Pitt Stages ‘A New Brain’ centers on the growth of a troubled artist

By Katelyn Kruszewski, Staff Writer

Students involved in Pitt Stages’ first mainstage production of the semester, “A New Brain,” are set to present a comical musical about a composer’s life-changing medical journey this weekend.

“A New Brain” will run this weekend and next weekend, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Attendants are required to be fully vaccinated with proof of vaccination. General admission is $15 per person.

“A New Brain” centers on protagonist Gordon, a composer for a children’s show. Gordon hates his career and longs for respectability in his music career. After a terrible brain injury, he endures a high-risk operation on his brain — causing him to adjust his perspective on life. The show follows Gordon’s journey through his operation.

Jillian Werbisky, the show’s set designer, said Gordon’s conflict stems from his struggle to reignite his passion for writing music. She added that Gordon’s second chance at life becomes “the point for his personal journey,” and she’s excited to present it to an audience.

“‘A New Brain’ is really a celebration of musical theatre and it is incredibly joyful to have it back in its full glory,” Werbisky, a senior psychology and administration of justice double major, said. “I think there’s so much in this production that can appeal to audience members.”

The plot follows Gordon’s struggle with his music and personal relationships. Through his brain injury, he acknowledges his life and career. Rachel Nolen, the assistant manager of the production, said Gordon’s world changes as a result of his injury.

His entire world is flipped upside down. Gordon is forced to go through with a horrifying craniotomy to save his life,” Nolen, a junior theatre arts and political science double major, said. “Through the show, we are introduced to so many fun and energetic characters that help bring light and hope to such a horrible situation.”

The audience also encounters children’s television host Mr. Bungee. Gordon is tasked with writing a song about spring for Mr. Bungee’s television show and feels the pressure of the song’s deadline from the host who comically appears in Gordon’s hallucination during his operation, dressed as a frog.

Other characters in Gordon’s life provide comfort, such as his best friend Rhonda, his mother Mimi and partner Roger. Gordon finds hope in these relationships as seen through songs such as “An Invitation to Sleep In My Arms” and “I’d Rather be Sailing.”

Werbisky said the musical has multiple aspects, including solo pieces and group numbers, that appeal to audience members.

“There are light comedic moments contrasted with heavy and sad moments,” Werbisky said. There are beautiful solo pieces and energetic group numbers.”

These comedic and sad moments come together through the students involved in the production. Gabriella Walko, the stage manager, said the production features a variety of students in various majors. She said all majors are welcome to participate within the department.

As stage manager, Walko said her role in the production includes bridging a gap between the production team and the performance team.

“During rehearsals, I help keep us on schedule and provide support from the production side,” Walko, a junior theatre arts major, said. “For tech and performances, I am up in the booth calling light and sound cues during the shows to help execute the show while my [stage manager] team is helping run backstage.”

Werbisky said the cast and crew of the production have dedicated time and effort to the performance through design meetings, musical rehearsals and staging rehearsals.

“For ‘A New Brain,’ we started these meetings roughly when classes started for the spring semester, and from there every group works to get their responsibilities completed,” Werbisky said. “The elements start to come together and, as a designer, it becomes more about fine-tuning details to maximize the vision. There’s a lot of work that goes on for months to bring us to dress rehearsals.”

Werbisky said she began working on the designs for “A New Brain” at the end of October. She explained that soon after the design team met to discuss possible ideas and to collaborate.

While designers work on the design concepts of the production, the stage manager along with the assistant stage manager attend nightly rehearsals with the director and cast to incorporate the music and staging.

Nolen said her role as assistant stage manager included taking notes during rehearsal regarding blocking, track props and sets and creating a deck sheet. A deck sheet is used by the backstage crew during tech week and performances to make sure that every moving set piece is accounted for.

“We work on these productions from the early stages of design up until the very last performance,” Nolen said. “It is a time-consuming and tiring job, but I absolutely love it.”

Nolen said all members of the production work to bring the show to life once the designers begin their creative process.

“Once everything goes into build, our students work overtime to help bring the entire show to life,” Nolen said. “Once we reach tech week, we get to see everything flood together into a beautiful production filled with so much hard work and dedication.”

Walko said the Pitt Stages department creates wonderful pieces of art and encourages students to attend their productions.

“I think it’s often the case that many Pitt students don’t realize we have a theatre department, let alone that we have such amazing people creating wonderful princes of art,” Walko said. “I would say that live theatre is such a gift especially given recent times, and to come and experience it.”