Courtesy Relative Space
The new rock musical “Relative Space” is showcasing female talent from Utah through its writing, producing and performing, and it will be on stage in Utah County before, creators hope, moving on to Broadway.
Two years ago, producer Jeremy Long, who had never even thought of producing a musical, began the production in Utah where his family had connections in the industry. He said he did not create this musical for his daughter Kjersti Long, who sings each of the 10 songs in the musical, to star in — he wanted the music to be utilized by whoever would fit the role the best.
Melissa Larson, playwright, said Kjersti Long’s songs tell of miscommunication, pain and hopelessness with glimpses of light and hope.
Jeremy Long said, too often, musicals portray a light at the end of the tunnel with mental illness, but he believes it is an incorrect portrayal. It leaves people waiting for the rare, cinematic happy ending.
“The way to look at it is there are glimpses of light throughout this dark journey that you’re going through, and those glimpses are beautiful, and they’re worth going through this. It sucks that you have to go through this, but there is light along the way. And it’s worth it to see those glimmers of hope and light and keep living because they’re there and they’re gorgeous. And that’s more real, and that’s part of our story,” Jeremy Long said.
Courtesy Relative Space
“Relative Space” addresses the darkness of mental health and the damage that miscommunication and shame can have, but Larson and Long hope it will speak to the audience in a way that breaks through the miscommunication in their own families and shakes the stigma of mental illness by talking about it.
“We don’t give them the room and the race to get the healing and the help that they need. So that is what we are trying to do with the show, is raise awareness and let people learn a little compassion. Be a little open, open your heart to people in this situation,” Larson said.
“Relative Space” is segmented, unlike other musicals where the performers act, sing and dance, show organizers said. Instead, they chose the best actors, best vocalists and best dancers for each section of the musical.
Kjersti Long sings each song but is not the lead daughter on stage because the music is performed separately from the acting. To Jeremy Long, it’s a play and rock concert at the same time.
“The music supports what’s happening on stage and what’s happening on stage supports what’s happening musically, and you could do them both separately, but they are stronger together,” Larson added.
Courtesy Relative Space
“Relative Space” follows the relationship between a mother dealing with depression and a daughter dealing with anxiety — both of whom struggle to communicate. Thus, the music becomes a vessel for their communication, Larson added.
Attendees, Jeremy Long said, should keep in mind that songs in the show were written by a teenage girl experiencing everything the music conveys for the first time.
Kjersti Long wrote “The Disguise,” she said, to express the darkness and heaviness that came from miscommunication with her mental illness. As a parent, Jeremy Long was grateful she shared her feelings, and wanted to share that feeling with others through “Relative Space”
“She wants everybody else to know that it’s okay too,” he said.
Although the music is all from Kjersti and Jeremy lives, the plot is not about Kjersti Long and her mother’s relationship, Larson stressed. Larson was given the music and built a play around it, interpreting songs in her own way.
Larson realized later that many aspects of the play unintentionally align with Kjersti’s life — like the daughter using art as an outlet just as Kjersti Long did.
Everyone involved worked to create a genuine story, one that doesn’t gloss over the darkness or heaviness that can loom over conversations about mental health. The story gets a happy ending, though, because that is what the world wants.
“It’s life. I needed this to be real life. I told Larson, ‘Do not pull punches. We are going to deal with this stuff. It’s going to wreck people, potentially, and that’s okay. We’re going to approach this in a real way.’ And I think we did that while still creating hope,” Jeremy Long said. “Art has a way of bringing out emotions in people that maybe they have kept deep down for a long time.”
He believes the show can bring out the emotions of Utah residents specifically that have been locked away due to stigma surrounding mental health. Some attendees will deal with their emotions, some will be uncomfortable and some will walk out — Jeremy Long said — but regardless, the emotions are expected to surface.
This is Larson’s hope as well. She expects the audience to watch the mother and daughter miscommunicate, hear the music convey the character’s inner monologues and say to themselves, ‘why aren’t they just talking to each other?’ Her goal for the musical is for people to think what is happening on stage is real — she wants them to see their own lives on stage.
A VIP staging of the musical will be held at the Liahona Theater for the Community in Pleasant Grove on Thursday with additional screening this Friday and Saturday and from June 29 until July 1. Tickets can be purchased at https://relativespacemusical.com/.
The show is recommended for ages 12 and older and the website includes a list of potential triggers including suicide, depression and other mental illnesses.
Jeremy Long said they expect people to walk out during certain parts of the show because they are portraying a mental health journey without removing the brutality and realness they expect to parallel many of the audience members’ lives.
He added he expects certain parts of the show to be cut out on further stagings, so this is a chance for Utah residents to see the musical in its raw form.
“I think Utah people will come and they’ll see it and they’ll see themselves in it, but also, we’ll go do this in Denver and Kansas City and New York and the exact same thing will happen.” Jeremy Long said. “This will be the bane of this generation, is mental health. We touch on a different aspect of mental health than has ever been done in theater.”