All Articles
April 30, 2024

Axoloris: The Musical – A Conversation with Creator Sean Mendelson


Axoloris: The Musical (US/UK), an uplifting musical for young and family audiences, premiered at Playful People Productions in San Jose, California in 2022. Concord Theatricals proudly licenses and publishes the show, which features a terrific score, a flexible cast size and some wonderful design opportunities. To celebrate the publication of the Acting Edition of Axoloris: The Musical, we caught up with the show’s creator, Sean Mendelson, to discuss his inspiration, vision and hopes for the future.

For people unfamiliar with Axoloris: The Musical, how would you describe the story it tells?

It takes place in a small community in 2050, after we’ve solved the global issue of climate change. In this future, robots and virtual reality are a pervasive part of the community. There is a global legend that every year a mystical being named Axoloris visits a portion of the population’s dreams on the eve of Earth Day. Axoloris is a messenger for our Earth who helps guide people into climate actions that help humanity. Leading into their annual Earth Day school assignment, a group of five tweens/teens have grown apathetic about Earth Day and Axoloris. Shockingly, the city’s main power source, the hydroelectric plant, breaks down. The kids become engaged with being part of the solution, not unlike the climate activism that the previous generation dealt with in the 2020s.

What inspired you to write this musical?

To me, the most important issue facing the world is climate change. This is the decisive decade for tackling this complicated yet surmountable problem. I realized how much time my kids spent on leprechaun traps for St. Patrick’s Day and then I thought there was not enough magic for kids as Earth Day passed each year. I challenged myself to make something that instilled the magic of the Easter Bunny or Santa but without the consumerism that sometimes overtakes those holidays.

Around this time, I was trained by Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project to become a climate leader in the Bay Area, California. I was inspired to help promote climate education to young people, those that have to deal with this issue for the rest of their lives. I was emboldened by one genius scientist who said something to the effect of “we need art as much as we need facts to shift the tide and slow climate change events.” So I went to work figuring out how to make an engaging musical that educates AND entertains without being dogmatic. I asked myself, how can I instill action without being preachy about climate activism? I discovered it was ineffective to tell an audience the message of “do this or we’re doomed.” The intention became we can do this… and these are some fun ways to solve the problem.

I landed on this idea of Axoloris, where art could intersect with action. Specifically, I wanted to have the adventure of Goonies or Stranger Things so that young people were focused on the story, and then I would pepper in some real world climate solutions throughout the show. Additionally, I made it interactive at points so that kids in the audience could participate in the story. The trick was, if I could inspire an elementary-high school level audience member to think outside the box on how to solve the issue of climate change, then I had done my job. If kids start hoping to get a visit from Axoloris on the eve of Earth Day, EVEN BETTER!

Who is the ideal audience for Axoloris: The Musical?

While the entertainment is designed for 18 and under, I truly hope that the story has an impact on any audience member who doesn’t know much about climate change or just don’t know what is the first step to take. I want the audience to grow with the apathetic protagonist kids and go on the journey of self-discovery with them so we can all be part of changing the world for the better.

In the script, you encourage theatremakers to use found material or objects in their set, prop and costume design. Why?

It goes back to the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. When I started getting involved in community theatre, I saw how much waste was involved with a single production. If we can reduce our carbon footprint by consuming less in the productions then we can make thoughtful change starting with the theatre company administration, then the artistic team and finally to the actors. When we premiered the musical in San Jose in 2022, I noticed how the actors appreciated that we used sustainably sourced costuming and props. Our Robot characters were made from reclaimed materials and they still looked awesome. The meta responsibility of sourcing reclaimed wood for the set pieces lent itself to the story so it wasn’t too big of a stretch to make that commitment to the planet. By the end of the production, I heard some of the young actors talking about biking more or planting their own vegetable gardens in order to reduce their carbon footprint, and that was truly rewarding.

How would you describe the musical stye of Axoloris: The Musical, and what made you choose this musical approach?

