Definition: "A rock opera is a work of rock music that presents a storyline told over multiple parts, songs or sections in the manner of opera. A rock opera tells a coherent story, and may involve songs performed as if sung by separate characters in a drama, as in classical opera."
"Dying to make it" is a rock opera being created by a group of Minneapolis-based musicians, scheduled to debut in February 2012
Hey everyone, we are currently working on mixing and editing the audio and video of the Friday, February 17th show. It is a laborious process so things are going slow, but sure. Copies of audio, and video, and both will be available sometime in the future. Of course our supporters will be first in line.
Hello Everyone, We want to thank everyone for coming to the shows last weekend. It was a huge rush to have so many people attend and we know your energy brought out the best in us!!! big thanks to all the people that helped with all the aspects of putting on a huge show like this!!! you all rock!!
Below is a review from the theater critic of Metro Magazine. Not bad. : )
Keep your eyes peeled for future news and updates. : )
Hey everyone, Amazingly fun show last night!!! thank you all for coming. One more show to go. The show starts at 7pm!!! it is a misprint to the right on here this site... 7pm SHOWTIME!!! come early and enjoy some beverages!!!! see you later.
February 5, 2012
'Dying to Make It:' The makings of a rock opera
By Tanner Kent
Free Press Features Editor
The date is Feb. 17, 2012.
The Friday crowd is filling the Southern Theater to capacity, its antiquated, almost Gothic atmosphere enveloping a stage that co-writer and St. Peter native Robb Schwartz said is perfectly paired to the dark subject matter of the opera about to unfold.
The music, choreography and video sets that complement the two-hour musical performance are long since completed. Schwartz and his cast of two longtime friends from St. Peter High School and 10 other musicians have rehearsed countless times ‹ maybe too many times. Weeks before the show, Schwartz admitted that the nearly 30 months spent writing, composing and practicing the opera had led to a certain stagnation.
But there can be no stagnation tonight.
This is, after all, the debut of “Dying to Make It,” a two-hour, 13-musician, 24-song rock opera that has tested the creative and musical limits of its creators.
“The biggest anxiety is waiting for gameday,” Schwartz said in anticipation of this night. “When I'm last on a bill, I hate that. I just want to play.”
Time to rock
"Dying to Make It" is the story of Paul (played by Schwartz), an ambitious rock 'n' roller who is on the cusp of greatness when he is killed in a motorcycle crash. He descends into a kind of purgatory where agents of good and evil fight for lost souls.
Schwartz first conceived the idea several years ago, but it took hold when he was laid off from a 20-year bank job and found himself with time. Lots of time.
"I taught myself the piano," Schwartz said. "I sat at home and wrote songs. I had a lot of spare time on my hands."
Conceiving a rock opera and executing one, however, are two different tasks. Schwartz needed musicians willing to dedicate not months, but years, to learning and shaping and revising and perfecting the material. He needed musicians with vision to match his own and he needed lots of them.
A little help from his friends
Ted Martin and Stu Walcott were the first people Schwartz talked to about his idea.
They were longtime friends and fellow graduates of St. Peter High School. They had played together for the previous decade, their band, mini-bike, gaining a widespread following and releasing seven albums.
When Schwartz approached them about the rock opera, he was in the midst of a six-month hiatus from the group — a mutual decision that allowed Walcott and Martin to pursue a more technically demanding brand of music.
Martin remembers listening to Schwartz and having a rather dubious reaction.
"Honestly, I wasn't sure right away that it was a great idea," he said. "I told him, 'You're crazy.' ... But eventually I said, 'You're crazy. Why not?'"
Going way back
The trio has a long history of inspiring each other musically.
In junior high, Schwartz was in awe of Martin — who was the first person he knew with an electric guitar — and Walcott, who taught himself to play Rush tunes on his drumset. They were just teenagers when they started jamming together, even booking a gig for their high school graduation.
In college at St. Thomas, Martin bought Schwartz a bass guitar and they formed their first band. During the summer, they'd return to St. Peter to play with the local musicians. One jam session even got recorded and treated to some airplay at the Macalester College radio station.
"It was all stream-of-consciousness type stuff," Martin said. "Even now, it doesn't sound terrible."
Following college, Martin moved to Boston to follow his eventual wife — a place where he played with "serious musicians" who "lit a fire in me to get better." His roommate's boyfriend played in the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and another friend married a guitarist from The Pixies.
