LyLena D. Estabine ’24 fell in love with musical theater at age five, when she was cast in a production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” But it was not until Estabine listened to recordings of the “Hamilton” soundtrack in middle school and thought, “If somebody else could read a book and then write a musical about it then why couldn’t I?” that she was inspired to become a dramatist herself.
Now, Estabine, a published author with experience writing both plays and music, hopes to open the door to performing arts to as many other students as possible while sharing her love of theater and her dedication to her faith.
To that end, she founded a new theater group earlier this year: “The New Songs Theatricals,” whose first production “Painted” will run April 21-23 in the Adams Pool Theater. The musical tells the story of Leonardo DaVinci, a figure that has served as a source of inspiration for Estabine. She hopes DaVinci’s story can be a springboard for discussing social issues.
“What [‘Painted’] is going to do is attempt to start conversations and break down paradigms about the ways in which we discuss Christianity and sexuality, particulary with reference to the LGBTQ community,” she said.
To someone who knows Estabine, this comes as no surprise; she imbues almost every piece she works on with deeper meaning. Her show “Once When the War Was Won,” which she wrote in high school, tells the story of a fictional civil war and the class struggles embedded in the conflict. The virtual show she put on last year, “Dreamland Diner,” was a modern day retelling of the Biblical story of Jacob and Laban that takes place in a 1980s Kansas City diner. And in her more recent work “Milk Made,” an original operetta written in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan, and performed by Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players, she explores a variety of the most pressing issues of today.
“We were able to comment on class struggles once again and specifically what happens when Marxism aligns with environmental justice issues,” she said.
Estabine credits her faith as the source of inspiration for “Dreamland Diner” and “Painted.” “God gave me the words needed to kind of completely revamp the show even up to when we started rehearsals,” she said. The show itself grapples with questions of faith and looks at what it means to be fully and completely loved and known by God. “How does God move in our lives in ways that we might not always see or expect?” she asked. Estabine created New Songs Theatricals in order to provide a “community and space” for artists to discuss and explore the intersections of Christianity and the performing arts, a mission that she plans on continuing with support from other student creators.
Going forward, Estabine plans on being highly involved with theater and productions on campus, and she encourages anyone interested in the performing arts to do the same. She recommends organizations like Harvard Black C.A.S.T. and Harvard College ¡TEATRO!, along with New Songs Theatricals, as great places for aspiring artists on campus to get started.
Estabine is drawn to theater because of its impact. “Art has the power to touch people’s lives in ways that other forms of communication cannot,” she said. In the future, Estabine plans to continue creating community and creating change through the performing arts. For her, it’s ultimately all about connecting with people.
“If you sit down and have a conversation with someone about a difficult topic, oftentimes walls go up,” she said. “But when you sit in a theater or when you read a poem or you listen to a song, walls come down. And I think in our world today especially, we need less walls.”