WORLD VIEWS: 2017 Musical Theater Lab Q&A Series Part 9

July 7, 2017

The countdown ends as we meet the last 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 Janet Allard and Niko Tsakalakos.

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

the kite.jpg

Artwork: The Kite by Gazbia Sirry

Title of your Mini-Musical: “Hello My Name Is Laura Buxton”

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

[JA] No. But after I saw “The Kite” I ended up reading a lot about the artist and discovering her other paintings.

[NT] I had never seen the painting before. It was my favorite because somehow I connected with how the girl and the kite seemed to be moving together, as if she were being pulled up to the sky…

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?

[JA] The motion inherent in the painting. The color. The kite and the girl reaching. It called to mind a few things. The story of Icarus. The true story of a girl who released a balloon and as a result something sort of magical happened. The longing to reach for something beyond us.

[NT]  For Janet, the image triggered an NPR podcast she heard about a girl named Laura Buxton who let a balloon go only to be found by another girl with the same name 140 miles south of where she lived. To me, I instantly recalled my own memory of letting a balloon go when i was a child and wondering how far it would fly, if it would touch the moon or dance with the clouds – an iconic sort of metaphor of the power of imagination or that universal need to connect to something bigger or extend beyond yourself. It was basis of the first poem I’d ever written. After studying the painting and watching the podcast, I knew we’d found a sweet spot where we could tell this incredibly fascinating story through song in a modern, relatable and concise way.

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

[JA] Fast and furious. In a good way. We didn’t have a lot of time so we made choices fast and committed to them. Different in the 10 minute form. We hadn’t tackled that as a team before.

[NT] Positive energy all around, well organized and dedicated to making the piece work.

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?

[JA] Sort of a new direction. Our first female protagonist!

[NT] I think it is a deepening. It’s interesting how Janet and I threw out the first song we wrote for the piece as it was leading us down a different story telling path. We like to play and explore a lot before we hone in on what is really working. It’s also really interesting how we found this organic, inter-woven way to tell the story where there were ‘song propers’ as well as small themes that we used throughout to help tell the story. In a way, this is a bit new as we often try to go down a more song-based path where here it is a tapestry of some theatrical/dramatic statements inter-mixed with more pop oriented song material.

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

[JA] “Trash Beach.” The title. And to see what craziness that image spawned.

[NT] All of them, can’t wait!

Janet Allard Musicals include: Into the Wild, Perseverance Theater (commission), Berkeley Rep Ground Floor (development), Rhinebeck Writer’s Retreat (development), Goodspeed Opera House (development), Encore Musical Theatre (workshop production), Rattlestick Playwright’s Theatre’s ‘New Songs Now’. Pool Boy at Barrington Stage, Provincetown Playhouse, Pittsburgh CLO, Driving West at Ars Nova, The Unknown: Jonathan Larson Award with P73 Productions, NYMF, Joe’s Pub. Her work has been seen at The Guthrie Lab, The Kennedy Center, Playwrights Horizons, The Yale Cabaret, The Women’s Project, Birdland, 54 Below. She is a Fulbright Fellow, has an M.F.A in Playwriting from Yale School of Drama, and has studied at the NYU Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.

Niko Tsakalakos’ new musical Into the Wild, written with Janet Allard and based on the book by Jon Krakauer, was recently given a developmental premiere at Encore Musical Theatre Company (Dexter, Michigan). Pool Boy, also written with Allard, enjoyed a sold-out run at Barrington Stage Company (2010) and was produced at NYU’s Provincetown Playhouse (2012). A cabaret version has recently been commissioned by Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. Fall Springs, written with playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, received a showcase at The York (2016) and has been workshopped at New Dramatists, Ars Nova, and TheatreWorks (Silicon Valley). More at:

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