Christopher: Hello, and welcome to episode number 25 of the PMA podcast. In this episode, Lindsey White and Christopher Christensen meet with producer Milo Dominguez to discuss the upcoming fall production of Festival24.
Lindsey: All right. Well, welcome, Milo.
Milo: Thank you so much. Good to be here.
Lindsey: Good to have you here. So this is your fourth time producing Festival24, right? And you are co-producing this year with Arin Sheehan and this will be her first time, right?
Milo: Her first time co-producing. Yeah.
Lindsey: So when Festival24 first started, it was strictly theater productions, right? I think it was called the 24-Hour Play Fest back then.
Lindsey: So more recently it has become four plays that are produced over the course of 24 hours and a dance piece. So is this festival following that same description?
Milo: Yeah. The impetus for change was we wanted to create a festival that wrapped in all the different aspects of the department into one kind of discrete performance. And so, you know, we wanted to, there've been films in the past, and so we wanted to reach out to different aspects of the department and work with students together.
Lindsey: And as you've said, this is really a great introduction to the performing arts community here on campus. And we really encourage first-year students to get involved. And we have an email address that interested students can write to if they're interested in participating. It's firstname.lastname@example.org and that will go right to you, Milo, right?
Milo: Directly to me and Arin.
Lindsey: Yeah. Great. So tell us a little bit about how this process happens. What is Festival24? Can you sort of walk us through the timeline of how it starts and how it gets to showtime?
Milo: Yeah, so in the weeks before the festival, you know, we put our feelers out there and basically encourage anybody who wants to participate in literally any role—you know, you can direct, write, act, and dance. And we put together this roster of awesome people. And then the day before the performance, we all gather in the Film Forum where we talk about how the festival's gonna go on. And there I announce the theme and the twist. And as soon as I do that, the writers go off and do their thing and create their little worlds. And the next day we meet here back at the Schwartz at around 6:00 AM. We do a lightning casting round and then send the actors off to do their thing in spaces around the building where they're memorizing their lines and really getting into character. And basically as soon as the actors start going, they have 12 hours to get off book and create a show.
Christopher: What does that casting process actually look like? Like, how many people usually show up?
Milo: To the casting?
Milo: So we, we collect all the actor's head shots cause Lord knows they don't want to be here at 6:00 AM. And kind of in a frantic early morning blur myself and the rest of the directors and writers go around and look at the head shots and just say, that person, we're gonna, we're gonna go with them. And it's, it's kinda just a, it feels like a draft almost.
Christopher: So they're not even auditioning.
Christopher: You're choosing them.
Milo: We're choosing them. Yeah.
Christopher: Okay. Wow. They don't want to be here at 6:00 AM?
Milo: Embarrassing story. Last year I overslept and showed up at 6:15 and all my writers and directors were, were mad at me. So sometimes even I don't want to be here at 6:00 AM.
Christopher: Wow, how about that?
Milo: I got a call from Sarah Marino just like "Milo, where the hell are you?"
Lindsey: So the playwrights, as you said, they start Friday night around 7:30 PM or so. And so you said you meet with them and reveal a one-word theme and a one-word twist to that theme. So, who comes up with those themes?
Milo: Historically—and I think this goes back two of my predecessors. We, we've had a really good working relationship with a lot of the comedy groups on campus. So I, I typically reach out to some of my friends in, in, you know, the Whistling Shrimp or HumorUs and just say, pick two words that you think are funny together and make sure they're not related and as vague as possible. And usually we get that the day before. And I find that, I find that the vagueness inspires the writers to really reach out and create special worlds. So.
Christopher: One of the things I'm interested in is knowing that it's 24 hours, so it starts at 7:30 PM on Friday night. It goes live at 7:30 PM Saturday night. That means pretty much everybody's awake that full 24 hours.
Christopher: Now when I was in college, staying awake that long was okay, but I know, I know that by the time I showed up for if I did a paper or something, you know, class was sort of, it was a wash. How are you feeling at that point? Once everything goes live?
Milo: Yeah. The morning is when I feel most, you know, awake and alive cause everything's starting to happen. But then you know, over the course of the next 12 hours on show day everything does kind of start to blur together. And, and really the last—you know, this is my fourth time and every single time, the last three hours are just, they go by so quick. Cause you know, all in that you have to fit in a dress rehearsal, you have to fit in, you know, making sure the rest of your, you know, gear that you need on stage is set. Making sure everybody's there. Cause we've had a couple of issues with that before. And yeah, it's, it's kind of like an adrenaline-fueled delirium I guess.
Christopher: Yeah. This is a little bit of caffeine mixed with adrenaline and try to find how to balance it all out.
