It was a rock 'n' roll field trip.
Stuart Bousel and Claire Rice were working on a new play about the Throwing Muses, so they decided to take the cast and crew to see the highly influential alt-rock band in concert.
"We took everybody, because I really wanted to bring home to (them) just how impactful this music was to the people who listened to it," Bousel says.
Now comes the hard part.
It's up to Bousel, Rice and company to create a similarly impactful experience with "Rat Girl" -- the play they hope will satisfy longtime Muses fans as well as the uninitiated.
The play makes its world premiere on Saturday at the Exit Theatre in San Francisco. It's a key part of DIVAfest, the annual monthlong celebration of women in the arts.
"Rat Girl" -- part biography play, part rock concert -- is based on the excellent memoir of the same name by the Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh. It covers one tumultuous year in Hersh's life, as the singer-songwriter-guitarist -- who was still a teen at the time -- dealt with the discovery of her bipolar disorder, being pregnant with her first child and the demands of recording the Throwing Muses' eponymous 1986 debut.
"I bought (the book), partly thinking it was going to be this fun rock-star biography," says Bousel, who has been following the Muses and Hersh for more than 20 years. "As I was sitting there reading it, I (was) really blown away by just how beautiful a story it was.
"I liked (Hersh's) style. I liked the way she captured the voices of the people in her world. I think she has a tremendous ear for dialogue. I thought, 'This is a character who belongs onstage. This is a character with a story to tell. This is a character I think actresses would love to have a chance to play.' "
With Hersh's blessing, Bousel began adapting "Rat Girl" for the stage. He soon enlisted Rice in the cause, although the director had never heard of the Throwing Muses. So, she took a crash course.
"You know the way you feel like you've discovered certain musicians?" Rice says. "Suddenly, I'm walking around going, 'Oh my god, have you heard about Kristin Hersh? I've discovered her' -- as if I were the first one who had ever heard of her."
There's much to discover. The work that Hersh did with the Muses in the 1980s -- with stepsister Tanya Donelly (later of the Breeders and Belly fame) at her side -- showcases why the group deserves to be ranked in the company of the Replacements, the Pixies, Husker Du and other early alt-rock pioneers. The Muses went on to release their best albums in the '90s, before falling victim to financial woes and calling it quits near the decade's end.
Hersh has also had a brilliant solo career, highlighted by such four-star outings as 1994's "Hips and Makers" and 2007's "Learn to Sing Like a Star," and found time to form a second band, the no-nonsense rock act 50 Foot Wave.
She's currently back to Throwing Muses business, working alongside drummer and fellow founding member David Narcizo and longtime bassist Bernard Georges. Late last year, the band released "Purgatory/Paradise," the band's first full studio album in a decade.
Then, of course, is the all-too-rare Throwing Muses live gig -- like the one that the cast and crew of "Rat Girl" attended at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco in late February. Performing as part of the annual Noise Pop festival, Hersh and company were on fire that night, unintentionally intimidating those whose job it will be to play -- and play like -- the Muses in "Rat Girl."
"There was this moment where (the cast members) said, 'Oh my god, these people are incredible. How are we going to play these people?' " Bousel recalls. "And I said, 'Remember that they have been doing this for 30 years now -- and you aren't expected to be that. You are expected to be them at 19. And at 19, they weren't that.'
"What I love is that our fake Throwing Muses band doesn't sound like the Throwing Muses. They sound like (themselves). And that's exactly how it should be. It is very important to me that this not be a biopic onstage, or turn into a greatest-hits list done by a Throwing Muses cover band."
That news may or may not please the "Cult of Kristin," those who believe that Hersh can do no wrong. Yet, this play is intended to appeal to more than just the select few who can still recite the track listing of 1989's "Hunkpapa."
"I am not doing a bio-play," Rice says. "I am doing a play about a woman who is coming into her own, as an artist and a human being. And I feel that is something we can all relate to -- and that's the story I want to tell."
Adapted from the Kristin Hersh memoir by Stuart Bousel, presented as part of DIVAfest.
When: Saturday through May 24
Where: Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy St.,
Tickets: $10-$25; www.theexit.org/