Life has its ups and downs. Life in a popular band where you must face the pressures of performing both on and off stage or risk losing fans, capital and your sense of self? That’s got to be rough. The comedy-drama “The Debasers” features a Texas indie punk rock band and the crises that unravel when you’re crammed in the back of a van with the same people for months on end.
Through bandmates who are either fighting or fooling around, the show’s playwright, undergraduate student Eric Moore, uncovers how musicians maintain artistic integrity and relationships in the presence of social media, while navigating an ever-changing music industry. He says he wanted to explore how musicians balance their public image with their private life while also examining how hard it is to develop an identity in your early 20s, especially as a celebrity.
“Bands make good fodder for drama,” Moore says. “I was also interested in this idea of artists having to perform — not only onstage but offstage as well. As a musician, your image is part of your capital, and I think that’s really intriguing.”
Every fall, the UH School of Theatre & Dance (SoTD) selects a student-written play to produce at UH. “The Debasers,” which opens at the University of Houston on November 16, was handpicked for production by SoTD director Robert Shimko and visiting professor Theresa Rebeck. Moore is flattered and excited to see his work come to life.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that I’ve had this opportunity to develop my work with an amazing cast and creative team,” he says. “They have taken this world that had existed entirely on paper and made it a reality.”
Shimko says Moore was chosen for his savvy, deliberate writing and receptive work ethic. Additionally, the play was selected for its relevant setting, engaging group interaction and fascinating character study. Shimko, who will serve as the director, and Moore wish to highlight how shifting between public and private personas can affect interpersonal relationships and group dynamics.
For example, toward the beginning of the play, the bandmates get together to write a rider request, a list of items performers ask venues to provide. Instead of requesting the usual drinks or snacks, a bandmate asks for… a stuffed giraffe. While some consider it a harmless joke, one group member sees it as a jerk move and potential stain on the group’s reputation and image.
Shimko is excited to introduce audiences to a rambunctious world filled with rock musicians and their “devilish senses of humor.”
“All of the professional musicians I’ve known, especially rock musicians, are around one another 24 hours a day,” Shimko says. “So, they get real really fast. I got the sense early on that Eric really had uncovered something cool about a rock band’s dynamics.”
Moore agrees and adds that he also wanted to look beyond the band life and into the musicians’ insecurities.
“I really wanted to see what it means to be in your early 20s right now and the anxieties associated with it,” says Moore.
Like Shimko, Moore wants to give audiences the chance to relate to each of the characters’ perspective and struggles. He wanted viewers to feel as though they too are a part of this “awesome friendship.”
“The play is funny. I also think it has heart, and it really looks into fundamental questions about relationships, betrayal and idealization of others,” Moore says. “It’s a comedy, but there are definitely moments that are dramatic.”