On Friday, March 3, the cast, crew and creative team of the student-led musical “Pretty Filthy” opened the doors of Wilson 301 to a sold out audience for their first production.
The performance of the musical was directed, co-produced and co-choreographed by Katie Orenstein ’22. The original play was commissioned by the Centre Theater Group in Los Angeles and then produced by the Civilians Theater Company in 2015. The original commission was to “create a show about Los Angeles,” as Orenstein learned through research on the musical. However, to the surprise of the Centre Theater Group, the Civilians returned a musical about the “other side of L.A” — that is, the San Fernando Valley’s porn industry.
According to Orenstein, the Civilians’ research methodology for the creation of this musical was unique, such that they interviewed a number of porn performers, agents and producers. The musical tells the stories of real people who work in this sector of the entertainment industry.
Music director Daniel Lin ’23 said that “Pretty Filthy” has a deeper meaning than the source material.
“I think that it does an interesting job of humanizing people that are often dehumanized,” Lin said. “This musical is really powerful because it's like hey, look at this human — this person with feelings [and] emotions — and they’re going through hard times and just because they do porn doesn’t mean that nothing about their life matters.”
Despite never reappearing after its 2015 off-Broadway premier, “Pretty Filthy” came to Dartmouth for four performances this term as a result of a long-term project spearheaded by Orenstein and the help of theater director Steve Cosson ’90, who directed the original production.
Orenstein said that the vision for this production began in 2017 when “What If I Like It” — one of the numbers from the musical — emerged on her Spotify algorithm. Work began this year when Orenstein, Lin and other members of the executive production team began casting for this production earlier in this term, creating a cast and crew made up entirely of students.
Student-produced musicals such as “Pretty Filthy” provide unique opportunities for students to take on new roles and expand their creativity, according to Orenstein.
“[They can] build confidence, learn more about themselves, set boundaries and come into their own as people,” Orenstein said.
Theater major Sophie Serpas ’24, who watched the musical Saturday night, shared her excitement regarding the breadth of involvement in the show.
“I was so excited to see many new names and faces in the production; it’s exciting to see people excited about theater and it’s amazing to see what previously untapped talent these performers brought to the production,” Serpas said.
Lin shared that student art is always an exciting thing to see and added that it is “really amazing to see student visions and creative ideas come to life.” He said that student art has the power to be both an outlet and learning experience.
“Creativity is important because in a world where a lot of things are wrong, creativity allows us to imagine a world or a system where things are better,” Lin said. “This opportunity has been extremely empowering to me, and has encouraged me to take more chances in the field.”
Though this was a student production, the theater department “moved mountains” assisting with the production of the show through the pandemic and renovation of the Hopkins Center, Orenstein said.
The hard work and effort of the theater department was evident to the audience as well.
“I was glad to see such support for the production from the [theater] department as this was certainly the best student production I have seen at Dartmouth,” Serpas said.
There was a shared sentiment in the cast, crew and audience, with many hoping that there would be continued support for similar projects at Dartmouth, given the success of “Pretty Filthy.”
Serpas said that a sold out show can further strengthen its energy.
“It was so fun and exciting to attend a sold out performance, and the energy in the theater was amazing, even while covering such important topics,” Serpas said.
Orenstein added that there is importance in the balance of presenting art.
“[I hope this] was an overall positive experience for all involved in the production, and was a time when we took our work very seriously, but didn’t take ourselves too seriously,” Orenstein said. “The capacity of the musical art form to push the boundaries of what we’re used to seeing — that’s what I’m excited about.”
Ramsey Ash ’24 is a quantitative social science and music double major from Huntington, West Virginia. In addition to writing for the Arts section, Ramsey is involved in The Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble, the Dartmouth Clarinet Choir, is co-president of Musical Empowerment at Dartmouth and is a Hopkins Center Fellow.