The Norsemen are invading Interlochen Arts Camp this summer, and Sam Willmott is to blame.
Fear not: The “Norsemen” are junior musical theatre students performing Yo, Vikings!, a stage adaptation of Judith Byron Schachner’s book of the same title. Willmott, an Interlochen Arts Camp alumnus, composed the musical’s score and recently revisited Interlochen to check in with his latest battalion of tiny vikings.
Interlochen Arts Camp vocal instructor Lynne Giacolone Church broke the news of the Interlochen production of Yo, Vikings! to Willmot over Facebook. “I quite literally danced all around my apartment,” Willmott said. “Yo, Vikings! at Interlochen is a dream come true.”
Willmott said that his excitement was not as much that Interlochen had taken notice of his musical, but rather his excitement for the students involved.
“Putting on a great show is transformative,” he said. “When the magic is working, you create lifelong friendships and you get to work as a vital part of a dynamic team. That’s what I got to be part of at Interlochen with Sweet Charity and Babes in Arms. Now that I’ve written shows of my own, my dream has always been that they might function as Sweet Charity and Babes in Arms did for me—as armatures of new friendships, new ensembles and new memories.”
During his visit, Willmott had the opportunity to work with and talk to students in both the junior and high school theatre programs. Although he acknowledged that he had plenty to share with the students, he also noted that he himself is still a student. “The biggest thing I’ve learned since leaving Interlochen is that you never stop learning for the rest of your life,” he said. “Students and teachers are not that different. We all have stars in our eyes, we want to challenge ourselves and our audiences and we dream of telling stories, making music and constructing work that will connect with people.”
Yo, Vikings! had a special connection for high school musical theatre student Carlie Sherman: she was accepted into her first-choice college, North Central, after singing “Emma the Red” from Yo, Vikings! in her audition. Sherman said that she first encountered “Emma the Red” at her first voice lesson at last summer’s Arts Camp. “The moment I heard the song, I fell in love,” she said.
Sherman had no idea that Willmott was coming to campus, and was thrilled to have a chance to meet him. “I didn’t have words,” she said of their emotional meeting. “I felt so grateful to meet someone who wrote a song that meant so much to me.”
According to Willmott, the excitement was mutual. “It was an honor to meet Carlie,” he said. “I’m thrilled for her accomplishment and happy to have been a tiny part of her journey.”
Willmott’s primary message to students was to take ownership of their character. “[Lyricist] Marcus [Stevens] and I haven’t written a new word in four years, and yet every time the show gets produced, it’s wildly different,” he said. “There’s no correct way to perform my songs or anyone else’s songs. The worst thing you can do as a young artist is not infuse yourself in your work. I want to see you. Show me you, and I promise I will be too blown away to ask for anything more.”
At the end of a day filled with performances, coachings and script-signings, Willmott had gotten as much out of his return to Interlochen as the students. “Coming back to campus is a return to the foundation of my love of musical theatre,” he said. “I am reminded of my core artistic values and re-inspired to dig that much deeper into all the delicious nuances of my medium that I have yet to learn.”