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By Brian Robin

Hitting the Beach With The "Dr. Silver" Creators

Even before they finished the first act, the early reviews were in on Anika and Britta Johnson’s and Nick Green’s musical, Dr. Silver. Even the animal kingdom approved.

During last year’s Pacific Playwrights Festival, when the Johnson sisters and Green rolled out part of the first act of their musical about the perils of absolute belief as a special Samples from the Lab, the three made a point to visit every nearby beach they could get to. After all, beaches are rather scarce near their Toronto homes.

Their first beach foray brought them to Laguna, where they were greeted by a sight none of the trio could have imagined.

“The moment we stepped on the beach, three dolphins leaped out of the ocean—one for each of us,” Green remembered. “They leaped out of the ocean and I can tell you the people doing yoga on the beach were not impressed by the ensuing screaming.

“The beach has become this really special, magical place for the three of us.”

Inspiration comes in many forms and from many places. So do impromptu greetings from the animal kingdom, all of which explain why the Johnsons and Green will be frequenting a beach near you when they return with a two-act version of Dr. Silver for the 25th Pacific Playwrights Festival May 5-7. Dr. Silver, leads off this year’s festival with a 1 p.m. Friday reading.

“This was one of the most exciting and empowering weeks we ever had. … Musicals take a long time and to have this kind of purpose and support has been an unbelievable gift,” Britta Johnson said about last year’s PPF.

“I can’t overstate how life-affirming our experiences were here last year,” Anika Johnson said. “Collaborating with (director) Logan Vaughn and seeing all the ways audiences in this community who come together to attend PPF really understand and respect our work. That is actually rare, to have audiences willing to engage with something that’s not perfect or not finished. We got so much encouragement and information from the audiences who came to see our play.”

The Johnsons (lyrics and music) and Green (book) have been rather busy since they brought their high-energy, we’re-not-missing-out-on-anything presence to last year’s festival. When she wasn’t the dramaturg for her sister’s award-winning musical, Life After, at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Anika Johnson teamed with composer Sarah-Segal Lazar on a musical spotlighting the competitive eating circuit. Titled Chew, the musical will be ready for consumption in 2025.

Britta Johnson, called “Canadian musical theatre’s next great hope” by the Toronto Star, joined her sister in Chicago for Life After, because “we hate doing things apart.” From there, she returned to Canada to work on Kelly vs. Kelly, a musical she wrote with Sara Farb based on the 1915 court case where a mother had her daughter arrested for dancing. What does it mean to be a woman at a time of huge societal upheaval?

“I love a good courtroom drama,” Britta Johnson said about the musical, which opens May 31 at Canadian Stage in Toronto.

Green, a Dora Award-winning playwright, opens his play Casey and Diana June 1 at the Stratford Festival outside Toronto. The moving, intense drama chronicles the true story of one week in 1991 leading up to the moment when Princess Diana visited Casey House, Canada’s first freestanding AIDS hospice. Green was able to talk with several of the nurses who were there that week and he said writing Casey and Diana was “a huge life lesson for me.”

“It’s a story about hope and community and also the amazing work that Diana did in confronting the stigma related to AIDS,” Green said. “It was an emotional play to write and an emotional play to rehearse. There were a lot of tears and thankfully, a lot of laughter in the rehearsal hall.”

In between all of that, and Anika Johnson’s countdown to returning to California for her next fix from one of California’s iconic fast-food establishments (“I’ve developed an additional taste for In-N-Out” she said), the three dived head-first back into Dr. Silver at the beginning of 2023. Britta Johnson said the project consumed her from the middle of January to the present.

Understandable. All three were aware of the high expectations their dynamic sample left audiences last year, when audiences walked out of readings craving more. You could feel a palpable collective sense of “What's next?” from the audience when the reading ended.

Green began the process of giving them more last summer. He brought the Johnsons multiple versions of Act 2, different ways it could play out. This provided a blueprint for when the trio returned to the project in January.

They came back to SCR in early April for a two-week workshop with Vaughn and the cast.

The version they brought from Canada lasted a week.

“At the beginning of Week 2, I clicked ‘Select all’ for Act 2 and clicked ‘Backspace,’” Green matter-of-factly said, describing how he wiped out several months work in literal seconds. “I rewrote it and two days later, deleted that and started again. It was a moment of artistic process and collaboration I won’t forget. All three of us were lying on the ground and after about two hours, we went from rock-bottom to a full structural outline we knew had finally cracked the code.”

Anika Johnson said they immediately knew what they needed to change and that while the process was brutally tough, the consensus to take that plunge was pleasantly easy.

“It takes a lot of courage to throw everything out and start all over again, but we’re those type of writers,” she said, noting the workshop took them to 85% completion. “The benefit of making big changes is you risk throwing a lot of things out, but once you find the right channel, it makes it so much better.”

Now, the fun really begins. The Johnsons and Green get to return to Southern California, their new happy place. No word if the dolphins are returning to give another fins-up to their work. But tickets to the reading are going fast, because audiences really want to know what happens to Dr. Silver’s followers.

Exploring the perils of absolute belief can be a difficult creative process. Then again, it does come with some perks.

“The last California thing we did (last year) was drinking Pinot Grigio from the bottle while standing in the ocean brainstorming about Dr. Silver,” Green said.

Tickets to Dr. Silver and the other Pacific Playwrights Festival plays are on sale and can be purchased online at or by calling SCR Ticket Services at (714) 708-5555. Don’t miss the chance to see tomorrow’s big hit today.

About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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