Go Deeper

Countertop Doll Dicing: On “BARBIE BLENDED: A Pop Rockin’ Musical” With Writer Haygen Walker

Posted July 12th, 2012

“Writing a musical is like having a baby,” said Haygen Walker, writer and co-lyricist of the 2012 Philly Fringe show BARBIE BLENDED: A Pop Rockin’ Musical. I stared at him, trying hard to muster a look of feminine sage: “What do you mean?” I asked. He answered rapidly, his mouth a tripping cog in a mind that seems to churn and churn. “Its long, its painful,” he said. “And, you’re medicated.”

“Our medicine has been diet soda and junk food. You just hope and pray that it’s cute when it comes out. I’ve worked too hard for it to be an ugly, little baby.”

And judging by our conversation, it certainly sounds cute; Walker’s four-actor play centers on Sophie, a 12-year-old in the prime of her awkward stage (think braces, acne, and sprouting extremities). Raised on the adulterated plains of Twitter, pornography, and reality television, she falls in love with Frankie, a boy whose only marker is that his oafishness surpasses Sophie’s.

Blundering affections. Morphing bodies. Love kindled from the brew of sweat and boogers.

How’s that for a teaser? More after the jump.

Walker, a native of Virginia and a rising senior at The University of the Arts, pulses with the anticipation of a playwright with child: his whole body gushed—miraculously, the straw fedora he wore maintained a steadfast hold on the back of his head—and he led me through BARBIE BLENDED‘s five-year-and-counting gestation. “It started freshman year at UArts,” he said. “I just knew there was a blender and there was a Barbie, and that’s what I knew.”

He had to throw Barbie and kitchenware aside though (in addition to a full course-load, Walker has one internship and works two jobs), until the summer following his sophomore year when he attended the Theatermakers Summer Intensive at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT.

“We had to write six plays in six weeks,” he said, “so literally you’re just sobbing, and writing, and wanting to kill each other.” Yogic breathing ensued before Walker browsed the forsaken tundra of Microsoft Word and his incomplete theater projects: “I opened a half-written document. It was called BARBIE SMOOTHIE.”

He traced a tangible folder on the cafe table, as we spoke against a bay window in Good Karma Cafe on Pine Street. It’s a study cafe, and Walker is a frequent customer. In my recording of our interview, Walker’s recount of BARBIE BLENDED‘s early years coincides with the roar of the cafe’s blender, and the two combine—Walker’s subtle Virginian drawl, and the hoarse cry of a smoothie’s creation—into one incomprehensible gurgle, a blending of artist and artist haunt.

The clamor dies quickly. “I knew it was my last play at the O’Neill and I wouldn’t have to pay for rights to any music,”

Walker and Henry use Skype and Facebook to compose the show’s songs.

Walker said. “I wanted to make it a Pop Rockin’ Playlist.” With no time to create his own music, he decided that he would use pop songs of the day, and that the characters would dance to them. He was happy with the piece, but put it aside when he returned to UArts in the fall. He found his fellow students to be really unhappy. “It was a miserable semester.” In the spring he returned to the O’Neill Theater to take part in the Advanced Playwriting Semester, and returned also to BARBIE BLENDED. On second glance, he made some big changes: “I was like, No. So I took the pop songs out and put my own pop songs in.”

Walker has no formal musical training. “I’m tone-deaf,” he said. “I know nothing about music. I don’t know what a key is,” so the act of putting his “own pop songs in” is really a cross-region collaboration, made possible by Skype and Facebook. He met two songstresses, Tyler Henry and Beth Hyland, while at the O’Neill Theater, and they have remained friends and colleagues, coming on as BARBIE BLENDED producers and songwriters.

Recipient of a virtual press pass, Walker welcomed me into the BARBIE BLENDED Facebook page this weekend. He is the unofficial song curator, writing prodding posts for Henry and Hyland: “We need something boy-band-y. Probably for Frankie. Boy bands are making a come-back,” he wrote, linking One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” below. In response, Henry and Hyland post home footage: Hyland is often seen sitting cross-legged, a keyboard balanced in her lap, while Henry sits at an upright piano in an ill-lit living area. Despite the rawness, the pieces are well-crafted, gorgeous, and funny: ridiculous lyrics of pre-teen angst drawn to melodies that evoke pop-rocker Katy Perry and the more mild singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson.

Committed is one word to describe these young theater makers—that, and charitable. The show is teaming up with Toys for Tots Foundation for their ten performances, and free admission will be granted to anyone who brings an unopened toy. In a world where playtime means iPhone apps and Farmville, Walker thinks of tangible playthings as integral to a healthy upbringing. Well, in most cases.

“I didn’t even really play with toys,” he said. “I was a total weirdo. I was into writing horrible slasher movies. When I was eight-years-old, I was watching Scream on repeat, knowing every word to Scream, and writing slasher movies, and making my neighborhood friends come over and perform said slasher movies. And then they just stopped coming over. I don’t know why.”

BARBIE BLENDED: A Pop Rockin’ Musical runs September 1, 2, 8 and 9, at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and August 31 and September 6 and 7, at 8:00 pm at the Gershman Y Blackbox Theater. 401 S. Broad Street, Avenue of the Arts. $15.

–Audrey McGlinchy

Photos courtesy Haygen Walker.