PITTSBURG, Kan. — Ask a play director to describe the genre or plot of an upcoming performance and you’ll no doubt hear: “It’s a comedy,” “it’s a drama” or “it’s about two star-crossed lovers who meet a tragic demise.”

In other words, the director can sum it up in a sentence.

For Pittsburg High School theater teacher Greg Shaw, it takes a few more sentences to describe what the first performance of this season is all about:

“It’s difficult stuff.

“It’s got great stories. They’re set to music.

“But it’s not a musical, really.

“Nor is it a true musical revue.

“It’s contemporary. It’s a departure.

“None of the scenes are part of the same story line and plot.

“Instead, it relies on a theme: The choices we make change our lives. And often times, those changes can be devastating.

“It’s thought-provoking.”

Called “Songs for a New World,” the piece was written by Jason Robert Brown, notable lyricist and composer. It includes an opening number, a finale and 13 scenes in between that all have one thing in common: They feature individual characters and groups of characters — everyday people — who are experiencing decision-making moments in given time periods.

Take the second story-telling song, which takes place on the deck of a Spanish sailing ship in 1492. Columbus? No. It references the Spanish Inquisition — the Jews being persecuted, faced with relinquishing their faith.

Or take another story-telling song that takes place in prison, where someone who took part in civil disobedience speculates that his world wasn’t ready to accept what he did, but that history will judge him more kindly.

Ultimately, the performance is about loss — loss of a job, of a loved one, of freedom, and about some losses that people can’t control and others that they create because of decisions and choices and paths they take.

While the topic and genre differ from those of some of Shaw’s recent productions such as “Seussical” and “Grease,” the process and end result are the same: His students are telling a story.

“That’s the crux of this entire thing,” he said. “There is a character early on who says, ‘I don’t want to philosophize, I just want to tell a story.’ That’s what this is all about.”

And that’s where the investment by the actors and the audience comes in.

“There’s a lot of speculation, of personal investment in these characters as to what their story is,” Shaw said. “Two people sitting right next to each other might not get exactly the same story. They may put the characters in completely different time frames. Someone may relate it to a neighbor or a friend or themselves.”

It’s tough material, which is why Shaw is relying on the talents of PHS choir director Susan Laushman and 40 students in her Encore Select choir as cast members.

“It’s challenging vocally, being the toughest music I think these kids will ever sing, but it’s a tribute to Susan and the students that we can pull this off,” Shaw said.

Curtain times

“Songs for a New World” will be presented at 7 p.m. Oct. 10, 12 and 14 in the Pittsburg High School auditorium, 1978 E. Fourth St. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students, and may be purchased after 6 p.m. at the door.

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