WORLD VIEWS: 2017 Musical Theater Lab Q&A Series Part 6

July 5, 2017

We are getting closer to the show as we introduce the sixth 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 EllaRose Chary and Brandon James Gwinn.

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

For The Woman's House

Artwork: For the Women’s House by Faith Ringgold

Title of your Mini-Musical: “Patchwork”

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

We were not familiar with the painting or the artist before the process, but were very excited to learn about Faith Ringgold. She’s an amazing artist and activist and the piece “For The Women’s House” was commissioned to be put up in the Riker’s women’s prison. Ringgold primarily works in quilt making as a medium, so we were also interested in figuring out how to make a musical quilt and what that would look/sound like. As we learned more about her, we wanted to make sure we did justice to not only the piece of art but the impulse and artist behind it.

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?

We’re interested in telling stories that are inclusive and that reflect the world around us, particularly in New York City, rather than the version of the world that we often see in media/on stage in musical theater. We’re drawn to stories about women and community, which this evoked. We were interested in writing a piece that happened in an instant and centered around an event that stopped the flow of city around it, with all of the women watching and reacting in specific ways. We’re also cognizant of issues of gentrification and police violence in our community in Harlem, and wanted to write a piece that dealt with that and our roles in those issues. The painting and the story behind it just made sense with our mission as artists and the kinds of stories we want to tell.

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

It actually took us back to our grad school days at Graduate Musical Theater Writing at NYU – being given an assignment and a limited time to write in and just figuring it out. It was a bit hectic (especially because we’re working on some other projects simultaneously) but it was also exciting to just have to make fast choices and follow our impulses.

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?

The themes are definitely in line with the types of characters we feature and the stories we tell – but stylistically this a totally new direction for us. More classically influenced than some of our other shows, and through sung – which was an exciting challenge for us and the actors!

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

Oh, this is a terrible question! Of course we’re excited to see all of them because a lot of the writers we know and like their work (or know them but not their work and are psyched to see what they do) and then the folks we don’t know as well, we love being introduced to new writers and their work. We’re too egalitarian and community-minded to single anyone out, obviously…:-)

EllaRose Chary is an award-winning writer focused on politically engaged projects. Prospect: The Daguerreotype, By The Numbers. Current projects: Cotton Candy and Cocaine (Ars Nova Uncharted), Queer. People. Time. (Dramatists Guild Fellowship), Patriettes (The Tank’s TV Writing Program, the #Fword Finalist), Untitled Anarchist Play (The Civilians’ R & D Group), The Lake and the Mill (Drama League Rough Draft Residency) and several commissions for young audiences. BA: Brown University; MFA: NYU Tisch

Brandon James Gwinn is an award-winning composer, lyricist and musician. His musicals include Cotton Candy & Cocaine (Ars Nova Uncharted) Queer. People. Time. (Dramatist Guild Fellowship), Matchmaker Matchmaker, I’m Willing to Settle (ART Club Oberon, New York Musical Theatre Festival 2011), Small Town Story (Finalist Richard Rodgers Award, NAMT Writer’s ResidenCy Grant, Village Originals Seattle, NYTB Commission). He recently produced the debut album of Trixie Mattel (RuPaul’s Drag Race) which premiered at #2 on the iTunes charts. MFA: NYU Tisch.

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