Working It Out

Evan Flory-Barnes is finally stepping into the theatrical spotlight. All it took was some therapy.

It may have taken a while—his whole life, he’d argue—but Seattle composer and bassist Evan Flory-Barnes is ready to step to the front of the stage. Everything finally started to coalesce thanks to an important audience of one: his therapist. “Through therapy,” he says, “I became aware I was taking a backseat to myself in my creative work. While I was playing music and involving myself in projects with dear people, my own self-led creativity was suffering.”

Flory-Barnes decided to shift his focus and create his new staged work, a part-theatrical, part-musical performance entitled On Loving the Muse and Family, which premieres at On the Boards from March 1-4. The show, based on the late night talk show concept, revolves around the relationships—both familial and intimate—that have shaped him over his life and career. On Loving features original compositions by the musician as well as performances by local standouts like The True Loves, The Seattle Girls Choir, and Flory-Barnes’s new doo-wop band, The Traumatics.

“The True Loves are this soul unit,” he explains, “part musical ensemble, house band, chamber orchestra, and jazz rhythm section.” He also conducts a full orchestra and sings with The Tramautics, unveiling a new tool in his creative arsenal. “The Traumatics are a nod to this idea of loving groups like The Four Tops and The Temptations and just what that represents for masculinity and brotherhood.”

Anyone familiar with the work of Flory-Barnes, a master of the upright double bass, knows he is an adaptable, prolific player. On any given night he can be found in a jazz club riffing scales, in a recording studio with stars like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, or on a big stage with his award-winning jazz quartet, Industrial Revelation. Often, though, his role is in that of support—such is the task of a bass player. But at 39, Flory-Barnes is finally ready to acknowledge his desire to be the focal point—center stage.

And in so doing, he will exercise creative muscles he’s always wanted to flex.

The call to action for On Loving began in 2014 after a performance of Now I’m Fine, the musical comedy written and produced by friend and Industrial Revelation bandmate, Ahamefule J. Oluo. But the seeds were sewn over the last year during Flory-Barnes deep therapy sessions. During those conversations, Flory-Barnes dissected and investigated many of the significant relationships in his life and how these bonds shaped him, sometimes in very severe and subtle ways. The fruits of that work serve as the subject matter for On Loving.

During the first half of the performance, Flory-Barnes showcases four distinct characters: his “higher self, inner child, shadow, and old man self.” The characters speak to the audience in expressive monologues and help host the show a la Dean Martin or Nat King Cole. The characters sport names like Nathaniel Dean Watts and Evvy Mushbu, the latter of which has special meaning for its creator. The word “mushbu,” coined by Flory-Barnes and a past romantic partner (and known to his many Facebook followers), is defined as “the innate innocence of all beings manifested in sweetness.” Mushbu permeates every aspect of On Loving. The second half of the show more directly focuses on Flory-Barnes and the arch of the impactful relationships in his life, like those with his deceased father, past romantic partners, friends, and musical collaborators.

Despite these expansive efforts, Flory-Barnes says he can’t help but occasionally feel doubt about whether he will pull the show off successfully—it is, after all, his first ever go at this. “There are these moments,” he says, “when I’m home, lying down, and it’s like, ‘Ohhhhh shiiiiitt.’ Because this is so new.” But when it’s clicking, he says he feels “possessed” and “moved to tears” by the catharsis On Loving provides. “In our lives we inherit beliefs and traumas,” Flory-Barnes says. “In our relationships, we either have to work these pains out or we end up passing them on. That’s what this show is about.”

On Loving the Muse and Family, March 1–4, On the Boards