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FTT’s ‘Stupid Humans’ brings student-written work to the stage

| Thursday, February 21, 2019

This Thursday, FTT’s production of “Stupid Humans,” a pop-musical written by and starring junior Jorge “Jay” Rivera-Herrans, will open up to a sold-out crowd. The musical itself is based around a common problem students at Notre Dame will face — it revolves around the main character grappling with the choice of following his dreams and going out on a limb for what he wants, or picking a sensible and stable future. The production will run from Thursday until March 3.

Rivera-Herrans said the idea for the musical was sparked from real world experience with his own deliberation between switching majors, after initially coming into Notre Dame as a pre-medicine major.

“It got to the point where I hated doing pre-med stuff and I loved doing theater … so one day I switched majors without telling my parents,” he said. “I got a lot of backlash for it, and the pressure got to be so high that I felt like I needed to express myself in some way. I grew up writing pop songs on the side — just for fun — so I figured, why not try writing a musical about this exact experience, since I felt so strongly about it. And that’s where ‘Stupid Humans’ came from.”

After Rivera-Herrans began writing music for what would turn into “Stupid Humans,” he played one the songs for one of his professors, Matt Hawkins. Hawkins, the head of the Musical Theatre minor at Notre Dame, said he was interested in hearing more and agreed to work with Rivera-Herrans. He eventually became the director for the production.

“He was in a class of mine and he sang a song that I’d never heard of and I said, ‘what is that?’ And we started talking and he said he was working on a musical … I was like, ‘let’s do it,’” Hawkins said.

With the help of Hawkins and the music department, the production of “Stupid Humans” was able to begin.

“This is the first time that we have really put the money and the resources behind a student written work from a departmental standpoint,” Hawkins said. ”And, on top of that, it being a musical is just an ambitious project, so yeah, we encourage it, but we’ve never done it at this level.”

The fact that “Stupid Humans” is an original piece that has never been performed before is one that gives the cast and crew a lot of freedom in portrayals and other aspects of the show, Rivera-Herrans said.

“Since it’s new work, we have the flexibility to change things here and there, so it’s constantly changing,” he said. “It’s more fun to do new work. It’s so cool because I wrote these characters and I have an idea of what they would look like in my head, but everyone else doesn’t — there’s nothing to look up, nothing to Google. They read the material and they just make it their own, and it’s so cool because some things came out different than I expected, but they’re better like that.”

Madelyn Steurer, a junior playing the best friend to Rivera-Herrans’ lead, also has a story similar to Rivera-Herrans of switching from pre-med to a major that held more of her interest. She said people will be able to identify aspects of themselves in the unique production.

“It’s super rewarding to see it all come together and to know that we created this,” Steurer said. ”We are the first to do this, and it’s been awesome to give voice to a character that hasn’t been done before, and to bring her to life.”

Hawkins said “Stupid Humans” is especially applicable to students at Notre Dame because they are going through many of the same conflicts the characters of the production are as well.

“So if, you want some music and you want some jams, then come see it,” Hawkins said. ”And, on top of that, it’s for undergrads. It’s for this population. I think they’re getting pulled by family and they’re getting pulled by society and they’re getting pulled by what their heart says.”

“It’s about what you should do and what you want to do and trying to balance work and life and your passion. And a lot of us think that you need to have a certain path because you have to make money and you have to provide for families,” Hawkins said. ”You have to do all those things, which are great, admirable things to do. Do you ever sacrifice what you want and what you love to do those things — where can you find a balance?”

Rivera-Herrans believes there is something for everyone at the show, and it is accessible across the board.

”I think there’s something for everyone in this show,” he said. ”While the main theme is following your dreams, there are other themes of coming to accepting yourself, making friends, accepting others and just coming together as kids.”

Steurer emphasized the importance of taking the lesson of the musical and following the dreams that seem to not be attainable.

“To take a quote from the show, ‘The biggest dreams we dream are those we dream together,’” Steurer said. ”And it’s all about, at our age, being able to encourage people to follow their biggest dreams because you might think it’s not possible, but we need creators in the world, and we need people being unique and themselves.”

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About Mariah Rush

Mariah is a junior majoring in American Studies and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She is from the great city of South Bend, which is not the middle of nowhere, and serves as an Associate News Editor for the Observer.

Contact Mariah