It’s pretty easy to dive head-first into the arts in Lawrence, Kansas. You can play music, spend time onstage at the theatre, or even find success as a writer. In a grandiose stroke of steadfastness, one local musician is determined to do all three.
You’ll recognize Jeff Stolz from The Frightened Stag (and previously Drakkar Sauna)– and, if you are his neighbor, you may have seen him poking around the garden in a robe with a 200 lbs. bathtub. In fact, the robe/tub combo made an appearance at a recent show at the Bottleneck. It’s all part of an elaborate buildup to an offbeat musical comedy he’s writing called “The Exultant Stag.” It’s set to debut at the Lawrence Arts Center September 22. The performance will tackle some important issues, like mental health, but featuring some of your favorite indie musicians around town. Currently, there’s a fundraiser going to help it cross the finish line. But until then, we decided to sit down and talk with the man of the hour about what to expect from the musical.
IHLM: What’s the premise of this musical?
JS: It’s about a man named Sonny who has a phobia of bathtubs, and he’s having recurring nightmares. He goes to see a therapist and learns how to alter the events of his nightmare in an attempt to make it less distressing. He chooses to change his dream into the Roman myth of Prince Actaeon’s encounter with the Goddess Diana at a forest spring. It’s a problematic decision for him.
My band The Frightened Stag will be performing the music, and it will also be the soundtrack release on vinyl, featuring new original music by the Stag and a new Drakkar Sauna song. Wallace Cochran will be coming in to act in the play as Sonny and guest sing, and Heidi Gluck has agreed to be the therapist and a guest singer.
IHLM: You’ve been a staple of the Lawrence music scene for decades. Why the shift to musicals?
JS: I started writing it in the winter of 2020 during the throes of the pandemic when everyone was hunkered down. It was a lonely time, and I was missing live music and performance and trying to think about what people might be yearning for when it was all over, what might quench the thirst of those missing live entertainment.
IHLM: How do you feel a project like this helps you develop as an artist?
JS: It’s been very challenging so far. I was plagued by self-doubt while writing it and quit working on it for weeks-long stretches at a time. Then I really had no idea if it was going to be able to be produced. The Arts Center has been gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to produce it. I’ve been involved in productions there in the past but never something I feel entirely responsible for that requires the support of a community of invested and committed creative people. That’s an exciting and anxiety-provoking responsibility that’s a new challenge for me.
IHLM: What do you need to get this project off the ground?
JS: I started a GoFundMe for the play and for the vinyl album release, because records are very expensive to manufacture and the play is a low-budget production. I definitely will have to compromise some of the aspects of what I envision for the play given the available resources, but I would love to be able to cover some of the additional costs of taking the production up a notch. More importantly, Lawrence is a community rich with creativity. All too often, the time, labor, and creativity of artists and musicians go practically uncompensated when you consider the amount of preparation, rehearsal time, and investment in essential equipment and materials. I’d love to be able to offer adequate compensation to the people willing to contribute their artistry to this project, and that will require some additional support.
IHLM: Why do you feel it’s important to do this?
JS: I hope people find this play wacky, humorous, and enjoyable but it also has a positive message about mental health and depicts a therapeutic relationship that is affirming and productive for Sonny and celebrates the small triumphs that combine to build progress when people who are struggling get the support they need. I’m a social worker, so my career has helped shape some of this underlying message. I’ve always strived to keep my work life and creative life somewhat separate, so this is a new attempt for me at finding inroads to integrating them. We’ll see if I can pull it off!
Editor’s note: There will be four performances:
- Friday, September 22 at 7:00 p.m.
- Saturday, September 23 at 2:00 p.m. & 7:00 p.m.
- Sunday, September 24 at 7:00 p.m.