Green Day’s “American Idiot” will make its debut on the Loretto-Hilton stage this week as the season opener for the Sargent Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University.
The Tony-nominated musical follows a group of young Americans who are struggling to find meaning in the wake of 9/11, set to the music of Green Day from the band’s “American Idiot” album and more. The show runs Oct. 7 to 9 at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts.
Webster professor Lara Teeter, who heads the Sargent Conservatory’s musical theatre program, is the production’s director and choreographer. Teeter has been with Webster since 2007. He is a Tony-nominated actor for his performance in the 1982 Broadway revival of “On Your Toes.” In addition to his work on Broadway on stage and behind the scenes, he has also led acting workshops, and performed in and directed various productions across the country.
The Webster Journal’s Lonnie Walton recently conducted an exclusive interview with Teeter about the production, as well as the breadth of student talent he sees at the conservatory.
Webster Journal (WJ): What can you tell us about the Sargent Conservatory’s production of “American Idiot?”
Lara Teeter (LT): “American Idiot” is a sung-through musical based on a concept album of the same name by punk-rock band Green Day. This “rock opera” is told through the perspective of a lower-middle class American adolescent anti-hero, Johnny, the self-proclaimed “Jesus of Suburbia.” Johnny and his friends, Will and Tunny, and other suburban punks meet regularly at the parking lot of the local 7-Eleven to escape the “American Dream” that is drowning in a war-hungry, commercial-ridden, capitalistic world marked by broken homes, teenage pregnancy, militaristic heroes and drug addiction.
WJ: What appealed to you about this musical?
LT: I was raised listening to rock ‘n’ rock – Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who – and even though I’ve made a career in musical theatre as a song-and-dance man turned director/choreographer and professor, rock ‘n’ roll and jazz are what I love to listen to and dance the most. I wasn’t too sure about my interest in this musical when I first read it/listened to it, but once I started researching Green Day and punk rock, I realized just how connected I was to this music, and more specifically, the message behind this musical.
WJ: Were there any particular challenges with putting on this large-scale Broadway musical on the Loretto-Hilton stage?
LT: Every musical is a challenge on the LHC stage because it’s a thrust and the Broadway musical is built around a perfect frame called a proscenium. Musicals are like looking at a painting that lives within a frame. It’s a musicalize singing, dancing version of a painting/story. Bringing a musical to life in a thrust that comes out into the audience carries a different template on how to design the production in terms of sets, lights, projections, orchestra, sound, staging and choreography. “American Idiot” is basically a rock opera that we’ve placed under the “big top” circus. We’ve taken the thrust and, hopefully, used it to our advantage in telling this story.
WJ: With your experience as an educator and having the opportunity to nurture young talent, how can you tell if someone has what it takes to succeed on stage?
LT: Great question! Sometimes it happens when they first walk in to audition for the conservatory. Sometimes it happens at some point along the student’s four-year, eight-semester time here at Webster University. A colleague once said that seeing the training we offer in conservatory come to life is like watching apples fall from a tree: All of the apples don’t fall at the same time! They fall when they are ready to do so and not a moment before. And, interestingly, most of the time, the apple doesn’t even fall while the student is in the conservatory but after they’ve left and experienced the daily grind and discipline in this business we call, “show.” Many times, the professors see it before the students see it in themselves because … well, that’s our job.
WJ: In general, what do you look for in a student who is auditioning for the conservatory?
LT: It’s very, very competitive. Obviously, we first must see a certain level of proficiency in the acting and singing. The next thing we look for is their level and depth of curiosity about the material they’ve chosen to do for us in their audition. All of that is half of the audition. For the second half, the interview, we look to see what else the students might be interested in besides theatre. Contrary to popular belief, we are not looking for a student who lives, eats, breathes nothing but theatre. We’re looking for people who are involved in other curiosities, community service, reading, science, etc. Nowadays, most students who come to audition for us are activists in some way or another and we love to hear about that!
WJ: What advice would you give an aspiring stage performer who is looking for their “big break?”
LT: Stop looking for it, but rather work hard to develop your discipline and craft and keep that dream, that “big break” as a positive reminder on your refrigerator. I liken the four-year training at the conservatory to training for the Olympics. When a student enters a conservatory-style training, they are choosing to become elite athletes. What they eat and drink, what they spend their time consuming on social media, how they sleep, how they learn – all have to do with developing a mindset of a champion who is willing to do whatever it takes to get that medal.
WJ: You’ve won awards, played at Carnegie Hall and performed on Broadway … what do you consider your proudest achievement?
LT: Easy. These four things in this order: marrying my wife, Kristen; the birth of my four children; being the celebrant/officiant at the wedding of two former students, Allison and John Kinney; and Broadway.
Green Day’s “American Idiot” runs Oct. 7 to 9 at the Loretto-Hilton Center. Webster students, faculty and staff get in for free. For tickets, visit webster.edu/conservatory.