'Trying to facilitate joy': ZACH theatre creates a holiday party vibe with 'POP!'
“Last Christmas I had the good fortune to be at Royal Albert Hall and to see these massive singalongs with 5000 people a night that happened during the month of December,” says POP! director Dave Steakley, “in which people are dressed up in their holiday sweaters and wearing their Christmas lights and their Santa hats and singing Christmas songs that are themed along with pop music. And I went to three of these events and the light bulb just sort of went off of like, oh, this is an experience I would love for us to have in Austin on a more intimate level, so that we could connect and to see each other, eye to eye. Which is always important to us at ZACH, that we have that level of intimacy. The feeling I left with was so joyous. It truly put you in the holiday spirit. And I talked to people every night, strangers. And so there was a sense of community once you left there that felt really great as a visitor to another country.”
Steakley came home wanting to create a similar but more intimate show, and as luck would have it, as the artistic director of ZACH Theatre he has access to a stage and plenty of talented performers and artists. So this Christmas season, ZACH is putting on the new show POP!, which is sort of a mashup of holiday cabaret, Christmas singalong, and all-ages yuletide party. To help create the show, Steakley turned to his longtime collaborator Allen Robertson, who serves as musical director for POP!
POP! is playing on ZACH’s smaller and more intimate Kleberg Stage. “And because it's a thrust theater, meaning [there’s an audience on] three sides of the stage, they see each other and it's small enough that you can make eye contact with every other human and you can hear other people's voices when they're singing,” Robertson says. “You can see their eyes, you can see their smiles. We're just trying to facilitate joy, I guess is really what we're after here. If all these people are willing to lend their voices to make something beautiful that we can't make by ourselves, we can only make together. That's really what we're trying to do in this city, day after day after day, is lend our talents together to make something none of us could do alone.”
“Yeah, the audience really are the co-stars in this experience,” says Steakley.
Robertson says the Christmas party vibe that POP! aspires too is even present during rehearsals. “We are having so much joy in the room making it and we don't want to leave,” he says. “When everybody's showing up early and then kinda hanging out afterwards, still laughing, still wanting to make it better? That's a good sign.”