Balloonacy: A Look Back


By Barry Kornhauser

Music by Conor Keelan

Directed by Kathryn Welsh

Lighting and Scenic design by Gene Oliver

Costume design by Kendra Babcock

Stage Managed by Dominique Hinde

Assistant designer/puppeteering by Jewel Brown

Starring Paul Manganello as the Old Man

[disclaimer: I’ve been writing this post over the course of seven distracting months, and at this point it has been nine months since the last performance so I feel like I’ve lost a lot of what I was going to say. Sorry!]

I was given the opportunity to be the musician for a one-actor children’s play called Balloonacy at the Flint Youth Theatre. The play follows the story of an old man, who befriends a questionably sentient balloon on his birthday. It’s in the style of a silent comedy, with no dialogue, and accompanied by music throughout, which consists of piano, drums, percussion, guitar, as well as some voice and balloon sound effects

I have been in pit orchestras before, almost exclusively playing woodwinds, so being able to branch out instrumentally was a very appealing idea to me. And to be the sole musician? That offered a level of creative expression and personality that I haven’t had before, especially with most of the percussion parts improvised in coordination with the action, and having to think on my feet when things didn’t go as planned.

The first few rehearsals were mostly learning to work with each other as performers. They had been working on blocking for a week or two before I came in, but when I arrived, everything seemed to click. Being without dialogue, the play relies on other methods for communication, and the music accounted for a lot of emphasis on the emotion expressed. Not being a pianist by trade, it took me a better part of the week to get the music under my fingers, but once I did, everything melded together really well. Paul and I were often locked in with each other, playing off of each other, learning together through performance. 

I would like to extend my admiration for the director, Kathryn Walsh, who kept a very comfortable and easy-going atmosphere, and who greatly encouraged collaboration, everyone’s input and ideas, and discovery. Kathryn and I also seemed to be on the same wavelength a lot of the time. She would try and describe how I should do something, and then I go “well how about something like this?” to which she responds with “perfect!” Collaborating with her was such a joy, and very validating of my own artistic voice.

There were six performances for schools, I believe, which were a very unique experience as compared to the normal shows. Being in a smaller, more intimate venue allowed for a greater encouragement of audience interaction, and it was an absolute delight to see how different groups of kids reacted to everything. Some groups were quiet and polite, some were loud and engaged and talked to us on stage, which gave opportunities for improvisation. It was even more interesting to see, after a handful of those shows, what the evening audiences found humorous compared to the morning children audiences. Jokes that the children loved would pass by the older audiences, and vice-versa.

In addition to music and sound effects, I also put together the house music. It consisted of jazz, with some big band and avant-garde kinds in the mix. You can check out the playlist here:

Playlist on Spotify

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