Although initially reluctant to take on a musical about antibiotics, Hiley was taken with Fleming’s story, not only as a famous Scot, but as a medical pioneer. He felt that placing Fleming at the center of the project allowed them to preserve the human element of the story while still championing an important message about a pressing health crisis.
The show went on to sell out the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2018, earning rave reviews from critics and audiences, before being put on hold in 2020 due to pandemic closures. It is now returning, after yet another sold out run in Edinburgh, now with an expanded script (the original production was only about an hour, a typical length for the Fringe Festival).
It is only natural that Perry would come to Charades Theatre Company to kickstart this project, given that the company has a history of community-based and educational theatre. The company runs numerous programs for children in the latter stages of primary education, often performing at schools and youth theatre groups in an attempt to involve young people in the arts. Teachers and administrators across Scotland have praised Charades for its ability to engage the interest of students at various ages while producing shows of professional quality.
Hiley partially credits this focus on community and education with inspiring the most unusual element of the show. The entire chorus is composed of real healthcare professionals, performing alongside experienced West End actors. These chorus members are recruited for each production using local healthcare workers from the area in which the show performs, meaning that this production will feature scientists and healthcare workers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other Atlanta medical institutions. This choice was made with the intention of capturing the voices of those who witness the effects of AMR on a daily basis.
“Working with the team behind ‘The Mold That Changed the World’ has been such a gift,” said Tess Palmer, epidemiologist at the CDC. “I have been working in public health emergencies for my entire career, and to get the chance to dive head first in to a challenge that is both so different from my daily life and so relevant to it at the same time is a once in a lifetime chance. One of our most important duties in public health is communicating issues like antimicrobial resistance to the public, and this show does an incredible job at this — in an entertaining, accurate, and poignant way.”
Recasting the chorus for each locale means that the production is constantly in the process of rehearsing in a group of less-experienced performers, a process for which they usually have about two weeks. While this abbreviated process presents challenges, it provides a unique opportunity to gain insight into the realities of AMR and what it will take to find viable solutions.
Increased support from healthcare officials is one of the chief things that Hiley points out when asked how the show has changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic: “It’s kind of this change of mindset at that real top level,” he says. “Thinking ‘right, we need to do this differently.’”
Hiley praised the chorus members not only for their willingness to dive into such an unfamiliar challenge, but for the authority and reality that they have lent the production. Indeed, audience members have commented on how sincere the performances from the chorus are, despite their lack of professional acting experience. Hiley points out that they have a personal stake in the story. Not only that, but many of them have varying degrees of prior experience, having done community, high school and/or university productions: “We have found that when you scratch the surface, it’s amazing how medicine and music actually go together.”
“An audition for a musical about science looking for scientists seemed too good to be true, but when a friend brought it up I signed up immediately,” said Dante Bugli, CDC epidemiologist. “It’s been incredible teaming up with the Charades cast and crew to highlight AMR. My one-liner to friends and families has been that the show is giving Alexander Fleming the ‘Hamilton’ treatment showing the context to his life and discovery.”
IF YOU GO
“The Mold that Changed the World”
Nov. 2-6. Tickets start at $25. Pullman Yards, 225 Rogers St NE, Atlanta. feverup.com/m/119261.