Chance Meetings Shine in Ordinary Days

By Finne Murphy

Before the musical began, director Maria Flanders ’18 spoke to the audience crowded inside Hepburn Zoo. Along with a kind reminder to silence our cell phones, she implored us to recognize the ability that seemingly inconsequential chance encounters have to change our lives. The show that followed, Ordinary Days, with music and lyrics by Adam Gwon, poignantly explored these moments.

Running from Dec. 3 to 5, Ordinary Days was performed by four members of the Middlebury College Musical Players. The story, in which almost all of the dialogue is sung, follows the lives of four young people as they weather the storms of relationships, graduate school and fizzling careers. It all begins on a busy street corner, where Warren, played by Logan Wahl ’19, attempts to hand out artsy flyers to passersby in New York City. As one woman passes, she accidentally drops a notebook.

This simple moment spirals into a strange and unlikely friendship between Warren and Deb, portrayed by co-producer Hannah Johnston ’15.5, after Warren reaches out to Deb in order to return her notebook. The two characters could not be more different: Warren is undyingly optimistic, whilst Deb, a struggling graduate student, is fiery and defensive. Yet as they get to know each other, the nuances of their struggles find their way to the surface, and both characters change for the better.

At the same time, thirty-somethings Claire and Jason, played by Liana Barron ’18 and Peter Dykeman-Birmingham ’18.5, must grapple with the tensions of the next stage of their relationship: moving in together. Interactions between the two of them reach a fever pitch, forcing them to confront their fears and uncertainties. By the end, the strength they find in each other proves great enough to overcome the pain of the past.

The relatable circumstances that the four characters struggle with – relationship problems, academic confusion, uncertainties about the future and the feeling of facelessness in a vast and crowded world – remind us of the power that our actions can have over those around us. The musical is effective in demonstrating how seemingly inconsequential moments can coalesce into bright and powerful life transformations.

Flanders echoed this sentiment in describing her experience as a first-time director.

“I feel so lucky to have been part of the sweetest, most mutually supportive team of cast and crew for this show,” she said. “They have been random, chance encounters, but wow, have they had an impact on my life story.”

Even with a strong sense of backstage camaraderie, however, there were a few challenges in putting the show together.

“Logistics were tough,” Flanders noted. “We had trouble initially with securing the rights [to the play], and of course it is hard to schedule with all the activities Middlebury students are involved in. One of the biggest obstacles was figuring out the accompaniment. We ended up with half live and half recorded tracks at almost the last minute, so our pianist [Gloria Breck ’18] and the cast and crew had to quickly adjust to new sound dynamics, tempos, timing and organization. Because everyone is amazing, they’ve done a great job of pulling through.”

The songs themselves did most of the talking, serving as a bold vehicle of emotion for the characters’ struggles. The set list grappled with a unique array of experiences, from feeling invisible to wanting to be anywhere else but here, from processing pain from the past to letting go of hopes for the future.

For Johnston, the show marked the moving end to her undergraduate theatre work.

“This musical is especially pertinent to me as I prepare to graduate this coming February; it’s a reminder to take a step back, take a breath and remember that things are going to work out, one way or another,” she said. “I think Ordinary Days has a message that speaks to a lot of Middlebury students – it’s important for us to remember that it’s not just impressive end-goals that matter. It’s imperative that we enjoy where we are now and what we’re doing along the way. The musical sings a message of perspective.”

With its sharp humor and sometimes painfully relatable storyline, Ordinary Days implores the audience to consider the fine line between the momentary and the momentous. Even if we never have a chance to see the lives we affect, the most ordinary acts in the most ordinary days can cause the most beautiful changes.