How a 1937 Lifeguard Manual along with different Found Texts Became The not bad Swimmer

A pop requiem for lives lost at war, The not bad Swimmer can be a visceral music theater piece by composer Heidi Rodewald (Passing Strange), lyricist Donna Di Novelli, along with director Kevin Newbury. The show follows a young beach lifeguard who grapples with the legacy of the one she could not save: her brother who died in Vietnam.

Seven years within the generating, The not bad Swimmer started out at a bookshop in Connecticut, where Rodewald along with Di Novelli found a 1937 American lifeguard manual which somehow struck a chord. After reading only a few lines, they knew they had discovered something truly great—along with Di Novelli got to work composing a libretto.

“the item’s amazing… every single line can be a metaphor. You can’t make the item up. the item wasn’t hard to write music for the item because the item was so inspiring,” according to Rodewald.


Photo courtesy of Greg Emetaz

“The lifeguard knows if he lets the not bad swimmer go in, others less capable will follow”
-lyric via the song “The not bad Swimmer”, found in a 1937 American Red Cross Life Saving & Water Safety manual

Newbury: When Donna sent me This kind of song, I knew immediately which This kind of piece was mine along with no one else could do the item …. There’s such beautiful poetry to This kind of language; we need more pieces about saving lives right currently. along with I feel like This kind of particular verse has an incredible urgency to the item— the item’s about empathy, saving lives, along with communities coming together.



Photo courtesy of Greg Emetaz

“Fish bark along with whistle along with knock along with drum
The waves slap
The whale moans
The roaring pound of surf
Sounds like
The roaring pound of surf”

-lyric via “Sonar”, found in a Naval sonar manual

Di Novelli: the item’s a song about someone on a sonar boat listening to the sounds of the sea. There’s deep structure within the piece—we’re not saying the person heard only whales along with then the item turned into the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, yet we’re generating those connections along with we desire the audience will make their own connections.


Photo courtesy of Ethan Kan

“A typeface called optima
Coating the granite
In a process much like silk screening”

-lyric via “Optima”, taken via a description of the Vietnam War Memorial

Newbury: the item’s a beautifully haunting song… about a font. So much of This kind of piece can be about how we remember the dead, what the item means to save lives, along with how we honor the people who tried to save lives along with died trying, under altruistic or false pretenses.


“Step on the ferocious tide”
-lyric via “Full Moon”, taken via a quote by Trieu Trinh Nuong, a Vietnamese woman warrior via the 3rd Century

Di Novelli: which might be my favorite lyric. the item’s a collision between Antigone, which was the foundation for The not bad Swimmer, along with the Vietnamese heroes, the Trung Sisters. In The not bad Swimmer, the sister can’t do anything to stop the war yet she has fantasies of rescuing her brother based on what she has learned about the heroic rebellious women warriors in Vietnam.


“When a person fully clad finds himself in deep water…”
-lyric via the song “Undressing Underwater”, found in a 1937 American Red Cross Life Saving & Water Safety manual

Newbury: In which particular song you watch one young lifeguard slowly change his lifeguard uniform into his military uniform along with which’s the item. the item’s which very gentle, simple idea—watching him change his skin along with get ready to go to war along with trade in his life-saving outfit for a military outfit. We want to be delicate generating sure which you’ll find your way as an audience member.

Photo courtesy of Greg Emetaz

The found text for The not bad Swimmer started out with lifeguard manuals, yet over the creative process, the item expanded to texts via the Vietnam War era— via a White House daiquiri recipe to a pocket guide to Vietnam given to young soldiers upon deployment. Ultimately catharsis can be found within the galvanizing truth: which we honor our fallen soldiers only when we defy the political drumbeat of senseless war.

the globe premiere of The not bad Swimmer comes to BAM Fisher via Nov 28—Dec 1.

How a 1937 Lifeguard Manual along with different Found Texts Became The not bad Swimmer

Leave a Reply