From showrunner Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood) and Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller, the NBC drama series Rise follows Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor), a dedicated teacher who sets out on a mission to take over the school’s lackluster theater department and turn it into what he believes it can be, even if no one else sees it. And as he casts the roles in the high school production of Spring Awakening that he’s directing, not only does it revitalize his passion for teaching, but it gives the students a new outlook on their own lives, families and relationships. The series also stars Rosie Perez, Marley Shelton, Auli’i Cravalho, Damon J. Gillespie, Amy Forsyth, Ted Sutherland, Casey W. Johnson, Rarmian Newton, Joe Tippett, and Shirley Rumierk.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, executive producer/writer Jason Katims talked about what he’s most excited about getting to do with Rise, the similarities the show shares with his previous shows, Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, why Spring Awakening was the right musical for them to tackle in Season 1, trying to decide what musical they could explore next, in a possible Season 2, how this has been a real learning experience for the younger cast, and what’s most impressed him about watching what the actors have done with this material.
Collider: What inspired this show and what were you most excited about getting to do with it?
JASON KATIMS: There were a few things that I was very excited about, with this show. I did feel like it shares something with Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, which is this large ensemble. That was an element of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood that I really loved. When I heard the idea for this show, because it was inspired by the book Drama High and the real Lou, I could see that this could be one of those shows. I was very excited by the idea, on one hand, having the engine be about this troupe and this theater program, but I was also excited about all of the stories, outside of that, with all of the family stories and all of the interconnections between them. The waitress at the diner is having an affair with the football coach, and she’s the mother of the person who gets cast as the lead [in the musical]. There’s so many great ways that all of these people are tied together. I thought it could be a very rich show, and I found it to be a very moving experience to tell these stories. I got very emotionally involved in it, both with the storytelling and in the editing room, and I’m hoping people have that same feeling, where they feel like they’re not watching it from a distance, but they really feel connected to these characters.
Why was Spring Awakening the right musical to tackle?
KATIMS: Well, it was a show that the real Lou did, as the first high school production of Spring Awakening. I also thought it was important that the show was going to be somewhat provocative. There was this theater program that had been there for years, that had been looked over and was not really being taken seriously, and I was excited about the idea that he had decided to do something that would wake people up and force people to think. I thought that was really intriguing. And then, I wanted something that I felt was going to resonate, and the characters in Spring Awakening would resonate with our characters. Because Spring Awakening is about these teenagers going through a very difficult period in their lives, I thought it would lend itself to having all of these thematic connections with our characters.
Will we see the production throughout the run of the entire season?
KATIMS: Yes, Spring Awakening is the show for the first season of Rise. They choose the show and the show gets cast, and then, over the course of the season, you see the rehearsals, the band comes in, and you see the sets and the wardrobe. And then, of course, there are all of the challenges. He’s chosen a show that’s very provocative, so it creates a conflict between him and the administration, the district and other parents. You’ll watch all of that being carried through, so that, by the end of the season, we’ll get to what will hopefully be opening night, meaning that hopefully the show goes on and does not get shut down.
Have you thought about other shows you’d like to explore, in future seasons?
KATIMS: Yeah. We’ve finished shooting Season 1, so I’m starting to think about what we could do, if we get a Season 2. I always like to begin with our characters first and what they’re going through, and then, as that starts to become more clear, I think about what show would be something that would resonate with what they’re going through.
Has your cast started pitching you productions they’d like to do?