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‘Bird in the House’ brings one-man musical theater

Dane Terry is set to perform his show "Bird in the House" at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Credit: Courtesy of Brett Lindell

Dane Terry is set to perform his show “Bird in the House” at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Credit: Courtesy of Brett Lindell

It was three weeks before the premiere of his show “Bird in the House” when Dane Terry lost his voice.

With less than a month to go, he reworked the quasi-musical to give his backup vocalists Tova Katz and Rose Emily Quinn roughly six more songs to sing lead on.

This weekend, Terry will take the show to the Wexner Center for the Arts’ Performance Space stage — but this time, he’ll do it alone.

When “Bird in the House” premiered in April at La MaMa in Brooklyn, New York, Terry was joined on stage by Katz and Quinn, but the show was always about him.

“Dane is the heart of this show,” Katz said. “Having Dane as the solo performer still holds all of the meaning and the story of the show, it would just be in a more zoomed in and intimate way.”

Terry’s unique take on musical theater blends a singer-songwriter tradition with his dramatic persona and extended monologues between songs to tell a story. For “Bird in the House,” Terry adapts songs from his 2015 album “Color Movies” into a new plot line.

“I view it as a song cycle combined with a storytelling,” Terry said. “The story is bricked together by vignettes and those vignettes were controlled by the songs. It is a very, very fleshed out theatrical song cycle at its heart.”

The show features Terry singing songs with a piano, providing setting and storyline in between. The songs from “Color Movies” were written before the show, Terry said, but all contain similar thematic ideas that were worked into the plot.

The story centers on a brief time in the narrator’s childhood. Though not autobiographical, Terry said the scenes in “Bird in the House” capture the real emotional experiences he had as a child, ones that he believes many people can relate to.

The storyline takes the audience through eclectic scenes ranging from a burning building to the space shuttle Challenger disaster to a faceoff with Voltron Destroyer of Stars.

“All of the feelings that that show makes people feel … are feelings I remember — those actually happened,” Terry said. “If I did my job correctly, people feel like a child when they see the show.”

The show takes places in Ohio, the state where Terry grew up, but the specific city or area in Ohio is ambiguous. Terry was born in Columbus and lived there till the age of 27.

Terry attended Ohio State and briefly majored in music, but left school after being denied from the music composition program.

“That really did change everything because I realized they were right,” he said. “I was disheartened and thought ‘how do I go forward?’”

Though he recalls being angry when it happened, Terry said it ultimately led him in a positive direction. At the time, Terry was considering becoming an orchestral composer. After the rejection, he decided to try writing more immediate and straight-forward music.

That style falls closer to the music of “Bird in the House.”

“It’s really a combination of incredibly rich, beautiful music and lyrics that are wildly imaginative, totally weird and yet somehow connect to a simple humanity that everyone can relate to,” Katz said.

On the night of the La MaMa premiere, Terry found himself improvising and adjusting the delivery of “Bird in the House” as he went. Though the story and events stay the same each night, he said the nature of the performance may shift based on the mood of the audience.

Terry said the solo performances give him additional opportunities to control exactly what the audience experiences.

“The nature of the show is so personal,” he said. “The more zoomed in we can get on the storyteller, the better it is.”

“Bird in the House” will have showings at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday in the Wexner Center for the Arts’ Performance Space. Tickets are available online or at the Wexner Center and cost $13 for students, $17 for members and $20 for the general public.

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