beginning of the Coronavirus Pandemic with another show of Dev’s. “My theatre company was working on their own virtual play,” he told me. “We commissioned seven writers of color to write seven ten-minute plays based on the creation myth of the Bible, and each writer was given a day of the week.” This piece, called Days of Re-Creation, premiered on September 10th on both Facebook Live and Youtube.
“When I was talking to Annie [Levy, the artistic director for Emerson Stage] and David [Colfer, the general manager for Emerson Stage] and they were trying to figure out the logistics of the show, and it was sort of in line with my theatre company…and we need to create content that is designed for this world, that is designed within the perimeters and restrictions of Zoom. These amazing students, we want to give them a unique experience that is of value, that’s educational, that’s exciting.”
The final piece of the puzzle came from Annie Levy herself, who suggested that the show could be about different world religions and how each of them perceives the “Golden Rule,” the idea that a person should treat others how they would want to be treated. Levy had recently found an article about Normal Rockwell’s 1961 “Golden Rule” illustration, based on his discovery that each major world religion had their own version of the Golden Rule. Inspired by Rockwell’s illustration, This Golden Day got its working title, The Golden Rule Project, and its premise.
Always being on the move is also how Janki directs his shows. “Creating a new musical is hard, it’s like lifting a truck.” Janki, whose expertise lies in creating new work and new musicals, doesn’t like to take any moment for granted. “There’s a lot of moving pieces, even more than a play…with so many people doing so much and in very little time. We’ve really had to pivot and basically create a brand new musical from scratch.” He also enjoys working at a quick pace. “Personally, I like working fast. I’m always about the adrenaline and just being very immediate.” His aim, overall, as the director is to provide students with the full industry experience before they step off campus. “There are so many things that come with this…I think it’s so valuable to the students. As an actor and a dancer and a singer, this is what you do most of your career.”
This Golden Day is an important project for Janki, and a lot of it has to do with the pandemic that brought it to life. “We want to make theatre. It is one thing to make a film, but we’re really trying to create that live experience. And for me, a big part of it is really embracing that we are actually in our homes on these machines talking to each other.” He hopes that the show might be a chance for people to connect in a world where connection has become more difficult, and that just like his style, “moves” the audience in a way similar to live theatre. “There’s something about Zoom being the frame of the storytelling that actually makes us engage in the story more. If we’re on Zoom or we’re on Facetime, we’re like ‘oh, we’re actually there!’ It’s easier to believe and easier to listen to the story…the audience is able to connect more, and we’re all trying to connect with each other in the best way possible.”
This Golden Day: A virtual musical premieres on Thursday, November 19 with performances through Sunday, November 22. Learn more and get your tickets at emersonstage.org/this-golden-day.