Milo: Yeah. We've had actually writers who have, because of the way that, you know, fickle actors sometimes like to drop out the day of. And we've had writers step up actually, and after they finished all night writing a play, get up the next day and be in it.
Christopher: Wow. That's impressive.
Christopher: Yeah. I don't have the energy to do that anymore.
Lindsey: Yeah, I'm tired just thinking about it.
Christopher: So you were talking about the production, so what does the production look like? What are some of the components—lighting, sound, those types of things. Give us a little overview of that.
Milo: Yeah. We've built a good working relationship with the light designers in the department and the sound designers and kind of—like I said earlier, one of our goals is to reach across the department and encourage everybody to use their creative talents as best as they can. And so in the case of lighting designers, we just bring them in and let them do exactly what they know how to do best. I kind of, as much as I can, being the producer, I try to step back and let them do what they think looks best. And, you know, 9 times out of 10, it's a really, really awesome final product. So.
Christopher: Okay. Any sound design that takes place?
Milo: The sound design tends to be a manic rush of going on YouTube and finding the perfect clips. But we typically have one of our stage managers you know, splice everything and put it all together. And again, it's the same sort of thing: I let them figure out what they think sounds best as a way of expressing their creativity. Okay.
Lindsey: So Milo, you describe Festival24 as a low-risk, high-reward way to dip your toe into the PMA community here on campus. So who should get involved?
Milo: Anybody and everybody who is even marginally interested in the festival can and should participate because of how short of a commitment it is. It really becomes the perfect place for people who haven't tried directing or haven't acted or haven't written anything to try that because you know, it's only going to be performed once and you only have to deal with it for a day. And, you know, every single time everybody who participates is like, man, I'm really, really glad I did that because you walk away having performed or created or, or directed something that people really like and you can hear that in the audience. And I, I think that spirit is something that I really appreciated about the festival when I got involved as a freshman. You know, coming to Cornell, I'm from Florida and I had never really even left the state until I got up here. And so that was, the Festival24 was one of the first things that I really did on campus. And I really felt that spirit from the people who organized it and the older students who were participating in it. Which is why I wanted to get involved, you know, as a producer. And yeah, I walked away from that experience, not only feeling really great about the play that I was in, but also having made new friends in the department, and feeling like I had grounded myself here at Cornell now with an awesome new community that I had just met. So really low risk, really, really high reward.
Lindsey: Yeah, I know when we've been at the new-student check-in in the past and spoken to incoming freshmen we describe what Festival24 is all about and we see that enthusiasm and they're so excited. And as with many other things in this department, it's open to all majors, all minors. You said yourself, you're a music major, English minor. But if you have any sort of interest in anything involved with the performing arts, there's a home here for you. So what do you like best about being involved with Festival24?
Milo: I think the thing that I like best is, is seeing the enthusiasm that I'm putting out there reflected back even more. The way that the people who participate in this festival and the people who have been helping me for the last however many times, now both as an actor and producer, the way that they feel about the festival and the energy that they bring is, is my favorite part. My first time producing by myself, I, right before the dress rehearsal, I gathered everybody into the Flex, which is where that year's festival was. And, there was a moment for, I just took five seconds of everybody's time and just looked at them cause it was so cool seeing, you know, I don't know, like 50-something people that were, the majority of them were all of my pretty close friends. They're present and ready to make really awesome art and that energy is something very valuable. So, yeah.
Christopher: So what are some of the unique challenges that you face when going through the process?
Milo: I think the most unique challenge is the fact that you truly do not know what your show's gonna look like until right before it goes on, which is mildly terrifying. But overall a pretty fun challenge. Kind of stemming from that, I feel like that's the core of the unique challenges, right? Cause then you have to start to address, you know, what if we don't have this prop? How are you going to tell a director to solve that problem without, you know, you can't build something. So they have to find a creative solution. Or one year we had a writer who was, who was dealing with, you know, pretty heavy topics and figuring out how to include that and have their work still be presented as valid in the context of, you know, what's typically a very traditionally lighthearted show. Stuff like that. Just the unknowns are the challenge.
Christopher: Okay. One of the things I'm thinking about is the focus that the actors must have because you did say that they go off book.
Christopher: So there's no script in hand. There's not a lot of time to get all of those lines down.
Milo: I think it's a testament to the level of talent that we have in the department and more broadly just at Cornell that people can—having never read the plays before and only having 12 hours—fully embody a character and bring that character to life in often surprising ways because I think the fact that they don't have all the words that they're going to say perfectly memorized brings out a sort of physical acting or a more embodied sense of their character because they have to rely on other things than just the words that they're saying to, to convey what they're trying to do.
