Artists may find their muse in many things, but for Henry Alloway, identity is at the core. As an indie singer songwriter, Alloway calls music “a diary to me,” and their 2021 EP release of New Territory and a role in Possibilities Theatre Company’s Rent in Chicago are evidence of Alloway’s identity-centric art.
An Oak Park native, Alloway began singing in Irving Elementary School’s choir in fourth grade. At Percy Julian Middle School, the CAST theater program had “a huge influence,” starting with the role of Little Red in Into the Woods.
“I was a standout — very talkative, very extroverted — and the CAST program at Julian was really a lot of the reason I was successful in school,” Alloway said. “It motivated me to do better. It gave me friendships that I still have today. It gave me confidence.”
At Oak Park and River Forest High School, from which Alloway is a 2016 graduate, they started their own a cappella group for mixed voices because that did not exist. They continued to be involved in choir and theater and when a new choir teacher started, Meredith McGuire, they also joined the new Vocal Jazz group. Alloway credits McGuire with the decision to attend Lawrence University, a liberal arts school in Appleton, Wisconsin. There, they majored in vocal performance and self-designed a major to focus on educational advocacy in the arts.
Graduating Lawrence in 2020, Alloway continued working on music and other creative projects during the pandemic. They write music all the time, and said, “anytime I feel anything I try to write about it” and found creating during COVID-19 to be both productive and limiting.
“There were times I was writing so much music because there was nothing else to do. That was all that was feeding me. It was the only thing that made me feel OK with the world because everything was really hard everywhere else. Then there were other times, it was really hard to create because the whole world shut down. … I was like, ‘What do I even write about?’”
Out of this time came the five-song release in, what Alloway calls, a folk-punk-goblin style with sweet and savory sounds — guitar as their primary instrument, self-taught. New Territory music was composed and performed under Alloway’s musician name, Henry Alanna. It expresses messages they want to share and is “a love letter to my college experience.”
New Territory addresses both difficulties and formative times in high school, “taking all the information from my childhood and past and bringing it into something new and beautiful in my time at college and coming out the other side of it,” including new and old friendships, Alloway said. “It’s very much a love letter to my own self-growth.”
The music explores personal matters of identity.
“I’ve actually titled a song ‘A Letter to My Sense of Self,’” Alloway said. “I write a lot of music that is delving not just into the complexities of relationships with other people but my relations with self. I think my nonbinary, genderqueer identity really comes through with that.”
Alloway is now performing music in person after the pandemic hiatus, currently living in Madison, Wisconsin, and playing at Make Music Madison on June 21. They also have gigs lined up for Awake for Birds, a duo formed with a college roommate.
While living through quarantine, they put together The Penpal Project for artists — poets, composers, instrumentalists, and others — which connected a circle of friends, some through social media, pairing artists to work collaboratively during a period of separation.
Still Alloway was “missing that sense of community that comes from doing theater” and started looking for casting calls on a whim and came across Rent, one of their favorite shows.
“No one knows how to build community quite like people in the arts,” Alloway said. “It’s just a room full of people so excited to be doing this, so excited to be part of something, telling these stories — it’s beautiful.”
The one-year-old Possibilities Theatre Company “aims to amplify voices that have historically been silenced.” Alloway has landed the understudy role of Roger and is in the chorus. They will appear in at least one show as Roger and, in the chorus, they have a couple of solos and perform in group numbers. The show runs Thursdays through Saturdays, Aug. 5 through 21 and is being performed at Northcenter Town Square.
Rehearsals have begun and Alloway commutes from Madison to Chicago for the musical. Because rehearsals can be up to five days a week, Alloway stays at their parents’ Oak Park home at times to make the commute more manageable.
When acting at Lawrence, Alloway played queer-coded characters, creating a path to seek roles that “feel very comforting and accepting.” Being in Rent has resonated particularly well with their identity.
“One of things I like about Rent is it’s one of the few shows that the message is so much about queerness and so much about diversity from this perspective of joy, something you don’t really see a lot when you see stories about the queer experience,” Alloway said. “… There are definitely hard things in this show, dark themes that come through, but ultimately, the end of this story is this idea of love and joy and living, and that’s something I do a lot as someone who is part of the LGBTQ community. This idea of pushing aside all of the hard and the bad and the difficult and [instead] just living to exist and choosing to exist and fighting to exist is a really beautiful image.”
To listen and purchase music: henryalanna.com.