It ain’t Broadway, It’s Bat Boy

ACC unveils it’s new musical theatre department with a debut performance of Bat Boy: The Musical

By Aidan Warren

Photos courtesy of ACC Drama Department

This article was featured in the Fall 2023 issue of ACCENT Magazine.

There was a raucous silence in the auditorium, a breathless air, and then – BOOM! The stage flashed red, and in the light, a grotesque thing: an evangelical’s worst nightmare, a mutant heathen born for fear. A ragged boy with bat ears and a silverback gorilla’s pose, leering at the crowd from behind his primal cage – and there, the crowning jewel of the creature’s costume, a fitting reminder of another monster in America: “keep kids off drugs” is displayed on his D.A.R.E. souvenir t-shirt.

This was the reveal of the eponymous protagonist in Bat Boy, the mic-drop showcase of Austin Community College’s musical theater upgrade. The production calls attention to the new programs within the drama department, like the now offered Associate of Arts in Musical Theatre and Associate of Arts in Costume Technology. It’s a star-stunning debut, ornamented with persistent gags and mocking tropes so much that the whole spectacle plays like a hammer-to-the-knee reaction test — the more you restrain yourself, the more it pulls the glee out of you.  The show’s other notable features include:  side-characters passing joints to stuffed animals, sardonic pow-wows against middle-aged maternally-bosomed women with a penchant for Confederate-culture eccentricities, and Guillermo-del-Toro-esque romances between strange mutants and innocent girls.

“It’s Theater of the Ridiculous,” explains Jamie Rogers, ACC’s drama and music director at the helm of Bat-Boy, “where actors treat the weird as normal as possible.” His conception of the show was to flaunt the new facilities of the Drama Department at ACC’s Highland campus, which culminated in the Black-Box theater. The department received a variety of equally important additions behind the scenes as well, such as: a new scene shop with state-of-the-art basal wood sawdust and metal hardware to which the sawdust basal wood can be fastened; five new acting studios for script-reading and workshop complete with yoga mats for movement and mindfulness training –  as if the present memoirs of washed up actors weren’t enough a reminder to maintain mindfulness; costume and set design labs equipped with drafting tables and Macbooks so that the college can further ensnare you in to their lair; and a greenroom in an upgraded backstage with outstanding stage monitors for actors to keep track of their cues.  If my facetious descriptions don’t do it justice, I assure you that the additions are extraordinary. Every room I visited with Rogers emitted a professional and modern aesthetic, so that at times I questioned whether I was still visiting ACC or a genuine theater studio. 

But the Black-Box is the paramount result. The show’s box-office and entrance are more pleasant additions to the professional flair of the new facilities, with the theater’s look greeting guests like a soft-spoken lay – the only difference between the intimate setting for some Brooklynite one-act play is the lack of rat-infested ventilation weaving about the ceiling and moldy brick walls rampant with cracked mortar. 

To Rogers, the theater serves as a wealth of possibilities for the future of ACC’s Drama program. “It’s really flexible – we can turn the stage into anything we want,” he says. Though Bat Boy didn’t take advantage of this, the theater is more flexible than it lets on: the seats can be arranged in every which way – whether it be a Globe-Theater colosseum format where the seats encroach upon the stage in a circle, or a runway-style arena where the actors have a walkway indented into the crowd. The eventual goal of this, Rogers notes, is to “maybe not perform big shows like Rodgers and Hammerstein,” but to allow malleability for future performances that can lead to unique experiences for the drama students.

Maybe that is the crux of it all. In a world with conflict woven into its seams, everything seems muddled and irresolute. Certainty threw itself out the window ages ago. With each day that moseys on, it seems we lose track of when and where we are, until the news brings us back to a new reality each year. You’ll hear words like, “No, that war is over, now you need to care about this one,” or, “A.I. is already in the past, it’s time to get ready for petroleum-based music formats, … they’re the unprecedented future!” And as a result, we resort to any means of unification as a way to distract ourselves from the hodgepodge of world affairs that lay piecemeal across time. And what better way to gain that unification than through art: the most universal medium across humanity. 

Rogers says that  Bat Boy alludes to an inexorable problem storming through American culture. The allusion is evident if you had a chance to attend the musical – most of the cast repudiates Bat-Boy and wishes for his ostracism, despite his comprehensive self-education and attention to social norms. He is by every definition a delightful young man in southern culture, but the pretense surrounding his upbringing hinders anyone in his community from cultivating acceptance. Instead, they beat around the bush and connive ways to ensure his exclusion from society. And what better way to compliment the scapegoatism than by wearing the D.A.R.E. t-shirt?

The future of musical theater at ACC seems to point towards culturally-aware programs with themes that conflate with modern society. When asked what his ideas for future musicals would be, Rogers stated his uncertainty, saying “when we get closer to next season, everything can change, and that’s when we’ll be able to see what’s going on in the world and what we can do to represent that.” Even if no answer really came from the question, the uncertainty itself is more gratifying than any plan that could’ve been posed. Any musical department could rely on tried-and-true shows, whether it be Cinderella or Thoroughly Modern Millie or what have you – but what if a department decided to choose unique selections based on the state of global affairs? Rather than seeing The Book of Mormon over and over at the Butler Hall, what if we saw Bat-Boy, a slightly obscure musical that resonates all too well in the world we live in? 

Whether you’re an actor, a stage technician, or a faithful audience errantist – consider looking into the future of ACC’s drama program. For myself, Bat Boy played out to be an experience like no other and not  just  because of the show; in fact, the impetus of my excitement for the performance lay in the mirth and din of the theater that night. Despite every trouble in the world – every parley, every conflict, every moral-forsaken insult on the grounds of political fervor – an audience was brought together under one roof, coalescing into a jovial uproar, and so much so that for a moment, Bat Boy actually felt like a distant fantasy instead of so grounded in reality.