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Adventures in Clubland with Jacob Porter

TheaterMania U sits down with Jacob Porter, Emerson College senior and producer/director of the pop musical Clubland at American Repertory Theater's Oberon.

Most college seniors are confused about their life path, but not Jacob Porter. He's been mentored by legendary Broadway producer/director Hal Prince and record producer Kurt Deutsch, and interned at entertainment marketing agency SpotCo. He also has his own producing company, Retrop Productions, whose mission is to produce professional-level shows in a college setting. This summer, he'll be busy working on an independent film as well as producing a new musical called Julian Po at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. You know, the usual stuff for a soon-to-be-college graduate.

For right now, however, Porter is immersed in the strange world of 1990s club kids. His newest project, Clubland: The Musical, tells the ripped-from-the-headlines tale of Michael Alig, a young celebutante who beat and poisoned his drug dealer. The story shocked the nation and brought the glamour and gore of New York's club kids front and center in the media circus. Featuring an equally youthful cast and crew, the show promises to put audiences right in the middle of the action…literally.

We sat down with Porter to discuss collegiate life, Pokémon, and the process of adapting a real-life murder into a pop musical.

How exactly did you come about choosing and acquiring the rights to this story?

I saw a show [songwriter and book writer Andrew Barret Cox] did at Emerson last semester called Pokémon: The '90s Rock Show and it definitely had its own flair and had some great songs in it. … After that we started talking and I said "what else are you working on, thinking of working on?" … He said that he had an obsession with the book, movie, and the shockumentary Party Monster. … From there we found James' contact information through e-mail in late April/early May. We e-mailed him and then he got right back to us a day later saying "Art is interpretation. Go for it." … He didn't really give us the rights to the book or the movie, but more so to the story and the permission to use his take on the events.

The '80s club scene is something pretty involved and unknown to most people. What kind of research did you have to conduct to create this production?

We read all of the source material. The club kids were on a ton of talk shows. … We watched a lot of clips. … We watched the shockumentary, which was extremely helpful because it … has all these real people in it, so we were really able to pull from all of that.

Clubland's press release bills it as an "immersive theater experience." What exactly does this mean?

I think because of social networking and how easy it is to connect today, people like to be a part of things, and so immersive theater — and the Oberon really is the perfect space for it — just throws you into the action. … Everything that happens in Clubland takes place in a club and so it needs to be in this environment. This kind of show wouldn't necessarily work on a proscenium stage.

Clubland was funded entirely by the Internet donation site Kickstarter. What sorts of freedoms come with breaking away from the traditional investor-producer structure when it comes to creating a show?

The main thing that I like about Kickstarter is that you're getting backers who really support the show. They really just want to see it succeed, not for financial gain but because they believe in it. … And I like that — I like that you're getting emotional investors.

What's it like to be a student by day and a producer/director at one of the most prestigious regional theaters in the country by night?

It's a lot. It's a lot of work. … I think the key is to surround yourself with people who are just as motivated and dedicated to a project. … People like our stage manager (Samantha Burke), our costume designer (Haley Vigil), and our lighting designer (Grayson Breen) and everyone else involved are incredibly organized and passionate. But it's hard. … It's a tough balance. Especially in your last semester of school! [Laughs]

What are your hopes for Clubland post-A.R.T.?

I think that this show has a lot of potential. I would love to see it be done where it takes place: I'd love to see it in New York. I'd also love to see it have an extended run sometime next year at the Oberon … I'd love to keep developing it.

Clubland runs April 11 and April 12 at A.R.T.'s Oberon. Click here for tickets and info.