D.C.’s Rorschach Theatre’s “Angel Number Nine,” adapted from the 2013 James L. Rogers III novel of the same name, features a familiar F.C. face in its production crew. Shawn Northrip, Meridian High School’s theater and film studies teacher, composed the music for the show.
“It was a blast,” Northrip said. “It was great to have a creative outlet and get to sit down with my guitar and just make some noise.”
“Angel Number Nine” tells the story of a mid-’90s rock band in Richmond, focusing on the lead singer and how she faces her “personal demons” when touring in her hometown. Having written 10-minute plays and creating music for stage readings at the theater, Northrip was approached by Rorschach’s co-Artistic Director Jenny McConnell Frederick to compose for the production.
“I figured if I hung out with them long enough, eventually they would offer me a mainstage production,” Northrip said with a laugh. “I read [Angel Number Nine] and called [Frederick] and said, ‘It seems like it’s right in my wheelhouse.’”
Composing the music for the production came “quick and slow” for Northrip, as he said looking for a guitar riff is “always a first” for him. Northrip also took inspiration from Roger’s novel, as it included “evocative descriptions” of the songs played by the fictional band.
“I’m sure they could have gotten a younger composer,” Northrip said when talking about being selected for the role of composer. “But I actually lived through the ‘90s and played in a rock band in the ‘90s.”
Being a composer for this production and other shows has had an impact on Northrip’s career as a theater teacher, as he said the experience he has gotten from composing and writing “feeds into” how he teaches his students.
“It’s just nice to kind of have a fresh experience,” Northrip said. “I’d like to be the kind of theater teacher that doesn’t just exist in the classroom… I want the students to feel like I’m someone who knows what I’m talking about because I actually practice what I preach.”
Since “Angel Number Nine” opened on July 7, Northrip said some of his colleagues and former students have come to see the production in support of him. The “best thing” from Meridian High School to make its way into the show is alum and Northrip’s former student CC Meade.
“What an honor it is to be sharing the space with someone whose work I encouraged for so long, and now to be able to see her as my peer and colleague,” Northrip said.
Although “Angel Number Nine” wrapped up its production this past weekend on July 30, Northrip said he hopes another chance to compose music for an outside show will occur.
Throughout this experience and others, Northrip said his favorite part of composing, for this show and others, is the moment that “something just starts sounding and feeling right” when trying to build a song toward a theme or story.
“There’s usually a moment where a song starts feeling like a song,” Northrip said. “And it’s usually the moment long after you’ve written it, and hoped it’s great, that you’re in a space with musicians playing it and it starts feeling like a moment of music.”