There’s more to country music than beer, trucks and dogs, despite the stereotypes that surround it. Country music stems from a great tradition in the South, branching into folk music that lies within a rich heritage that remains universal still. In the full picture of the world of music, it is a unique one that often gets overlooked for the small standards.
Dynasties exist within this genre, with the Carters and the Williams, and the family business carrying on to the next generation. Presented by Unbound, Vassar’s experimental theatre organization, “Poundcake Family Band” will display this world in a raucous, silly performance.
The show will be going up Thursday, March 31, Friday, April 1, and Saturday, April 2 at 8 p.m. in the Susan Stein Shiva Theater. “The Poundcake Family Band” is a comedy that follows the members of the eponymous country group after they decide to break up. The show is filled with countless sketches and a live soundtrack that serves as on ode to Southern music. The show was co-written and co-directed by Elizabeth Snyderman ’17 and Caitlan Moore ’16, who also appear in the show. After Saturday’s show, there will be a talkback where the audience can ask questions and give comments to the cast and crew.
Through a series of vignettes, Ma and Pa, played by Maddy Meigs ’18 and Chris Brown ’16 respectively, their children and the other members find themselves starting out new lives with the lingering question of whether or not they’ll reform the band. The show takes on a similar form to a sketch comedy, but with a more cohesive and narrative flow to it. Whereas sketch comedy often includes disjointed skits and musings, “Poundcake Family Band” features this level of comedy alongside a conventional theatrical narrative. Both Snyderman and Moore are in Indecent Exposure, so they can bring this skillset to Unbound.
Taking place in an ambiguous, universal time and location, “The Poundcake Family Band” works as a simulacrum of the world of country and Southern music, taking both the good and the bad sides of it.
“Poundcake Family Band” didn’t start with such a grand design, but instead sprouted simply from a walk in the city. Snyderman remarked, “We came up with the idea for this show this past summer walking around the streets of NYC. We were waiting for the subway and we started singing some sort of folk song and we were like, ‘What if we were a family band that did wacky folk songs?’ and it just kind of grew from there. We spent a lot of time over the summer developing the idea, and then we kind of put the writing on hold in the fall. Over winter break, I wrote the bulk of the sketches, and then Caitlan helped me edit them.”
A notable element of “The Poundcake Family Band” is the music. The show’s several strange original songs, featuring musical accompaniment, display the cast’s diverse musical talents. Because the cast is broken up into different scenes, it wasn’t until recently that some were able to see the full picture of the show, a detail that makes the show all the more interesting.
“The rehearsal process hasn’t been too intense, and since the show is comprised of a series of skits, no one person has a lot more to do than another, which makes it different from other shows I’ve participated in,” explained “Poundcake Family Band” ensemble member Sophie Koreto ’18. “The musical aspect as been incorporated gradually. Usually Elizabeth will have actors listen to the song a bunch of times before singing it. The cast is a fun mix of people who have musical experience and those who don’t.”
All of the actors in the ensemble will be playing multiple roles, putting the actors’ ranges on display. Since the show’s style involves numerous sketches, each actor also has the ability to get their turn in the spotlight.
Country music and the South also influenced the general direction of the production’s designs. Costume Designer Ben Costa ’19 commented, “Most of the costumes come straight from the Poundcakes themselves; they’re such distinct characters that the bulk of the costuming is pretty intuitive. Since there are so many different sets in a sketch show, the rest of the costumes act almost like set pieces, helping to set the tone and context for a scene.”
“In some ways, this show is a tribute to the South and to country music. By making the time and place unspecific, we are able to make the reach of the show a little broader; it’s about country-pop stars of the ’70s and ’80s, the Appalachian folk tradition, Zydeco and Luke Bryan all in one. [Additionally], it allows us to critique the often racist history of folk and country music, while also celebrating the enormous contributions people of color (particularly Black people) have made to Southern music,” said Snyderman.
The Southern music this show’s world embraces still exists today, as each generation of the genre carries what the past had with it, checkered details included. And while it’s easy to dismiss it as a genre where every song sounds the same, each artist has their own style, from the classic Johnny Cash narrative flows to contemporary love songs of Taylor Swift to the timeless Dolly Parton’s beautiful vocals. “The Poundcake Family Band” exhibits the breadth of this musical world, presenting a crash course into a beloved genre.
As bizarre as the show might seem, Brown aims for the audience to embrace “Poundcake Family Band” for all its silliness and fun: “I hope everyone gets a good laugh! It’s definitely a strange show, but no doubt very funny, mostly due to Caitlan and Elizabeth.”
He continued, “I hope the audience walks in not knowing what they’re getting into, and they walk out feeling a little confused, very happy, and just a tiny bit emotional. I hope they see under all the kookiness, there’s a small message of what it means to be a family. And I hope they look into some Johnny Cash and other classic country music after the show.”