Oregon Shakespeare Festival's "The Unfortunates Band" is the brainchild of playwrights/musicians Jon Beavers, Casey Hurt, Ian Merrigan and Ramiz Monsef, but their collaboration doesn't stop there.
The foursome and the rest of "The Unfortunates Band" stage band — drummer Mike Fitch, upright bassist Joe Porto and keyboardist and accordionist Jesse Baldwin — will present a Green Show of new and mostly original material at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, July 9, on OSF's courtyard stage, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland. Green Shows are always free.
Their new material, like the play, combines various styles of American music, including blues, gospel, soul, jazz, rock and hip-hop.
All shows begin at 6:45 p.m.
"Casey (Hurt) grew up in the church, Ramiz (Monsef) grew up listening to nothing but hip-hop, and Ian (Merrigan) has a singer-songwriter sensibility that is like John Prine or James Taylor," says Beavers. "If you get these kind of people in the room, and they speak from the heart, it's inevitably going to jump genres."
Beavers, Merrigan and Monsef — all members of 3 Blind Mice, a New York City hip-hop a cappella group — as well as Hurt, a Los Angeles-based singer and songwriter, began working together in 2009 after getting the go-ahead from OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch to create a play based on "St. James Infirmary Blues," an American folk song made popular by Louis Armstrong.
The score was a labor of love, as the group sought to recognize the evolution of music and overlap genres within songs.
"Jazz, blues and country have the same heart and textures as hip-hop and laid the groundwork for hip-hop to become the art form that it is," Hurt explains. "I spent a lot of time in the studio just trying to figure out the common elements in the equation. After all, music is really just frequency."
The group worked via email and voicemail before meeting in Ashland in 2010 to present a preliminary reading/performance of "The Unfortunates" at the Black Swan Theatre as part of Midnight Projects, a program for OSF actors to share their works-in-progress.
"The second night, there was a line out the door," says Hurt. "We couldn't fit anyone else in. Bill Rauch was the first person to volunteer to sit on the floor in front of the stage. It was a riot of a show ... and there was a unanimous excitement about what was happening."
New York playwright Kristoffer Diaz joined the writing team in 2011 to help finalize the story, and shortly after, the play, directed by Shana Cooper, was added to OSF's 2013 season. It runs through Nov. 2 in the Thomas Theatre.
The raps of Beavers, Merrigan and Monsef bring hip-hop to the forefront of the music in the theater and on the bricks. However, unlike in the theater, where everything is nailed down to the quarter note, the group's outdoor show will be much more improvisational.
"These songs are still taking form, and everyone in the group is a terrific improvisor, from the lyricists to the musicians," Beavers brags. "It's dangerous for us, but we kind of get a high on that."
The Green Show program will include "Helen of Troy," a story of beauty, love and destruction; "Ain't Seen My Home in So Long," a testament to the struggles of life on the road; as well as other musical narratives, an old soul song by Sly and the Family Stone, and two numbers from the play.
"Really there's nothing more fun than playing music with people you love, outdoors," Beaver says. "It can't not be a good time."
Green Shows typically run 35 minutes. See www.osfashland.org/greenshow for a complete schedule.