Christopher: So I'm curious, we've not touched on the dance, in all the dance aspects, so let's cover that a little bit.
Milo: Dance is definitely not my personal strong suit. So I, like I do with a lot of the other aspects of this festival, I really rely on my friends. So I, the entire time that I've been producing by myself, Madeleine Gray has been kind of my dance partner, I guess. She and I talk in the weeks before the festival. And she puts together her own roster of dancers and I just give her carte blanche to do whatever she wants. And it's always just a really, really awesome final dance product that she makes.
Lindsey: So how would you describe your and Arin's roles as producers for this festival?
Milo: Essentially we are the logistics people. We're in charge of all the master spreadsheets and making sure people know where they need to go, when they need to do that, and what they need to be doing while they're there. But that's like the baseline, you know, "What does a producer do?" sort of thing for this festival. But more than that, we're here to give the actors the energy and the right, for lack of a better word, vibe that they need to pull off a successful festival. If this were an artistic bank heist, we'd be the people, you know, putting together the master plan. It honestly does, at the end of the day, feel like we pulled off some grand scheme. But yeah, we're responsible for keeping everybody's spirits up and keeping everybody focused throughout the day and taking the pressure off directors to solve things that go wrong cause they need to focus on their actors and what's best for them. If there's a set thing, let us do it and let us run around the building and try to figure it out.
Christopher: Okay. So this is really popular from what I understand, previous events nearly sold out, totally sold out?
Milo: It's a testament to the kind of coverage we have on campus that consistently every year I've had to turn many people away at the door. It's sad to turn them away because I wish they could see it, but it's also a little satisfying cause it's like "We made an event."
Lindsey: You did it.
Christopher: So what we're trying to say is show up early.
Milo: Show up very early.
Lindsey: And it's a smaller theater this year, so, for sure. I mean we usually say show up 15 to 20 minutes before the doors open at 7:00 PM. At least do that. It's for sure going to be sold out and it's free. So just show up, show up early, even better, participate.
Lindsey: Right? And again anyone that's interested in participating can email email@example.com.
Christopher: And so now it's, you're off to summer somewhere. Are you, are you here in Ithaca over the summer?
Milo: I'm here for a couple more days. For the Glee Club's 150th reunion. There's a whole big ceremony celebration for that. And then I'm actually going home to St. Petersburg, Florida, where I'm going to be recording an album, actually, with my sister.
Christopher: Oh, cool.
Lindsey: Oh wow.
Christopher: So tell us about that.
Milo: Yeah, my sister and I have been in a band together for...Lord, it's been a long time. Six, seven years now? And kind of, we've had a good rotating cast of players. Our current band, Green Bench Society, a bunch of friends from my high school. This past spring break I went back to Florida after not being home for a while and my sister and I just got talking. And we both found that we were at a place, like, we really want to just create something. And so we made plans to come home, for me to come home this summer and do just that. And I'm really looking forward to the things that come out of that.
Christopher: Is there any place we can check out the music online?
Milo: When it's done, it's going to be on Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple music.
Christopher: Anything out there right now?
Milo: Not currently. Actually, I have a couple of projects with other bandmates, but nothing released under my name yet. So that's kinda what this summer is about. I'm looking forward to making my debut as somebody who has done recordings.
Lindsey: What kind of music?
Milo: Pop focused. But my sister and I take a lot of influence from R&B and soul. Our band Green Bench plays everything from funk to soul to classic rock. So we're, it's this project is us taking all of our influences, all of that great music that we've listened to and that we love so much and kind of synthesizing it into one final project.
Christopher: Do you play an instrument as well?
Christopher: Of course you do, you're in the Music department.
Milo: I sing, I play guitar, bass, drums, keyboard. I do some, I do a lot of audio production. So.
Christopher: And this is your first time in the studio?
Milo: This is my first time taking control of my project. Yeah.
Christopher: So you've been in a studio environment at some point or another, you've had that experience.
Milo: Yeah, I've done a couple of recordings for friends. I'm actually the recording manager for the Glee Club too, and I'm working on the Glee Club's album that's set to be released later this year too. So.
Milo: Yeah. Busy, busy.
Christopher: Fantastic. Well, best of luck with everything.
Milo: Thank you so much.
Lindsey: Thank you for being here.
Christopher: Thanks for listening to the PMA podcast. The performance of Festival24 will be in the Schwartz Center's Black Box theatre on August 31st at 7:30 PM. Please note: doors open at 7:00 PM and although there is no charge for this production, it is highly probable that the theatre will be filled to capacity. With that in mind, please plan to arrive 15 to 30 minutes before the doors open to avoid being turned away and missing out.