Communication senior’s film “Grief Night Club” addresses mental health through music, song and dance


Courtesy of Nolan Robinson

Promotional photo for “Grief Night Club.” Communication senior Nolan Robinson was the writer, director, choreographer and producer of the jazz musical.

Olivia Alexander, Reporter

In his jazz musical “Grief Night Club,” Communication senior Nolan Robinson grapples with the challenges Black men face with mental health. The film, which has been Robinson’s passion project for almost two years, in part draws from his own experiences as a student.

“It’s not autobiographical, but it is inspired by struggles and challenges that I faced throughout my time in college,” Robinson said. “Feeling like my feelings aren’t valid or not being able to deal with emotion, not being able to ask people for help.”

In the musical, the protagonist, Jordan, is questioning his identity, mortality and he faces an influx of emotions. When he enters the Grief Night Club, Jordan’s black and white world bursts into color, song and dance. There, he speaks through song, a medium that works when words no longer can, and meets people who encourage him to accept what he is feeling and reach out for help.

Medill junior Megan Lebowitz, who attended the virtual premiere, said the film reinforced her understanding that people in her life were there to support her.

“The artistic choices that (Robinson) made with editing really blew me away,” Lebowitz said. “There were moments when different boxes would pop up on the screen and move around and overlap and change colors, so I thought that the artistic choices, considering it was a musical film, were really wonderful.”

Robinson always knew he wanted the project to be a jazz musical, especially after watching “La La Land.” For Robinson, jazz is intertwined with improvisation and letting go, a theme present within the storyline of the film. Both jazz and rap, music genres that are present in the film, don’t have rules, Robinson said.

Sam Wolsk (Bienen ‘19), the music producer and orchestrator for “Grief Night Club,” said he was able to achieve the classic Big Band jazz sound, even with a downsized orchestra. Wolsk said, who studied jazz at NU, asked each musician to record two different parts and put all the recordings together with Logic, an Apple audio-editing software.

“In a time where musicians’ (plans) are put on hold, it was really great that this was not only able to happen, but able to happen in arguably a bigger and more special way,” Wolsk said.

Wolsk and Robinson met while working on a musical theater performance when Robinson was a freshman. Wolsk said Robinson at the time was “wide-eyed” and friendly, and asked questions in an effort to learn all that he could.

Robinson has plans to assistant-write on Broadway after graduation. He said he wants to continue to combine his dual interests in theater and film and does not want to be confined to Los Angeles or New York City. But before he graduated, he knew he wanted to use art as an opportunity to make a lasting impression on their time at NU.

“I have a lot of talented friends and I wanted to get them in on something amazing before they left, something that they could just always look back on and say, well, we made this piece of art,” Robinson said.

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