WORLD VIEWS: 2017 Musical Theater Lab Q&A Series Part 5

July 4, 2017

Presenting the fifth of 9 writing teams in the 2017 Musical Theater Lab!  Each team will be presenting a new mini-musical in culminating lab concert performance, World Views, on July 8th (link here for details!).  These writers were selected through a competitive application process, and in these brief Q&As you’ll get some behind the scenes insight into their process and work.  Our next profile is the writing team of Emily Kaczmarek and Zoe Sarnak.

This year’s lab assignment was to create a musical inspired by a work of visual art found in an NYC museum.

Fishing Boats

Artwork: Fishing Boats Entering Calais Harbor by Joseph Mallord William Turner

Title of your Mini-Musical: “Afloat”

1. Were you familiar your with painting / artist prior to the lab process and if so what were your impressions?

We were unfamiliar with our painting before the lab process. We were familiar with Turner by name, but this was a portal into getting to know his aesthetic.

2. What drew you to the painting? Were your impulses more abstract, or did the image evoke any specific personal experiences or responses for your team?

The image of a boat on a rough sea, visceral and full of energy, pulled us in initially. Then we realized that the painting could relate to an idea we had already been discussing– a dystopian scenario: in the near future, with global warning causing rising tides and storms until half of NYC is underwater, a group of young adults might decide to escape to the sea rather than live in refugee camps. Something about the painting felt timeless in its capturing of an elemental yet dangerous freedom: humanity taking to the ocean.

3. How was the lab writing process for your group? Was it different or similar to experiences you’ve had before?

It was great! We’ve written together before and continue to do so. This process has been really fun because we’ve gotten to explore a seed of an idea and see what feels like to musicalize a portion of it. The lab has offered a structured but liberated space in which we’ve been able to experiment.

4. How does your piece in the lab relate to the rest of your body of work? Is it a new direction or collaboration, or a continuation / deepening of styles or themes you have explored previously?

A bit of both. We have a rhythm now as collaborators. We also have certain themes that we’re drawn to– family, identity formation, strong heroines– and we value earnest, accessible storytelling that is also smart and challenging. That said, this project allows us to flex some new muscles. Zoe is writing a gospel/hip-hop infused score– music she’s been inspired by and worked with in the past, but never really in a stage musical setting. Emily is tackling something a bit different too; the book has to establish a heightened, dystopian, action-packed world (in under ten minutes). It’s great to be able to expand our shared repertoire, so to speak.

5. Which of the other lab musicals are you most curious to see and why?

All of them! 🙂 The story of the girl with the balloon is particularly poignant, especially knowing it’s based on a true story. Hopeful stories of human connection across boundaries feel critically important right now.

Emily Kaczmarek is a playwright, librettist, screenwriter, and performer. Works include: Sam & Lizzie (semifinalist, Premiere Stages Play Festival), Afterwards (music & lyrics by Zoe Sarnak; Village Theatre Festival of New Musicals, upcoming; MTF-Playwrights Horizons Artist Residency; Eugene O’Neill Artist Residency; NYMF Developmental Reading Series), Alma Mater and Landed (music & lyrics by Zoe Sarnak, dir: Nathan Brewer; commissions, New York Film Academy), American Kids (BoxFest Detroit; This Is Water Co.; Women in Arts & Media Coalition), Paper & Glue (Future of Storytelling conference; NYU; various high schools), and Anything New (commission, NYU; Wombat Theatre Co). By day, Emily teaches with the college access program SEO Scholars.

Zoe Sarnak’s works include: Secret Soldiers (with Marsha Norman), Galileo (with Danny Strong, Michael Weiner, dir. Michael Mayer), Afterwords (with Emily Kaczmarek, Playwrights Horizons-MTF workshop), The Years Between (with Kirsten Guenther), Landed/Alma Mater (with Emily Kaczmarek, NYFA commissions), Transport Group Commission (with Michele Lowe), and Teddy & Max (with Brian Crawley). Awards include: Davenport Songwriting contest winner, NY Stage & Film’s Founders Award finalist, Fred Ebb Award finalist, Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award Honoree, Women’s Project Lab. Residencies include: The Public Theater, Goodspeed, Williamstown Theatre Festival, New York Theatre Workshop, O’Neill, and Rhinebeck Writers Retreat. Music featured: NY Times, Lilly Awards, and more.




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