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New musical to help the homeless

Park City High School and Denison University graduate Brittany Klintworth Bullen has been writing plays since she was in elementary school.

She has created dramas and comedies, but her most recent work "Shelter: A New Musical," which will have a run at the Murray Theatre, 4959 State Street, from May 20-28, is her first musical.

"It’s really completely apples and oranges," Bullen said about the differences. "It’s more complicated to write a musical than a play because composing music is such a long process."

Bullen recruited her brother-in-law, composer Newell Bullen to score the music to be played by a 12-piece orchestra including guitar, bass, drums and strings.

"We have an interesting process," she said. "I wrote the show in my head before I started working with him. I had all these songs in my head and I went over to his house three days a week. He would sit down with his keyboard at his computer and I would sing him the song and tell him how I wanted the violin to sound. He’d play it and I’d say,

‘Yes, do that.’"

The idea for "Shelter," which examines homelessness and abuse, originated after a conversation Bullen had with a friend, who is a director.

"She lamented the fact that there are always tons of women who want to do a show, but a majority of the shows out there are heavy on guy roles," Bullen said. "So, I thought, ‘Why don’t I write one?’"

Bullen’s original plan was to create a musical comprised of vignettes, sort of like "Cats," about different characters.

"That way I would have the opportunity to create a lot of characters for different women," she explained. "However, as the idea took on a life of its own, it became clear that I needed a plot."

A plot eventually emerged about a woman who starts working at a homeless shelter in Philadelphia and how the people she meets there help her overcome her own history of homelessness and abuse.

"My storyboard crew involved my very patient husband and my very funny mother-in-law," she said. "They helped me figure out which way the story was going to go."

Bullen has never been homeless herself, nor has she been abused, so tackling the subject matter in a way that was accurate and sensitive to people in these circumstances was difficult, she said,.

"I had to make sure it wasn’t sensationalistic," she said. "I also, wanted to make sure this was a family show. It was always important for me that people would feel comfortable taking, not necessarily little kids, but teenagers to the show."

As the musical evolved, Bullen started thinking of ways she could help those who are really homeless and abused.

"I fell in love the idea of using theatre as a medium to contribute back to society," she said. "The idea of making it a fundraiser for the Salt Lake homeless seemed like the natural progression of things, because we are trying to make people aware that people who are homeless are not as different from us as we think, and to do a play about the homeless and not try to help them would seem hypocritical."

So, Bullen, the cast and the production staff decided to donate the ticket sales to organizations that help the Salt Lake City homeless.

"We’ve raised almost $11,000 from individual donors to cover all the production costs, so the money made during the show, can all be given back to charities," she said.

The 10 charities that will benefit from the proceeds are Road Home, Fourth Street Clinic, YWCA, Rescue Mission, South Valley Sanctuary, Catholic Community Services, Salt Lake City Mission, Family Promise, Safe Harbor Women’s Shelter, Volunteers of America’s Center for Women and Children, Bullen said.

Helping these organizations is only a part of the reward for Bullen.

"One of the best parts about the project is hearing the songs that I’ve heard in my head all these months come to life," she said. "The cast members have taken the message of the show under their wings and are vested in it. To see the thoughtfulness even though the characters are people that I made up, means a lot to me. They are sensitive about the fact that while these are fictional characters, there are many people out there who are going through these situations."

"Shelter: A New Musical" will run May 20 through 28, at 7 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees May 21 and 28, at the Murray Theatre, 4959 S. State Street. Tickets are $13.60 and available at http://www.sheltermusical.charityhappenings.org.


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