Furry Drama(tic Arts) – The Forgotten History of the Furry Musical, Part 1: Yiff!/< furReality >
by Patch O'Furr
Article submitted by guest writer Duncan R. Piasecki. (Part 2 is here).
Let’s face it: we furries are a pretty theatrical bunch. Fursuiting is, in itself, a form of performance art, dramatic and striking, and probably the most visible aspect of our culture to anyone looking in from the outside. (It’s certainly what is talked about the most in the media).
None of this should surprise anyone here, even those of you who stumbled into the furry internet after straying off the normal path. In fact, it’s not even that surprising to the outside world. One need only look at, say, ultra-successful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, or the stage musical version of The Lion King, to see that the visceral drama of humans performing as animals is widely acknowledged the world over.
But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. No, actually, we’re going into a deeper rabbit hole (har), one that many of you probably didn’t even know about: the furry musical.
No, not the ones with furries as the characters in focus. One with furries in focus. As in, us. As in, fursuiting, going to conventions, role-play, yelling at people online, and that sort of thing. More surprising to all of you, perhaps, is that there wasn’t one, but actually at least two musicals about furries being our regular old selves… both written by people not entirely within the fandom.
In Part 1, we’ll look at a musical where our request for documentation yielded a generous response by the director. In Part 2, we’ll look at one that seems to be a fading memory with no record to be found – as well as an exciting happening to come in 2018.
Mom isn’t home tonight – how Yiff!/<furReality> came to be.
Back in the mid-00s, a British man by the name of Tim Saward was studying a Master of Arts degree in musical theatre at Goldsmith’s College in London. As part of the requirements to complete the degree, he had to come up with a final project, a performance of an original piece of musical theatre. Inspired by some strange friends of his who were into some things he himself wasn’t, but liking the possibilities for storytelling and innovative modern theatre, he picked the subject matter: furries. With idea in mind, and after input from actual furries on the internet about what exactly the musical’s story should be, he began to write. It’d be a little while before more would come of it than simply an idea. Let’s start there.
A song called “Fursonality”, performed by “Mortimer L. Wombat” (which seems to be a screen name for our friend Tim Saward) and Stage Lion (a furry resident of Buffalo, NY) was written as a test, recorded and released in January 2007. It was meant to be part of the musical, and seems to be the first song written for it. Later it was cut and replaced with a song called “FurReality”, which became a little more important… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There was also a quick animation by the show’s animator for the song, but we’ll also get to him and what I mean by that properly in a minute.
At some point around this time (it’s hard to pinpoint exactly), there was also a release of a song called “Wolves in the Forest”. The version was called SCV (for reasons I only found out recently – it’s short for “Sondheim Comp Version”, a reference to Stephen Sondheim, a very successful and popular writer of musicals). The SCV version had different lyrics and dealt with finding hesitation marks, rather than a drawing of a fox, and other subtle lyrical differences (such as referring to Lee, rather than Russell). It would later be retooled and become a mainstay in the production, under the same name.
In September, with the help of Darren Wayte, and fuzzy help in the form of Vahn Fox (story consultant) and Kyle Evans (a.k.a. Edge, on animation duty), Goldsmith’s College held a 45-minute concert performance. Songs were presented for a musical that was, at the time, called Yiff! A Furry Musical, version 0.1.
The website for the musical sold the story as thus:
Childhood fantasies sometimes last a person’s whole life. Some furries just like anthropomorphic cartoons or dressing up like tigers. Others want something a bit deeper and more adult: more sexy; more yiffy; more taboo. Russ knows he’s a furry, but is otherwise clueless. Can he come of age in the furry community, both online and in real life? Is having a second life always a good thing? And how do you deal with the world’s wolves? All the intrinsic comedy of the furry experience meets some serious questions about growing up and the fluidity of sexuality in a decade of easy fantasy in a perky new musical that is unmistakeably contemporary.
That doesn’t tell you much. Let me fill in the exact story, at least as it stood in its most complete form:
19-year-old Russell from Whitby is heterosexual, lonely, has no friends, no job, and no real prospects. He struggles with his interest in anthropomorphic animals, and feels it to not be normal. He lives with his conservative Christian mother, after his father left or died (it’s unclear), and feels like she doesn’t understand him. Russell finds his way into an IRC chat with furries. Realizing that these are the people he’s been looking for, he takes on the persona of RedFox (gee I wonder what species he is) and makes a few friends. In particular, there is JadeVixen, a sexy (but rather unpopular in the chatroom) kitsune girl that he starts to fall for. As his relationship with her grows, he gets deeper into the furry fandom and lifestyle. Russell makes art and gets a fursuit. Relations with his mother start breaking down over her misunderstanding of it all. Drama, hilarity, and explorations of sexuality ensue. There’s a twist and cliffhanger ending that we’re promised will be continued, and would lead to darker territory, in the finished musical.
