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Medium heir: Spiritualist’s daughter leads new musical

Ready for a requiem: Heather Christian leads a rehearsal for her upcoming musical “Animal Wisdom” at the Bushwick Starr.
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Sing out your dead!

A new musical about speaking to spirits will lead audience members beyond the veil this month. The creator of “Animal Wisdom,” debuting at the Bushwick Starr on Oct. 11, said that she grew up with family who could talk to spirits, and that the words for the musical came more than naturally to her.

“My great-grandmother was a medium, my grandma was straight-up a medium who had these intense migraine hallucinat­ions,” said Heather Christian, who grew up in Mississippi and now lives in upstate New York. “I also suffered from migraines and a lot of where the songs come from are my musical hallucinations — it doesn’t feel like I’m physically writing the thing.”

During the show, Christian will lead the audience through a musical ceremony, exploring what it means to communicate with the dead, grieve, and finally find peace, said the Starr’s artistic director.

“The heart of the piece is this idea of telling the story of these people in her life who have passed, and her relationship to them, and enlisting the audience to assist in the ceremony of looking for peace,” said Noel Allain.

The 130-minute requiem also features a 20-person choir, accompanied by drums, violin, and guitars, who sing not Catholic hymns, but folk and blues tunes. The event still has a religious feel, with everyone gathered around Christian and her piano in a homely, warm space, said Allain.

“We’re all in this room together, like you would if you went to any kind of religious ceremony, like the congregation more or less,” he said.

The musical is mildly interactive — at times, Christian will ask the audience to repeat a phrase, stand up, or sit down. And the costumes are a mishmash of clothes that look like they came straight out of Christian’s closet over the years, she said.

“The whole space is sort of filled with junk — it feels like someone raided the attic of my brain, a lot of the costumes are like, ‘This is what I wore in the ’80s, let’s try this on,’ sort of like we’re going through someone’s old basement,” she said.

The musical may be all about talking to the dead, but it is merely a coincidence that it falls on some of the creepiest days of the year, said Christian.

“I think it’s a super weird coincidence that we have shows on Friday the 13th, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day — not on Halloween,” she said. “We’re trying to make this as ‘OooOoOoo’ as possible, trying to work with the coincidence.”

“Animal Wisdom” at the Bushwick Starr (207 Starr St. between Wyckoff and Irving avenues in Bushwick, www.thebushwickstarr.org). Oct. 11–Nov. 4; Wed–Sat at 8 pm. $25.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 5:54 pm, July 9, 2018
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