Most actors assume the character of someone else’s invention. Ethan Slater ’14, however, is able to dictate his own role in a musical he wrote, “Hubcrawl.” Slater has been working on the show for his senior project with the drama department. The show will premiere on Feb. 13 and explores people’s relationship to technology and each other.
Slater finds bliss in the unique experience of writing musicals. “It’s a good combination of studying drama and studying music,” he said.
As the Internet continues to become increasingly accessible and, hence, influential, the musical seeks to explore the creation and confirmation of identity in the generation brought up from childhood with a continuous connection to each other and to information—or, as Slater dubbed it, the “Always-on generation.”
Slater said that when putting together “Hubcrawl,” he wanted to deal with our generation’s specific confusions and challenges. “A lot of the inspiration came from a desire to express this particular generation and what it means to be intertwined with technology and the real world,” he said.
To realize and express this idea, Slater employs a rich combination of musical genres in the production. “So the music in that show goes across a bunch of different genres that are popular now but also that are expressive. [There’s] folk rock, bluesy music, and there’s punk songs. [They] just jump all over the place,” Slater explained.
Slater assumes a perspective of experiencing drama from the two distinct yet connected angles, as both an actor and writer in the musical. “Interestingly, when you create [a show], you feel like you have a lot less control…There’s something beautiful in the fact that I can write a lyric or a line of music, and when it’s interpreted by someone else, it jumps off the page in an entirely new way,” Slater shared.
Conversely, Slater holds an appreciation for working with the playwriting of other’s and how he can personalize the work of a stranger by taking artistic liberties. Slater said, “When you’re acting, you take a piece of music and you can make it your own and disregard in some ways what the playwright’s intent was and just focus on what the lyric means to you.”
When Slater is not writing music and acting in plays, he is involved with Matthew’s Minstrels, a co-ed a cappella group founded in 1978. “I’ve been in Matthew’s Minstrels since I was a freshman. It’s been an incredible experience. Not only are they a great group of singers, but they are great people too. With them I’ve got to sing a lot of really fun music, and I’ve got to arrange music. It’s been really helpful for singing, too. I get to sing an extra 6 hours a week with these people and it’s really wonderful.”
Indeed, Slater not only sings music but also creates it. Slater has been writing his own music since the age of ten, prompted by learning the guitar. “As soon as I started learning other’s songs, I basically started writing my own,” he recalled. “Learning other people’s songs really helps you build techniques and become a professional player. But I was always so excited to create something new. And when I was in the beginning of middle school, it was generally terrible. But it was just so much fun and was something I loved to do. I would love to play my songs that I was working on by myself in my room. And just rewrite and rewrite them until it was what I wanted it to be,” Slater shared.
In high school, Slater began to write and arrange music with friends in an a cappella group. At the same time, he started to take music theory and composition classes. However, he thinks that neither theoretical knowledge nor full mastery of skills is the most important thing when it comes to creation. “The best way to learn about creating is to create. I mean it’s really important to get the techniques well and you should definitely study it and figure it out. And that’s what I do as well. But the best way to learn how to create something is to do it and fail, and then do it again. Because in each failure you learn how to change your way of doing it,” he shared.
Beyond school, Slater has been acting professionally for the past three years. Two summers ago, Slater worked on an off-Broadway musical for two months. And this past December, he was commuting between Vassar and New York City to do a show with One Year Lease Theater. “I’ve been really lucky to meet and audition for people who are incredibly talented, and I’m honored to be surrounded by them. Vassar has really prepared me for that in a big way. Doing a lot of shows here and being around competitive talented people is really amazing.” Slater shared.
Despite their different rehearsal hours, theater for Slater at Vassar and in New York City are quite similar. “It’s different but it’s also the same. People are driven and passionate and brilliant.”
A year ago, Slater signed with an agent. And after graduation, he will move to New York City to further pursue a career in acting.
“I guess I’m still trying to figure out what I want my path to be. But I know that right now I just want to do everything until I figure it out.”