Yes, if the title didn’t give it away, sex is a fairly large part of this. I can hear your cringing from all the way over here, but it’s not the sole focus of the story at least. It does get pretty explicit at times (the performances were all strictly 18+, partly due to profanity), so it’s not great for stereotypes. Yiff is overtly discussed a lot, as you’d expect… I mean, you don’t go to Hamilton and expect them to almost never utter the name Hamilton, right?
The performance was not acted out per se. Mostly the characters are just singing the songs (this is true of all performances ever held of material from it), but there were animations accompanying several songs (including the title song… awkwaaaaaaard). Animation is projected on a screen on stage, and, yes, at a few points the actors dressed in fursuits (the cheap store-bought versions, but hey, still). That’s pretty ambitious for the time in which it was done.
The performance itself was… fine. There were some obvious flubs and I wasn’t a huge fan of this particular version of Russell, at least compared to others, but it was a start. It gained a little attention. Things would not remain totally static. Before we discuss what changes were made, we need to talk about 2008, which was a big year for Yiff!.
The 2008 cast and crew. As you can see, most of the “costumes” for the performance were just shirts with a picture of the character they were playing, in the same style as the animations. A few of them also played several different characters at different points. Not pictured are the two fox fursuits, but they were there on stage. That’s Tim Saward in the front, wearing the glasses and striped sweater.
In 2008, a bigger, more complete version, numbered version 0.2.0, was performed at King’s Head Theatre in Islington. It had two dates, with a mostly new cast. It ran for twenty minutes longer than the first, at 65 minutes overall, with new and retooled songs.
The story remained much the same, but more story beats were expanded on. The sexual side you expect from the title was expanded on quite a bit too. Now there was a song called “The Ultimate Yiff”, about “desiring cartoons”, not being sure if it’s normal or if it even exists in other people (despite knowing the common-ish word for it used by other people). It had the lyric “animation, masturbation, these are the only reasons I have to live“. Then there was another song in which Russell is drunk at a furmeet and frustrated he couldn’t meet a girl. An amiable, camp raccoon named RaccoonBoy grabs him and asks if he knows what a jailhouse gay is, and he gets a little… excited by scritching. Then there’s a song that, well… you can’t hear it in the audio, but it featured actual simulated masturbation on stage while on webcam with Jade, who is telling him that he loves her. Make what you will of that, and the fact that he’s caught doing it. (And you thought Rocky Horror was awkward to see with your conservative parents!).
The performance was more professional. There were less awkward bits where people flubbed their lines, so it was overall better done than the original performance. This would, ultimately, be the most complete we’d ever see the musical. It was also the most attention the musical would get. There was even a performance of some of the songs at the Rainfurrest 2008 masquerade.
In 2009 and 2010 there were two other performances, version numbers 0.2.1 and 0.2.2. They had only about five or six songs, and again a mostly new (albeit much smaller) cast. Another thing also changed: the name. Gone was the suggestive (well, to us) title. In was the rather complicated new name <furReality> (and yes, the angle brackets are part of the title), meant to invoke the IRC roots and backbone of the show’s narrative. It’s actually really hard to find out anything about either of these, since they were almost never discussed. The videos are now long gone and I can’t remember anything about them. Nor did I personally preserve them due to feeling at the time that they added little to nothing to what was said and done in version 0.2.0 (I know one was performed at the Scenic Route theatre, just can’t remember which one).
The four performances were all filmed in full (bar an accidentally unrecorded song in one). The videos were put up on YouTube (except for the raunchy song “Yiff!” from the second reading – YouTube removed it not long after being uploaded, for being too raunchy. Apparently lines like “the juice of my sex is flowing like the surging of a tide” were too much in 2008, even if they might not be today). The songs from the second version were put on FurAffinity as MP3s. I personally also managed to hang on to MP3s of the first recording, ripped from the YouTube videos, but not the videos themselves (to my chagrin). The videos were never high quality (around 240p generally). All the audio of the musical is just ripped from those (so it’s not great, quality-wise – low quality, sometimes hard to hear what’s being sung, audience laughing, distortion, compression effects, that sort of thing).
After the fourth, there was silence, though there was talk just after that performance that most of the songs were being dumped. It seems now that the project is all but abandoned. It was due to premiere in full in 2010, but the year came and went, and nothing more was said afterwards. The websites died. Saward did graduate his degree. After playing around with pantomime theatre based on unusual concepts (such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and some other musical projects, he wrote a few unofficial Doctor Who audio dramas, and went on to eventually become the theatre manager for the London Borough of Hillingdon. He works there today. A few years after all of these events, he rendered private almost all of the videos of the musical, for reasons we didn’t understand at the time. That’s why you’ve probably never heard of it unless you were there.
