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StudioDuke Artist-Mentor Team Reflects on Experience

Published: 2 months ago | 0 comments

Through the StudioDuke creative arts mentorship program, Jackson Prince ’19 was connected with Charles Randolph-Wright ’78, a director, writer, producer, and performer for theatre, television, and film.

Randolph-Wright served as a mentor to Prince as he wrote and produced 1600 Vine: The Musical, loosely based on a Los Angeles apartment complex that’s home to social media’s trendiest celebrities.

Check out the below Q/A with Prince and Randolph-Wright for the story of how 1600 Vine evolved and how they worked together.

StudioDuke is accepting applications until September 29; all Duke students are eligible.

1600 Vine will be presented again over DEMAN Weekend (November 1-2) in the von der Heyden Studio Theater at Duke’s Rubenstein Arts Center.

Q/A: Jackson Prince ’19

What was the inspiration for 1600 Vine? 

The inspiration for “1600 Vine: The Musical” is 1600 Vine: the apartment complex, which unofficially became the prime Hollywood landing spot for real-life social media starlets back in 2015. The show is loosely based on the community that has formed within the building, as the fictional group of Instagram influencers and YouTubers in 1600 Vine: The Musical tell the story behind the story of our digital generation.

I had been frustrated with unrealistic portrayals of social media and its effects, specifically in the theatrical realm. The “dream” of going viral has been loaded with lofty and romantic expectations of just what this emerging path to fame and fortune leads to. In 1600 Vine (the apartment complex, and the musical), the dream has already been achieved, and the challenge issued to these hyper-aware, super-famous 20-somethings becomes far more daunting: What do I do with it now, and will it be enough to cement my place in Hollywood?

When did you begin work on the project, and how did it evolve?

I had always known that 1600 Vine would be a collaborative project. With such a wide array of characters in the fictional show, I decided to distinguish the various voices of the show with different songwriters for each character. In June 2018, I sent out some feeler emails and my StudioDuke treatment to some of my most talented Duke friends, who ranged from music majors and Duke Chorale singers to members of Hoof ’n’ Horn, Duke University Improv, a cappella, and Small Town Records. I began writing the first scene and song of 1600 Vine in July 2018, but it wasn’t until September that the project really began to evolve from my singular vision to a shared vision of what the show could be. The show’s gone through many, many changes since July 2018 (going from a long two-act to a 100-minute one-act, replacing songs and characters and storylines, etc.), but once I had gathered a truly gifted creative team and a cast who would become instrumental to envisioning the characters they would go on to portray, I knew that we had something special.

Cast of 1600 Vine: The Musical

The cast of 1600 Vine: The Musical

What made you decided to apply for StudioDuke?

I actually applied for StudioDuke on a whim in the Fall of 2017. All I had was a 10-page treatment. No songs, no scenes. But I was encouraged to apply by the exponential growth of the artistic environment surrounding me at Duke. From my first year at Duke to the present day, I have seen the immense growth in the extracurricular arts and the doubling down of the University on the arts in general (capped with the completion of the Rubenstein Arts Center). And since I didn’t go abroad in my four years at Duke, I had the opportunity to not only oversee the growth of a few of these incredible organizations, but also to create deep friendships and working relationships with the talented students and administrators/staffers who support us. I didn’t ever dream that I would be in the position of putting on this musical at Duke for the second time, but (and I find myself saying this often) the arts at Duke continue to surprise me.

How has Charles’ guidance helped to shape the project and impacted your growth as an artist?

Without motivation from Charles Randolph-Wright, my StudioDuke mentor (and much, much more than that now), a dozen Duke students could have never written and staged an original musical in 8 months. His guidance, from early discussions in the formation of the show to last-minute problem solving for its April 2019 production and its upcoming November 2019 production, has elevated the show (and the process of writing and producing it) to new heights. We speak several times a week (oftentimes about 1600 Vine, of course). Yet I’d say that about half of our conversations don’t concern the inner-workings of the show, but rather the world in which 1600 Vine lives, the impact of Generation Z on it and its impact on Generation Z, the mental health and moral wealth of 2019. Charles is a real artist, and with his trust in us to steer this project ourselves—and his willingness to make our relationship a two-way street of information and wisdom—we’ve been given the necessary freedom and power to create something of this scale.

What has been your favorite aspect of working with Charles?

In July 2018, I visited Charles in Boston as he was doing tech for an ArtsEmerson workshop production of his show, “Born For This.” We met outside of the theater at 11 PM (which is typically when theater people decide it’s time to go home). After talking about the project for a few minutes (which in reality was an hour), he asked me to write the first 15 pages by the time I would leave, two days later. I had 3 pages written. But what I’ve learned from working with Charles Randolph-Wright is that if he issues you a challenge, you just do it. So instead of watching him tech his production, I sat backstage in a dark corner and wrote 12 pages the next day. While neither of us recommend that this is the way to write a musical, it was his demonstration of what’s expected and what’s delivered that set the tone for his mentorship. The most important person for any kid hoping to make a career in the arts is a gatekeeper, someone who simply allows you to do the thing. Charles blows gates wide open, and then trusts me and a group of hungry Duke students to run through them.

What would you tell someone considering applying for StudioDuke?

Apply. There’s no harm in putting your work out there, especially in this space, where no “likes” or “comments” or “views” judge whether your art is good. Any idea that you are passionate about and get excited thinking about working on is more than worthy for StudioDuke consideration (and general pursuit beyond StudioDuke). Duke is preparing for more homegrown projects like 1600 Vine to come through the pipeline, and Duke is expecting its students to supply those projects.

Q/A: Charles Randolph-Wright ’78

How has the arts landscape at Duke and in Durham changed since your time as a student?

When I was at Duke (in the Dark Ages), there was only a fledgling drama program. I was one of the first three drama majors. The concept of art was secondary to a “real” career in medicine or law.

What led you to become a StudioDuke mentor?

How can one resist [StudioDuke director] Amy Unell? Then after meeting the Prince known as Jackson, I had no choice.

Can you describe your overall experience as a mentor? 

Working with Jackson has been inspiring. It reminds me of the dreams I had at Duke and makes me appreciate the fact that dreams do come true. Watching an idea in his head turn into an extraordinary musical gives me tremendous hope about the artists in this next generation.

Jackson Prince and Charles Randolph-Wright

Jackson Prince ’19 with StudioDuke mentor Charles Randolph-Wright

What has been your favorite aspect of working with Jackson?

We truly have a collaboration—that is the ultimate goal in working on a project. He is a brilliant young artist, but he also is kind, aware, and dedicated to change. His passion is infectious.

Are there specific lessons from your career (in terms of craft or larger life lessons) that you hope to impart?

The pursuit of the dream is more important than the dream. Especially as a student at one of the greatest universities in the world, you have an opportunity to try everything. And if you don’t see that opportunity, create it!

How do you view StudioDuke and your mentorship as complementing Duke’s curricular programming?

Universities can be insular and often myopic. StudioDuke can open students to the world, to the next part of the journey. It can be thrilling and harrowing, challenging and joyous—like life. I am excited to see what other projects emanate from StudioDuke.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about 1600 Vine or your participation in StudioDuke?

1600 Vine is going to have an exceptional life after Duke, and I am proud to have been at its inception. I thank StudioDuke for introducing me to my now adopted son Jackson. I expect astounding things from him, and can’t wait to see all the magic and madness he will create.

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