But all the while, Martin was still writing music and sending it Schwartz, anticipating the day when they would play together again. Their future together was cemented when Schwartz sent Martin $100 with instructions to buy a bass amp and haul it back to Minnesota.
"I credit my friend Ted (Martin) for seeing something in me that I didn't ever see," Schwartz said.
Time to play
Once Martin and Walcott were in the fold, Schwartz sought other collaborators: John Hile, longtime director of the "Jesus Christ Superstar" production at First Avenue, and a host of others.
For almost three years, the group met every Wednesday night in Hile's Minneapolis basement to rehearse. The project became a complex collaboration with each investing a part of themselves in the final product.
"There is a lot of who I am in this thing, and a lot of the other artists, too," Martin said. "There are always arguments in that kind of process, but Robb (Schwartz) was open. ... He believed he could do it and that we could do it, too."
The project was bolstered by a nearly $4,000 fundraising campaign coordinated through Kickstarter, an organization devoted to funding art projects through public donations. Schwartz said that generosity propelled the project forward, even when creative challenges and long odds threatened its completion.
"We couldn't have done this the way we wanted without (the Kickstarter campaign)," Schwartz said.
And now, after 30 years of friendship and 30 months of practice, all that's left is to perform. "I want it to be gameday," Schwartz said.
WINDOM — The story of Paul Lyme was written, for the most part, in John Hile’s basement on a quiet, bungalow-lined street in Windom, just a stone’s throw away from Oak Hill Cemetery — which is appropriate since, when the story opens, Lyme is dead.
You can’t miss Hile’s house, not at night when the green bulb blazing above his front door lights up the street like someone left the lid up on the Xerox machine. If power failed at the airport, jet pilots could look for Hile’s house, bank west and touch down without a problem.
On Wednesday nights, the light guides a group of veteran Twin Cities musicians down to MonkeyTown Studios (Hile’s basement) where, for more than two years, they’ve been meeting first as two, then as five and finally as the full 13-member cast of “Dying to Make It,” a tale told in that most grandiose of musical traditions: the rock opera.
For a sense of the production debuting next month at the Southern Theater, combine the amplified bombast of The Who’s “Tommy,” the good-versus-evil story mechanics propelling Rush’s “2112” and the dramatic sweep of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Lyme is a striving, cocky young musician whose burgeoning career is cut short in a motorcycle crash and who then lands in Purgatory, where the battle for souls is waged with rock ’n roll.
The germ of the story developed in Robb Schwartz’s imagination a few years back, and it grew and changed as first Hile and then other musicians joined in the writing of “Dying to Make It” in beer-fueled jam sessions at MonkeyTown.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the stories of good versus evil and stories with the devil and signing away your soul — Robert Johnson stuff,” Schwartz said, referring to the legend that the bluesman sold his soul down at the crossroads.
The making of “Dying to Make It” is a pretty good story, too, one that begins around the time Schwartz lost his job.
Schwartz said he’s the “opposite” of Paul Lyme, who he plays in “Dying to Make It.”
Like most of his cast mates, Schwartz has spent the past two decades playing in various Twin Cities bands, but he said he never felt that “all-encompassing desire for fame” that drives his character. He married Toni (a cast member and the drummer of their band, Famous Volcanoes), became a father and kept a regular day job through it all — at least until the financial crisis of a few years ago, when his 20-year career at “a generic corporate giant” came to a sudden end.
In the spring of 2008, with a severance package in the bank and a lot of free time on his hands, Schwartz rededicated himself to learning the piano — an instrument he never knew as well as the guitar — and started talking with Hile about forming a new band. That band never played a gig, but he and Hile did write the first song in what would become “Dying to Make It.”
Schwartz is now happily re-employed as a technology specialist for Edina Public Schools. Writing the rock opera’s script these past few years, he said, has been an interesting look back on a path never taken.
“For me, it’s almost a way to become that character that I never really was, and in a sense justify my decisions of 20 years ago,” he said.
Not long after Schwartz and Hile got serious about writing a rock opera, they brought in some help: guitarists Chris “Z” Johnson and Ted Martin and drummer Stu Walcott, who all previously played with Schwartz in a band called mini-bike. Dave Berg, the third member of Famous Volcanoes, was a frequent sit-in on acoustic guitar.
