It’s not every day that you find an off-Broadway musical completely created and run by a team of young people—and all under the age of 25, no less. But if you’ve been waiting to see a crew of teens quite literally running the show, you can stop waiting.
Oceanborn, a musical about Viking raids and friendship between two young women as they face the pressures of future leadership in a climate of violence and uncertainty, is a new show produced by one of the youngest duos of teen girls to ever hit the off-Broadway scene.
“[Writing the musical was] a love story to our past, to our future,” Oceanborn writer and producer Morgan Smith tells Teen Vogue. “[It was] a note written to girls everywhere telling them that it would be alright, that there would always be someone listening.”
Oceanborn is the product of New York and England-based duo Morgan, 20, who wrote and produced the show, and songwriter Mhairi Cameron, 18, who composed the score. The pair of friends first met while growing up together on a farm owned by Morgan’s grandmother, surrounded by female mentors who encouraged them to follow their dreams. Now, after funding their project through Kickstarter, Oceanborn is in the middle of an off-Broadway run at Teatro SEA in New York City.
Oceanborn features a blend of Celtic rock, pop and folk (influenced by Mhairi’s mother’s obsession with folk music) mixed with snappy critiques of culture and identity. Morgan came up with the concept after reading an article about female viking warriors. “I was inspired by the lack of knowledge about this, the fact that no one was talking about it, and I happened to have a best friend that writes music,” Morgan says.
The story follows Viking warrior Eira, who is the next chief of her tribe, and Finn, the daughter of a Celtic fisherman. The two cross paths when a failed raid leaves Eira abandoned, assumed dead, and Finn is face-to-face with the violence that killed her parents. Soon, an unlikely friendship blossoms between them.
Along the way, the show tackles the cyclical nature of violence, xenophobia, and misogyny as the characters struggle to overcome the prejudice against female leaders in their culture. Through all this, they confirm for each other that they’re strong and capable enough to grapple with their deepest, most terrifying emotions and come out on the other side.
Oceanborn also highlights the similarities between Viking culture and the political atmosphere in America in 2019. “The parallels between the Vikings and the modern day are uncanny. Xenophobia and feelings of racial superiority, violence against the other,” Mhairi tells Teen Vogue. “All of Morgan’s and my work is predicated on a desire to spread feminist stories, but this was an opportunity to tackle the feminist issues and the racial tensions of the Trump Era, post-Charlottesville.”
To stay true to the themes of young female excellence and ambition in the musical, Mhairi and Morgan hired a team of all young women whose identities reflected the voices of those the show uplifts. “We thought, if we're going to write something about how powerful and unstoppable young women are, then we need to be employing young women,” Morgan says, adding that their favorite thing about the story is “its refusal to conform to Broadway norms.”
The show dives into feelings of grief, fear of failure, and other things “no one is willing to talk about.” While it has songs for everyone, it primarily speaks to young girls, who “deserve representation that shows the messy, cathartic maelstrom that is growing up,” Mhairi says. In the most well-known song, which became popular online after being posted on YouTube, Eira sings “Girls Will Be Girls,” which is about sexual assault. “We’re not writing a story for the typical Broadway audience. We’re writing about what life is like in America when you’re a teenage girl. And people have responded to it because they see themselves in the story.”
While the process of bringing the show off-Broadway took a year and a half, the duo finished the first draft in ten days. Since the beginning, they have put the whole process online for the world to see how two friends and teens collaborate creatively to make a dream come true. Within a matter of months, the show’s page on Instagram had thousands of followers on Instagram and the show was being performed at 54 Below in Manhattan. The story and musical have also traveled far and wide thanks to social media, garnering a dedicated fanbase, which helped when Mhairi and Morgan launched a Kickstarter to make putting on an off-Broadway show financially possible.
Ultimately, putting together this musical has taught them they are capable of greatness and there’s nothing between them and the goals they want to achieve in life—which is not always the message sent to teen girls and young people socialized as women.
“Oceanborn speaks to the incredible loneliness you feel growing up right now in this era,” Morgan says. “Right now being a teenager or being in your young 20s, you’re staring down the barrel of global climate crisis. The world is quite literally ending. We’ve grown up in a society that has normalized violence, whether that’s immigrants in concentration camps or something else.We wanted to write something big about that feeling of hoping against hope that you can change and make a difference in the world.”
The show, which speaks to and uplifts the voices of a new generation, premiered at the Rave Theatre Festival at Teatro Sea in New York on Saturday, August 10 and will finish its run on Tuesday, August 20. To find out more about the story of an unlikely friendship that sparked a movement or purchase tickets to the show, go here.
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue