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How ‘Stereophonic’ Made Musicians Out of Actors

About a week into rehearsals for the Off Broadway premiere of David Adjmi’s latest play, “Stereophonic,” Will Butler sent an email to the cast. Butler, a former member of Arcade Fire, had a new band, Will Butler + Sister Squares, and a new self-titled album. A club in Brooklyn would soon host the record release party. Butler, the composer of “Stereophonic,” had a proposition: The actors should open for him.

Sarah Pidgeon, a cast member, remembered reading the message last August during a rehearsal break. “I immediately said no,” she recalled. “Because what if it’s a failure?”

She had taken piano lessons as a child, but Pidgeon didn’t consider herself a musician. Neither did any of the other actors. “Stereophonic,” which opened last week at Broadway’s Golden Theater, is set in recording studios in the mid-1970s, and conjures an unnamed band as dynamic, dazzling and sexy as peak Fleetwood Mac or Led Zeppelin. It would be daunting enough to impersonate a band of that caliber onstage after a full rehearsal period. But to play a real show in a real club after just a few weeks. This was an invitation to public humiliation.

Juliana Canfield (“Succession”), another cast member, was also a no. “I was like, Geez, we can’t get through one tune without falling apart,” she said. “This could be really, really embarrassing.”

But the men in the fictional band insisted. (“We suffered from peer pressure,” Pidgeon joked.) Which explains how on Sept. 23, the five actors — Will Brill on bass, Canfield on keyboards, Tom Pecinka on guitar, Pidgeon on tambourine, Chris Stack on drums — stood onstage at the Williamsburg club Elsewhere, in front of hundreds of ticket holders who didn’t know the group was only pretending to be a band. There were no scripted lines for them that night, no characters to hide behind.

Brill described it as “a really extreme piece of exposure therapy” and “just horror.” But the therapy worked. At Elsewhere, for the first time, the actors — panicked, exhilarated — felt like a band.

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