My background is in rock music and children’s music, but I have a profound appreciation for musical theatre. As a result, and knowing the comfort of playing to my strengths, the songs in this production inherently are a combination of these. My teenage children have been part of the musical theatre community since they were four years old. I’ve watched dozens of fantastic children’s theatre productions. I always stayed in tune with which songs they gravitated towards, so I got a sense of what young people wanted in music and what they were capable of. I have seen shows where the range is too big for even an extraordinary child singer or maybe a cast has a difficult four-part harmony, which muddies up the performance. Because of this, my intention was to make a show that featured everyone in an appropriate fashion. The best shows I’ve seen that feature under-18-year-olds are the ones where the whole theatre company has a chance to shine.

My score was further informed by recently playing guitar in the orchestra pit for Kinky Boots. I paid particular attention to the dynamic flow of the music in the show… the highs and lows, the variety and the instrumentation. In the end, although it is guitar-based, I pushed myself to have more orchestrated pieces like “Dream Scene,” “The Ballad of Thunder” or “Given the Seed.” “Given the Seed” which, spoiler alert, is Axoloris’ big introduction in the end, features timbres and melodies influenced by music from Burma in Southeast Asia. This was intentional because the slow loris, which Axoloris is partially based on, is from there, and I found the music to be exotic and just the flavor I needed to bring more depth to the enigmatic character. I hope the music takes audiences on a journey that parallels the adventure and wonderment of the story.

The show contains so many fascinating, otherworldly characters, like the Trash Monster, the Robots and Axoloris. How did you come up with these unique characters?

My favorite movies when I was young were Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Back to the Future. I loved zany or adventurous stories that transported you to other worlds. I asked myself what I wanted to see on stage and the answer was science fiction and fantasy. I thought there was a space in theatre for this kind of production. The Trash Monster seemed like the perfect antagonist for Axoloris when people dream. It’s fun to live in this pseudo upside-down world. Axoloris was loosely based on the BFG. I found the most aesthetically interesting endangered species, the axolotl (AKA Mexican salamander) and the slow loris, which is an adorable but poisonous creature from Southeast Asia. Those animals combined into a humanoid form to capture the essence of Axoloris. Their inspiration defined this other-worldly creature that visually popped on stage. It was to be equal parts mysterious and endearing, and it could be a fun symbol of hope on Earth Day. The Robots are already here, so that was easy to add to the story and assume they would be integrated for our convenience the near future. In our premiere we even had a real robot traverse the stage during the opening scene.

Axoloris: The Musical is set in the future, so theatremakers designing this show will have to imagine a world 30 years from now, with new technology and fashion. What words of inspiration can you provide for designers working on the show?

With an eye towards sustainability, the options can be limitless. We know from our story that virtual reality headsets are like sunglasses for kids in the future. The Robots are involved in every walk of life, so technology should definitely be an aesthetic everywhere the audience looks. Also, I think that since climate change has been solved, people will have learned the lesson to be minimalist and streamlined so the designers should take that to heart as well. The one exception is the house belonging to Old Man Thunder, who doesn’t care about his carbon footprint at the beginning of the story. His house should give the impression of out-of-touch climate denier.

What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing a production of the show?

I want both the theatrical company and the audience leaving with a sense of hope and innovation. I want the youth, those that are unfortunately responsible for ending climate change, to imagine that even the smallest seed that Axoloris plants in a dream can be the inception of a large contribution to society. We all must think outside the box in order to end this challenging time in our history. And we will.

Axoloris: The Musical is set in 2050, and it envisions a specific future for us. What is your personal hope for 2050?

San Jose, the city where Axoloris premiered, hopes to be the first large urban city to be carbon neutral by 2030. I think they will accomplish this. All the scientists say what we have to aim for carbon neutrality by 2030. If we do this, then the science states that in 30 years, the fires will lessen, the droughts will lesson and the massive storms will lessen. Ultimately, we won’t have the fear of an uninhabitable planet – and we can start focusing on other ways to do better.

To license a production or learn more about Axoloris: The Musical, visit Concord Theatricals in the US or UK.