Inertia is the scientific idea that an object refuses to change. But as a new USF play of the same name points out, it’s more than science.
It can be a social problem, too.
“Sapere Aude – Dare to know” is the slogan for senior Chris Sgammato’s new production, “Inertia.” The musical centers on an unpleasant society of people content with ignorance until they are asked to wake up and disconnect from the world’s influences.
It’s the first entirely student-written, composed, produced and directed musical theater production shown at USF.
Sgammato, a double major in music studies – with a concentration in voice and saxophone – and business management with minors in theater and economics, wrote “Inertia” for his honors thesis, inspired by Georg Kleine, assistant dean of the Honors College.
Kleine saw Sgammato’s “amazing talent … and his apparently unlimited amount of energy and passion for the stage” in the musical, “Hair.”
Sgammato turned the idea of inertia, a force that resists gravity, and gravity, the force that attracts a lesser object toward something greater, into a philosophy.
“Basically, I look around and I see a world made up of people and the people are caught up in distractions,” Sgammato said. “The distractions hinder our ability to pay attention to the world around us … Whether these distractions are intentionally placed in society or not, neither side of the debate can deny the existence of these distractions.”
He labeled characters Token, Liberty and pill-popping Peter, among others, to correspond to distractions college students face.
Technology is one of those distractions.
“If I wanted to, I could talk to someone in China right now,” Sgammato said. “But I’m in a waiting room, and 10 people are texting and no one’s talking. Anytime there’s an awkward silence you have to fill it with texting.”
The play reflects the existential outlooks of today’s society.
Sgammato intentionally uses the numbers three, seven and 12 to refer to the number of named characters in the play.
“The numbers three, seven and 12 are repeated throughout history,” he said.
“Chris is a genius,” said Patrick Bolger, a senior majoring in theater production, who plays pill-popping Peter in the play.
The three original main characters encourage three additional people to join their movement. Sgammato stars in the play – as a character meant to represent philosopher Immanuel Kant – driving the named characters up to seven.
His character originally inspires the movement, which is something Sgammato is doing with “Inertia.”
The topic will make the audience “more self-conscious about their own inertia,” Kleine said.
Though the set may not be extravagant, Sgammato put a lot of thought into his words, and the play inspires people to think about the meaning.
“I did a lot of research for this play,” he said. “I had 67 pages, single-spaced with 10-point font. I don’t want to tell people what I think because I’m just one person. I’m saying, ‘Go find out about your government and the economy. Dare to know.'”
Beyond the controversial topics and independence of thought, there’s another, more immediate mission behind his production.
Sgammato and others involved hope to show that USF needs a musical theater program.
Bolger’s transfer to USF forced him to switch from a musical theater major to theater production.
“What we’re doing is showing that right now there are people in theater, band and
dance that could do musical theater,” Bolger said.
Sgammato has a great appreciation for his cast.
“When I started, the draft was five hours long,” Sgammato said. “They helped me cut it down. They choreographed a lot of the songs. I can’t say it enough – they’re a great cast.”
The production involves more than 60 students from various schools within the arts department, according to usf.edu.
“Not only is it student-written and directed – it’s the students who do all of the technical work,” Bolger said. “You’re driving yourself because you don’t have a teacher walking in telling you to get the job done.”
Sgammato said he knows the play will jolt people.
“It’s kind of depressing, and I think it’s kind of realistic,” he said. “We live in a depressing world. If we didn’t, people wouldn’t turn into these distractions.”
Bolger relates the play to the late director Bertolt Brecht, a German playwrite and theater director who tried to sway the audience into a new way of thinking, he said.
Sgammato said the play also addresses his five-step plan to starting a movement and instigating change: information, communication, organization, demonstration and transformation.
“That’s how we’re going to make change in the world as we perceive it,” he said.
He knows that change doesn’t come that easy, but through an abundance of concepts, a variety of music and the eyes of one college student – his show’s purpose is to provoke the audience to ask questions.
“Of course, to do any of the five things requires motivation, and that’s why we have to ask why,” Sgammato said. “It’s not about making a musical. It’s about making a movement.”
“Inertia” starts today at 8 p.m. and runs through Sunday in Theatre 2. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for general admission. For more information, visit usf.edu.