Oh my gosh. We are absolutely FLOORED to be honored with 6 nominations for the 2019 Non-Equity Joseph Jefferson Awards in the following categories:
New Work (Musical)
Leading Actor in a Musical (Bridget Adams-King as Lucy Parsons)
Director of a Musical (Nick Thornton)
Music Direction (Robert Ollis)
Ensemble in a Musical (the INCREDIBLE synergy of our very own Anarchist Folk Band)
I am so proud of the love, dedication and prodigious talents everyone poured into this production and not least of all Underscore Theatre for assembling the amazing team and supporting the show every step of the way. See you at the Jeffs!
Actors Training Center and Underscore Theatre teamed up to commission and produce a workshop of the second show I ever wrote with Alex Higgin-Houser and Laura Stratford. It's a cute little show about a coffee shop in Minneapolis. We developed and produced it in four Fringe Festivals in 2010 while all of us but Laura were still in college. It's so exciting to be given an opportunity to revisit an old project you love! What a privilege and a great exercise, to relive happy memories and at the same time look at a show with fresh eyes, get a chance to build on stuff that worked, expand and enhance your original vision, and correct some mistakes born of haste or inexperience—as long as you don't overthink it too much and OVERcorrect such that you lose track of what made the original special. Anecdote time! At one point I told Alex and Laura that we needed to get rid of all the slant rhymes with which the lyrics were riddled. The following Gchat conversation ensued:
ALEX: literally exactly the opposite you argued for when we were writing this. we've traded.
DAVID: me? i argued for slant rhymes?
ALEX: oh yeah
DAVID: i have nooooooo meory
what on earth was my reasoning? jeez i was young and foolish
ALEX: I seem to remember a shouted line of "IT'S OKAY IF IT ISN'T PERFECT RHYME, IT'S OUR SONG"
DAVID: sit down, past david.
ALEX: "LOTS OF RHYMES AREN'T PERFECT. LOOK AT SHAKESPEARE"
I remember it vividly
DAVID: yeah back than i hated sondheim on principle
DAVID: THAT ME IS DEAD
LAURA: to be fair you were still much closer to rock and roll than musical theater at that time
and perfect rhyme is not a requirement of rock
DAVID: yeah, right
ALEX: nothing is a requirement of anything.
ALEX: but perfect rhyme is a really good indicator of crat
LAURA: your face isn't a requirement of my life
LAURA: it's just a really nice bonus <3333
ALEX: and is generally more impressive, and I lends credibility/the illusion of profundity where it may or may not exist
which I think is reason enough
DAVID: agreed. it's more satisfying and also one thing that has been mentioned in my classes--it's easier for the audience. the better the rhymes, the easier to comprehend the lyrics it is
LAURA: and it's fun to set up expectations and defy them...but in perfect rhyme
where they think they know what the rhyme will be, and it's not that but it still fits really well
ALEX: and, of course, Sondheim has the last word, in that the best rhyme is perfect rhymes or identities with different spellings, because of how the brain perceives them as more surprising
so, moral of the story: KILL SLANT RHYMES WITH FIRE
So, as you can see, I've grown since college. :) Side note, the show still contains slant rhymes (or as Steve Lutvak once said to my class, "not rhymes.") but we've justified them to ourselves because many the songs are diegetic or at least partially so, and written in an indie-rock and hip-hop style. So deal with it.
One of the most major changes we had to make was the title. We knew there was a musical out there called Grind—not the most famous musical ever, but known to aficionados. We got away with the title the first time around because in the Fringe you can get away with a lot. But we feel now like this show could really have some legs, so we don't want there to be any confusion (or lawsuits) as we move forward into whatever opportunities the future may hold. So we went with GROUNDS: A FRESH-BREWED MUSICAL because of the double meaning of Grounds as coffee and also "premises," a central tenet of the story: the Rush Cafe as a sacred ground of sorts, a home for many people in a community—a home that's in jeopardy.
As a bonus to this workshop, it's SO fun to see kids singing our songs. They are all crazy talented and bring such a wonderful freshness and innocence to it. Hopefully they are learning a lot as well! I wish I had had the opportunity when I was a kid to work on a new musical. So kudos and a million thanks to Actors Training Center for taking a risk on our show and on a new program in order provide that experience to kids. I don't know of any other teaching theatre company that offers such a class, and Adam Goldstein has done a fantastic job inspiring and directing the kids, not to mention inspiring us as writers and helping us immensely in refining our script.
If you're in Chicago next week, you can catch the ATC performance for free on Monday, April 17th at 6pm and 8:30pm at The Edge Theater, 5451 N Broadway. Hope you can check out what these super talented kids have done with it!
It's been such a fun experience rewriting GRIND and turning it into GROUNDS. Every time you create a new project you learn something, and every time you revise an old one you learn something else. Very excited for this performance, and for what the future holds for our little coffee shop musical.
View our facebook announcement on the GROUNDS facebook page!
I'm pumped to share some exciting news! Around 2 years ago my collaborators Laura Stratford, Alex Higgin-Houser and I were commissioned by CPA Theatricals in Chicago to create a new musical targeted at the high school and college market. I'm so excited to announce that after many successful readings and workshops, Numbers Nerds is headed to the New York Musical Theatre Festival this summer!
For more info about the show, check out www.numbersnerdsthemusical.com
If you would like to donate to help make our production the best it can be, check out our GoFundMe page!