The “Dying to Make It” cast is like that; almost everyone is playing or has played in a band with someone else in the cast. Noting several have recorded albums at MonkeyTown, as well, Hile shrugs and adds, “It’s a small town.”
Hile seems uniquely qualified to see a rock opera through from basement rehearsals to the stage. For 17 years he produced and directed an annual “Jesus Christ Superstar” show at First Avenue, a show Schwartz and several other cast members performed in at one time or another.
Writing “Dying to Make It” soon became a group effort, with everyone crowding into Hile’s basement and contributing their own ideas — not just on how the rock opera should sound, but how they might actually be able to get it on stage. It was Martin who suggested Kickstarter, the website that uses crowd-sourcing to fund creative projects.
The rock opera’s Kickstarter page went live in early August, and reached its $2,000 fundraising goal Sept. 11. When the campaign ended, they’d raised $3,617.
“I was surprised,” Schwartz said. “I looked at a lot of the other Kickstarter campaigns and I knew it was possible. It was just a matter of believing it was possible.”
An eccentric collection of doo-dads and decorations line the wood-paneled walls of MonkeyTown: NASCAR collectibles, a Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker, American flags, a Batman poster. A Bowflex machine serves as a coat rack; flat surfaces are covered in bottle caps and percussion instruments.
There are 11 people crammed into the room, and all their instruments and amps and mic stands. Every mic stand has a bottle holder, and almost every one has a beer in it.
“On a normal night we have two more bodies in here,” Schwartz noted. “It’s a full house.”
They start from the top, and Greg Nesbitt, a big man with a short Mohawk and a booming, theatrical voice, kicks things off. Nesbitt plays Devin who, in the quirky cosmology of “Dying to Make It,” is more or less the devil’s A&R man.
From there they tear through the first act, propelled by “Z” and Martin’s chugging guitars. When they break around 9 p.m. and the smokers run outside, Schwartz lingers to discuss all the work that’s left to do before the debut just over a month away.
“Some of the busiest moments in our lives are so crazy,” he said. “But when it’s over I’m going to miss it.”
After over two years of work the opening night for Dying To Make It is only one month away.
The show will premiere at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis and the cast agrees that there isn't a more appropriate venue in the Twin Cities. Tickets are on sale now and are expected to sell out both nights.
The press is also starting to pick up on the buzz as articles are beginning to appear in local papers and music blogs. Here are some excerpts from "Round the Dial" by veteran Minneapolis music critic, Tom Hallett.
"Dying To Make It is no schlocky, yawner of a rock opera, it's a grand, talent-sporting warning/celebration extravaganza that takes the viewer/listener from earth to Purgatory and beyond, and does it in a classy, stand-out style..."
"With a total of two acts comprised of 24 songs, audience members will be exposed to every little thought, action, and decision the cast members make. This is an unbelievable experience that literally only comes around these parts once in a very great while."
"Do yourselves and your weird-winter blues a favor- pick up some tickets, surprise some friends or family you really think a lot of, and get out to see Dying To Make It!! You can't say you didn't have fair warning, and we guarantee you that you'll be thrilled beyond belief afterwards."
Coming from a critic who has been exposed to Minneapolis local music for decades this is high praise and we are flattered to have received it.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody from the whole gang!!
We have a lot to be thankful for this year and have some great news for you all.
We are proud to announce that Apocalypse USO will be performing their original rock opera "Dying To Make It" for two nights at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, MN on February 17th and 18th 2012. Both shows are scheduled for 8:00PM.
The Southern Theater is the perfect place to debut our show as it matches the feel that we aim to convey throughout Paul's journey.
Check it out at http://www.southerntheater.org/
The Southern has conventional theater seating and we will be getting information out to you regarding ticket sales and options for our contributors to get first call on seat choices. We have a feeling that this is going to sell out quick so get your parties organized so that everyone can go.
This is all very exciting and as the holiday season kicks into high gear, we do as well. Start the 12 Weeks countdown!
The days are getting shorter and a bit cooler here in Minneapolis, and we are doing our part to keep the heat turned up. We had another fantastic rehearsal and the details are starting to come into focus for the big shows.
We are going to do some rehearsal recordings this week so Meg and the Choir can work on certain things in separate rehearsals. The Band will be getting together a little more often at times now to take care of our end.
Blocking, sets, wardrobe, sound, lights, PR... All in motion.