It’s hard to really gauge now what reaction was. Little reaction to it seems to still exist, but most seemed mixed to positive, from what I’ve seen. At least, it was good enough for the project to continue on for several years. Perhaps surprising, considering the musical clearly had a sexual angle, and that was still a major prevailing stereotype at the time. (The title song, as you can imagine, was about a role-play that went sexual… and yes, there was animation to accompany it). The musical even started off with the infamous video “Sarah discovers the truth about furries”.
There was plenty of bad reaction too. This video urging you to boycott it will have you know that. Part of it, for the video creator at least, evidently had to do with minor character CanusWolf. He was never shown in any reading (just hinted at offhand in the song “FurReality”), but billed as some kind of mysterious antagonist that’d crop up at some point, possibly in the flamewar hinted at in the first reading’s bridging section. Also, I find irony in their insisting that the musical will be bad for furries, but that it should include groups like babyfurs and mpreg fans. Yeahhhh… that wouldn’t help it be any better for us than you think it will already be. Anyway, spoiler warning:
That sounds like an end, but it’s not. Patch got hold of Tim.
The director’s response, September 2017
I was quite floored that he responded, and very happy! But more importantly, he cleared up a few things. For one, the videos disappeared because the performers requested it. They were unpaid, and long-term video recordings of their performances were not part of the agreement. Plus, everyone was a bit put out by the ol’ let’s troll the furfags business that happened when Encyclopedia Dramatica caught wind of it.
Second, we found out from him that the musical’s cancellation was due to his feeling it didn’t achieve what he wanted. Ultimately, he felt it stuck a little close to the theatrical conventions he was hoping to break. He then got out of composing entirely, and that was the end of that.
Third, and most excitingly, he shared a trove of files from the development of the musical. There’s a lot of interesting tidbits that show development over the several years it was in the works. Actually a bit too much to look at, in some ways, if you don’t know much about music/als (as is the case with me). I’ve downloaded and backed it all up into a Google Drive folder.
Archive.org would be ideal for this in a more permanent setting. (Does anyone want to put this stuff in a nicely-sorted collection on there? I’ll happily link to it with proper credit). But in the mean time, I’ll just share the raw files pretty much as I got them, supplemented with my collection of files. Leave the sorting and proper preservation to someone else with more time and understanding and patience for Archive.org’s oddities.
Development files for Yiff!/<furReality>
Here’s what you’ll find in there:
- MP3s of the first two performances.
- A programme for the second performance in PDF format.
- A WAV file of the SCV version of “Wolves in the Forest”.
- A recording of one of the songs that was never performed live, called “Russ Outfoxes The Counsellor”.
- An MP3 of the cut song “Fursonality”.
- Sheet music of all songs performed live.
- Scripts in various stages of development, as well as outlines that show at least two potential directions the story was set to go.
- Documents from development, including notes that give a lot more depth to certain elements not discussed in the stage show itself, as of the last-seen drafts at least.
- Bits of research, including chat logs with furries.
- Various draft versions of songs, mostly in MIDI format.
A pity we couldn’t get the animations, but oh well. Anyway, you can do almost anything you like with this. There are just a few stipulations:
- Credit him as Mort L. Wombat, not as Tim Saward. This was his personal preference on the matter, and so we should respect it. His actual name being known and discussed in this article is partly because it was actually common knowledge at the time, so there was no reason to not include it.
- Whatever you do with it, don’t make money off of it. Record it, perform it, whatever, just don’t charge. If you insist on doing something commercial with it, you’ll have to speak to him first.
- Not all the stuff under the “Staging and Rehearsal” folder is his work, so he can’t give permission for its direct use, obviously. You’ll see what I mean. There are snippets from other peoples’ blogs and whatnot, used for research.
- Tim intends for the videos to remain down, due to the aforementioned requests and drama. While I’d argue they should be kept for archival purposes, this is a point to consider before sharing them publicly. (Please do drop us an email if you have the videos, though, and we’ll discuss it.)
It would be quite fun to have better quality recorded performances. Maybe something like a live show at a convention, followed by an analytical discussion panel about the musical, and the portrayal of fandom it presents. But I’m just being a nerd and jumping ahead of myself. At any rate, enjoy all that stuff. I’ll leave proper analysis to someone who knows more about music(als), rather than just being a fan.
We discuss the forgotten musical Furry Tales. Then there’s an unusual and very cool happening that may bridge this middle chapter of fandom history to one of the biggest events for the furry world in 2018. Many younger furs may not even realize this history happened. That’s why we dug it up to help you appreciate the fandom better.
Duncan R. Piasecki and Patch O’Furr
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Hey everyone, just an update: the files finally got put on Archive.org, so the Drive link is no longer going to function.
Archive link is as follows: https://archive.org/details/yiffmusical