Preview: The Underground Society for Music Portrays a World Where Music Is Banned

The Underground Society for Music is a play with music about a group of musicians fighting to keep their artform alive. In spite of constant threats from government actors to stop for the greater good, they remain determined to succeed.”

That’s how a new Chicago play is described by its creators; it’s a fledgling play that forecasts a future society where music is banned because resources now spent (or “wasted”) on music are needed to support basic needs of citizens. The Underground Society for Music was performed twice last weekend in a workshopped version as part of Trap Door Theatre’s Trap Open series. The play and lyrics are written by Austin Lamewona and directed by Rian Sondag, Music is by Brooke Vespoli (artist name is Book NOT Brooke) with additional compositions by Maya Kociba, who also is is music director. 

The play is scheduled for a more fully staged presentation Labor Day weekend, August 29-September 1, at the Greenhouse Theater Center. At that time, a live concept album of the music will be recorded too. 

Show art for The Underground Society of Music.

The script for the Underground Society is a tightly wound and well-written story of two musicians—Tandrin and Jewel—who desperately want to start a music school and help interested souls learn the joy of playing and listening to music. “What? A school just for music?” they are frequently asked. It’s a time when no one knows what a guitar is. 

In this future society, music has not been heard for years. People of all ages don’t know what music is or how it sounds, although some may have a slight memory of a song sung to them in childhood. 

A pirate radio show called The Wordsmith, hosted by Richie, Lyra and Davis, broadcasts stories with artistic themes; they are frequently censored. Tandrin and Jewel appear on the show to talk about the new school and play a song—but listeners mostly hear static.  

The music school holds its first classes. Jewel, who has a storage locker full of used instruments, delights the small group of students with guitars, trumpet, cello, keys, drums and tambourine. 

The cast after the show., Photo by Nancy S Bishop.

Because any hero story needs an anti-hero, The Underground Society has Lavina, a government operative, who is chatty and personable as she tells us about the pending government ban on music. The ban would prohibit any performance or playing of music and any manufacture or sale of instruments. 

The Underground Society has been in process for several years, since the first concepts and drafts in October 2019. After years of readings and rewrites, the first rehearsal was held in November 2022. Staged readings have been held at Redtwist Theater and Mercury Theater. In the Trap Open performance, actors were off book. 

The Underground Society for Music is presented by Under the Umbrella Productions. Current cast members are Sam Adams, Abbie Brenner, Andrew Faggion, Austin Lamewona, Maddy Logan, Malachi Marrero, Jamie Redwood, Jasmine Robertson, and Hershey Suri.

The play ends with a eulogy to music. Here are some of the lyrics:

Ode to music
it was a joy while it lived
But all songs must come to a close
And dissipate and end 

Eulogy for music
It died a long slow and painful death
We gather now to celebrate its life
Everything it gave and took away

The thought of a world without music made me sad. While I was writing this, I was listening to K.D. Lang’s beautiful Hymns of the 49th Parallel. I ended the day with some Townes Van Zandt (Our Mother the Mountain and Live at the Old Quarter). 

The Underground Society for Music will be performed Thursday-Sunday, August 29-September 1, at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Watch for ticket details at The Underground Society for Music. Running time is about two hours with one intermission.

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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.