Skype Drives New Musical on Immigration: “Greencard Wedding”

The effects of immigration law -- and singing by Skype -- becomes a new downtown musical.

Ryan McCurdy and Jody Christopherson in "Greencard Wedding." Photo: Kacey Anisa.

Immigration issues have complicated many loving relationships. In Jody Christopherson’s  Greencard Wedding, running at NYC’s HERE through Dec. 20, an artistic and romantic partnership that begins in NYC soon turns to the Internet to stay alive. The show (“part rock concert, part Skype film”) tells the story of backup singer Joy Fine (Christopherson) who meets visiting Irish bartender Connel Byrne (multi-instrumentalist Ryan McCurdy). An experienced guitarist and couch surfer, Connel moves in with Joy and encourages her to share her talents with the world. They form a band: Greencard Wedding.

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While Connel’s visa lasts, he and Joy make some great new music. Unfortunately, after he returns to Ireland, he finds it difficult to get another visa. Opportunities for gigs arise, but as Connel cannot be in NYC, he and Joy are forced to talk to each other via Skype. It’s not an ideal way to sing together.

Based on real-life events, Greencard Wedding is co-directed by Christopherson and Morgan Zipf-Meister; the latter provides lighting design and also plays Connel’s sister, Claire. The uplifting, yearning songs are written by Christopherson and McCurdy with Adam Swiderski and David Anzuelo. The show, presented by Goode Productions, is being performed in rep with another intriguing Christopherson show, called AMP. For tickets, click here.

Here is my interview with Christopherson and McCurdy.

Ed Malin: The show is described as “inspired by a true, bittersweet love story of one band’s artistic triumph via technology and music.” Can you elaborate on that?

Jody Christopherson: I started a band called Greencard Wedding with Dutch musician Michael de Roos, who was in America on a K-1 visa. We met in a church, instantly connected and thought the name would be a funny band name. Later, it became a way we’d stay connected. We moved in together pretty quickly, and made music (part folk, part Dutch beatbox) pretty much every day for two years. We started performing it and touring. His visa ran out. It was very hard to get another and we discovered we couldn’t make music over Skype. A lot of our work was based in harmony and you can’t speak or sing at the same time on Skype. So, I started writing this sort of performance art concert called The Skype Show, which was just us being ourselves on a projected live Skype call onstage (but in the same physical place) and playing our music, talking to our audience and giving out cake. The hope was that the show would give us reasons to work and hang out more together in person, and make a case for an artist visa if people booked it — and they did. But, ultimately, it became too difficult to continue performing the show. Immigration is complicated for a lot of reasons, both personal and financial. The band broke up. I did a re-write and created Greencard Wedding from that experience.

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EM: Can you describe the music a bit? Do you find Celtic music the most exciting?

JC: Greencard Wedding’s music is experimental folk rock, I’d say, which leaves it pretty open for a lot of influences or possible adaptations. When we were re-casting the role from the Dutch version, we decided that whoever we cast there would be a rewrite tailored to them. Ryan plays six instruments, is a generous human and really blew us away in the audition. Artist visas are expensive and there’s still a lot economic disparity in Ireland. We have artist friends there who have told us stories about that. As someone from an area of America with many farming communities, a place that can be financially impossible for people to break out of, I felt Ireland was one of many good settings in which to explore this conversation.

Ryan McCurdy: The longer I live, the more I find out about McCurdy family connections to Cork and the surrounding counties, so it feels wonderful to inhabit this character. The Irish accent has always come naturally to me; my first professional role was The Cripple of Inishmaan, and the accent popped back up when I did outreach and Broadway Cares work for the musical Once. I’ve always romanticized the Irish mythology and landscape and, yes, traditional Celtic music, which is so invigorating! I also like the way it informs and shapes American folk music, which is a duality you’ll hear a lot in the show. The performance of traditional Celtic rep, which I’ve done a little of, is one of those things that takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. Those songs are masterpieces of form. The accent has had a lot of help over the years — I want it to be as honest as it is theatrical. My first dialect coach was Fintan Muldoon and on this show we’ve been lucky enough to work with Guen Murroni and Chloe Dirksen, who use a perfect combination of technique and encouragement.

EM: Your multimedia shows the characters connected even when far apart. It just shows how video chat can help separated families to stay together.

JC: Possibly? Skype blogs may publish some stories like these. Video chat, the devices we use to connect with it and wifi, are still luxury items in many places. It’s heartbreaking to see and read about what’s happening to people right now.

RM: It has definitely raised my awareness of the ultimate limitations of even the best technological alternatives for human presence. When the show was being workshopped with live Skype calls, I was always terrified of the prospect of the call dropping, and on the occasions that it did, it felt tragic, even though Jody was less than 20 feet away. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be separated from your family or loved ones, but I am grateful for any technology that closes that gap, if even only a bit.

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EM: In the years that Greencard Wedding has been in development, have either of you thought of immigrating to another country as a post-election idea?

JC: Berlin, Canada, Ireland and Italy are all on my list.

RM: Nope, I’m going to stay here and do what I can to help. But traveling abroad? Yes, please, all of the time and all of the places.

EM: The administration’s planned travel bans have communities protesting in the streets as well as on stage. What effective ways can we all work for immigration?

JC: Voting. Protesting in the streets. Keeping the conversation open, listening and looking for and creating opportunities to work cross-culturally for meaningful change. Our team is made up of people who have many different experiences, which helps to keep the show honest and humble (I hope). It’s been developed with Irish artists who live in the EU. Greencard Wedding was commissioned to create a song about two people in different countries dealing with climate change, which is being performed all over the world at the moment by different artists, in Climate Change Theater Actions. When we tour, we have conversations with other communities. We were just at The Studios of Key West, which is 90 miles from Cuba and have also performed in Miami. We try to help spread the word about organizations that work to help artists obtain visas. Arts and Artists and Tamizdat are a few.

RM: Learning as much as possible about immigration law and how it is altered and voted upon in the US. Making calls to elected officials on topics important to you and your community. Listening to friends with dual citizenship, visas, and greencard stories and supporting their work and livelihoods.

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EM: Can you give more detail for your other show, AMP?

JC: AMP is a new solo work-slash-live horror film for theater, running in rep with Greencard Wedding (and is also a touring show). An amp is both an electrical current and a nod to a modern Prometheus. The piece investigates the discovery of “animal electricity,” the birth of modern feminism and the monsters society creates. As Mary Shelley begins the process of writing Frankenstein on stage, a woman who auditions for the Boston Symphony during their first historic blind auditions is committed to an asylum. It’s a multimedia world in which women behave badly and can be grotesque and powerful. The piece has film and projections created at abandoned asylums, internal organs, historical props and costumes. I’m thrilled to work with director Isaac Byrne on it. We’ve workshoped it with him in Texas, rehearsed it over FaceTime and closer to the performances he’ll fly into NYC to work in person.

RM: My band, Bonfire Falls, is wrapping up a busy year and has a lot of music in the works for 2018. I’ve started a reading series called Front Porch Readings, which will be monthly starting in January and endeavors to put playwrights in front of a diverse industry audience at no financial cost to themselves.