Originally posted on Facebook on June 12th, 2016.
Today we close Haymarket. It’s the most rewarding project I’ve ever been involved with. I am simply in awe of the amazing performances the cast, crew and designers have brought to the table throughout the process, and the unbelievable amount of work they have all put in. What an absolute privilege, honor and joy to have so many people give so much to make my dream a reality--really, to make it their dream too. Thank you to all who poured their souls into this work, and to the many critics who have chosen to write kind words about our baby.
Over the course of the run I’ve had a few thoughts percolate through my brain, and I’d like to share them now. I certainly hope that the Jeff Committee will consider our show for Best New Musical at next year’s awards. But even if they don’t, I hope even more that they consider this:
When you are cast in a new musical, no one has ever played that part before. You have no cast recording to listen to, no photos, no videos to watch. You are the first person to ever say these words on a stage. You must create your character from scratch. There is no copying. There is nothing except you and the text, and some dots that tell you the right pitches. And in the case of Haymarket, the historical record. Every one of these actors did their homework. They learned all they could about their characters so they could bring them to life as realistically and faithfully as possible, while injecting their own personalities in to give the characters warmth, dimension, and heart. These actors did not just have to show up and say their lines, or even sing. They had to play instruments at the same time. Some of them even LEARNED instruments specifically for this production. Not only that, but they had to create the orchestration themselves. Sure, there was guidance from me and Robert, but the music in the end truly comes from the actors, full of original countermelodies developed in rehearsal, little improvisations and the personal flair of each player. Many vocal harmonies were improvised by the actors as well. Under Elizabeth’s guidance, in many cases they devised their own movement and choreography. They handled notes from director, stage manager, composer, and playwright. Each plays their own part with fire and passion, and then blends seamlessly into a vibrant ensemble full of energy that erupts off the stage. I could not have asked for better actors on any production.
When you design for a new musical, there is no template. No photos, no video, no reviews. The lights, costumes, sound, set and props for Haymarket all came 100% from the brains of the incredible design team, to portray the concept and vision that Elizabeth conveyed to us. It was no easy feat, to balance our minuscule budget and technical limitations with the grandiose scope of this wayyyyyyyy-too ambitious show. But they went above and beyond what Alex and I ever imagined possible. And they made it seem easy. All working for us for much less than they’re really worth, because they believed in our show, they were total pros, with everything coming together just when it needed to. And it paid off, as their many, many shoutouts in the reviews attest. I very much hope they will be nominated for awards for their incredible work on Haymarket.
Continuing our journey through this dream team, we come to Music Directing. Robert and Tyler had no Broadway Cast Recording to listen to. All they had were awful crackly demos of me singing in my bedroom (or sometimes even my bathroom) along to my lousy guitar playing or terrible synthy MIDI tracks. They had to deal with discrepancies between script and score, typos in the score, lyric changes, melody rewrites, harmonies being added, me nitpicking about tiny rhythmic idiosyncrasies, rearranging sections of music, cutting songs, writing new songs in rehearsal, getting new scores on the day of rehearsal, hearing impossible orchestration demands by the composer and somehow making them happen. They suggested new keys when songs were written in odd ranges for the singers. They had amazing ideas about the orchestration and crafting a unified sound for the show. Creating transitions and underscoring. Teaching harmonies and sometimes rewriting them when I'd screwed up, teaching the cast how to conduct themselves, without a pit band to follow...the list goes on endlessly. This was a true collaboration between composer and Music Directors. I am forever grateful for your tireless work in bringing my music to life.
There is no Jeff award for best Stage Manager, but I must shout out to JC for her incredible management of all the ridiculous moving parts in this show. Tracking props, a stupid number of instruments, actors who can’t leave the stage for their costume changes, imagining set levels that didn’t exist in our rehearsal space. I can’t believe you made it happen, but you did. You get the David Award for Best Stage Manager.
Lastly, there is no template for directing a new musical. There are no original stage directions. There is no broadway bootleg recording to watch. There are no reviews of prior productions to read. Elizabeth had to invent every image in the show from her mind. She read the primary sources and educated herself on the historical records and images of the time to inform her concept. She encouraged the cast to bring in images that inspired them, from quotes of Lucy Parsons to shots of Freddie Mercury onstage. She had to negotiate with the overbearing egos of a nitpicky composer and playwright. She had to literally shape the script of the play by helping Alex and me streamline the script, clarifying, rearranging scenes and making judicious cuts, interpreting our story and seeking out the best possible way to tell it faithfully. She lost hours of sleep wondering how to make this damn script work. Most importantly, from the time we met in that bar on Navy Pier, Elizabeth put her faith into an unknown quantity, with no guarantee of success. An unknown show, by unknown writers, at an unknown company. And she gave it everything she had, because she believed it was a tale worth telling. If someone who can do all that with grace and aplomb, and come up with a production this beautiful on such a tiny friggin budget, is not the best director in Chicago, I don’t know who is.
Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart and soul.
Haymarket will return.
I have finished the preliminary master of the Pr0ne Original Chicago Cast Album! You can listen to it below. Please leave a comment about anything you like or hate on the tracks! I'm still doing a bit of tweaking on the mix before publishing to iTunes. For now, you can download it for free and share with anyone you please! I promise no one will get mad or sue you. We just want this show to become a viral cult sensation!