At 18, Daniel Stigmon, just like millions more on the cusp of adulthood, is sorting post-high school prospects and freaking out just a little. But his method for dealing with the stress is far less conventional: He wrote a musical.
It’s taken a village in the creative minds of Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy seniors to pull it off, but the cast and crew of 35 is ready to conjure some theatre magic with the all-original work, “Average Joe.”
TheatriKIDS’ first-ever Studio Series play, “Average Joe,” takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 12; Saturday, May 13 at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 14. Tickets are $12. Proceeds benefit TheatriKIDS, the Boys and Girls Club of Flagstaff and a cast recording. Learn more at Theatrikos.com.
For Stigmon, a soon-to-be FALA graduate, he’s an idea man.
“I’ve always been the kid that’s like I want to be a firefighter and I want to be a neurosurgeon, and I want to move that wall over there while I drink this coffee on one foot upside down,” he said. “I wanted to see how that would work as a song and dance.”
He even attempted to write his first musical as a 6th grader after watching his brother perform with the marching band during a production of “Les Misérables.” But back then Stigmon couldn’t act, compose music or write lyrics — he credits FALA for instilling those skills.
And Stigmon explained that with a richer perspective and a bevy of friends — including Marley Wall and Ethan Perelstein who left the process early but still helped shape the story, and librettist Isabel Lanzetta-Marshall — “Average Joe” began to form.
“I started thinking: What do I have on my side that can help me get into this world? I have parents, teachers, I have friends, a car — all these things that can help me out,” he explained of humanity’s failure to recognize resources. “So I wanted to write [the story] about someone who had a lot, explore how we appreciate the things we have, and how those things can help us lead a happy and successful life.”
In this, the story of Joe, co-directed by Stigmon and FALA’s Andrew Edgerton, and his quest to find himself transcends demographics and applies to a universal canvas. TheatriKIDS Director and Joe Maniglia noted the premise is appealing as an ideological youth ventures into the world, determined to succeed through his own means — and meeting some interesting characters along the way.
“It’s not just the plot of his musical, but it’s also as if Daniel is writing his valedictorian speech and setting it to music: Here’s what I want to share with my peers and with myself. This is what is important and this is what I need to say,” Maniglia added.
And having written 24 songs since June 23, 2016, with Wall contributing a 25th, Stigmon has plenty to say in subject and style. The band, under co-direction from NAU student Alex Burdis, clocks in Coney Island circus tunes, grunge, bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll.
“I think that just came from me having a lot of pent up song desires,” Stigmon added, noting he had never written a song before he conceived “Average Joe.”
Each, he said, correlates to landmarks along his FALA career. “You’re Not Special” was a catchphrase of his English and theatre teacher he noted had a profound impact on the student.
But, as Stigmon described his process, the value of these learning experiences become evident, too. He’s finding his place in the world, same as the main character, and uniquely in a way Flagstaff has never seen: a student writing, shaping and producing a play from start to finish.
“My involvement has been supportive and encouraging, but really allowing them to take the ball and run with it,” Maniglia said. “I think they have run into the same obstacles I have over the course of my tenure here. That being said, I cannot stress enough how proud I am of the job they are doing and the huge undertaking this was.”
Stigmon agreed, writing and producing a play has been taxing in the best ways as he’s learned organization and management, but that doesn’t mean he’ll rest. Stigmon is preparing for Coconino Community College while chasing down his EMT’s certification and honing other creative endeavors, forever repeating what has become the show’s motto: “There is a way to do this.”
“I can do this now,” said Stigmon of his newfound skill. “I have opened the floodgate of how difficult this can be — and I have ideas.”