Wake Up! Pay Attention!

First entirely student-composed and directed, interdisciplinary main stage musical urges students to think for themselves.



By Daylina Miller


TAMPA, Fla. (March 24, 2010) - In the make-shift classroom, a professor stands in front of his students and asks them to rise for a pledge of allegiance. As they protest his order and his lesson plan, the professor stops each student in their tracks and sticks a pacifier in their mouths.


That’s right - a baby pacifier.


This is not a classroom at USF, in the traditional sense.


 It is a stage, a scratched floor adorned with mismatched props, tucked away inside a theater building opposite the Marshall Student Center.


It is also a time machine into the not-so-distant future, into a dystopian society where Freethinkers, battling the senseless distractions of the world, fight to halt the country’s transformation from Democratic Republic to Corporate-Controlled Capitalism.


This is INERTIA – USF’s first entirely student-composed, student-directed, interdisciplinary main stage musical. Created by USF student Chris Sgammato as an Honor’s College thesis, Inertia is set to premiere at USF next month with a cast and technical team of more than 60 students from all four schools in the College of The Arts.


“I think distractions are necessary. The world is a crappy place and we need a release,” Sgammato said. “You have got to have some kind of escape but people get too caught up in this escape and lose sense of their responsibility.”


Sgammato’s cast of characters represent the obsessions that overtake ordinary people: social media, texting, drugs and radical religion, among others.


One character, Sgammato said, is obsessed with her cell phone, even interrupting one of her scenes to answer a text.


“INERTIA is about a future country but it’s incredibly relevant right now,” said performance communication major Noelle Stoops. “Everyone is so wrapped up in these petty obsessions that pull us away from a greater purpose in life. Lots of these issues college students deal with. It’s about how we can easily band together and make a difference and not always listen to everything that’s ever been told to us. It’s a call to action for the younger population that can make a difference.”


Brittany Campion, an elementary education major, said that she was enlightened by the issues Sgammato wrote into the script for INERTIA. Her character is Jessica, a celebrity-obsessed mean girl with no concept of reality.


“Hopefully, they will try and really question everything,” said theater major Courtney Pruden, who plays the character Summer Bries, a young woman with a hallucinogen habit. “I think that’s one thing everyone fears – to ask questions. You see it in class. The teacher asks if there are any questions and no one asks them.”


The play encompasses a variety of musical tastes from soul to gospel to pop, reggae, Pink Floyd acid-jazz, contemporary Christian, blues and finger pickin’ guitar.


“There’s not one kind of music in the world so why would I put one kind of music in a musical talking about the world?” Sgammato said.


The cast rehearses four days a week for several hours at a time. Sgammato, in addition to having written the play and composed the music, directs the team as they work through the script, cutting out unnecessary lines and practicing their parts.


“Chris is a genius,” Patrick Bolger said. “It’s a big undertaking and I’m proud to be a part of his work.”


Incredibly, Sgammato has no background training in musical theater. Before he started his thesis, he said he didn’t even watch musicals.


But he says there’s a benefit to his inexperience, comparing it to Watson and Crick’s discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.


“Crick didn’t even get into genetics and science until his mid-30s and wasn’t tainted by experience,” Sgammto said. “He was free from that. That’s kind of how I feel.”


In INERTIA, Sgammato has identified and analyzed a number of systems in place, whether intentional or unintentional, that hinders our ability to pay attention to the world. These distractions may manifest in substances, cults and media.


“Society as I see it is stuck in a state of social inertia; we are resisting a pull towards something greater than ourselves because of our insatiable appetite for distraction,” Sgammato said. “We must wake up from these distractions and become active participants in the democratic system by resisting the trend towards willful ignorance that plagues society.”


Cast members say they connect to the message and hope the audience does too.


“It’s totally different from any other musical I’ve been in, said music studies and international business major Alex Solomon. “This one has such strong morals, such strong ideals within it and a lot of these ideals I agree with. I can really connect to this.”


Inertia: The Musical will be performed in USF Theater 2, April 15- 17 at 8 p.m. and April 18 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students, $10 for general admission. For additional information call the box office at (813) 974-2323.



The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.