It’s been a whirlwind month, eventful for all of us to say the least. After returning from California to the rude shock of the frigid Brooklyn winter, we warmed our fingers and our hearts at the wonderful Zipper Factory Theatre in Manhattan, where we did seven performances of STRIKING 12 in concert, and filmed 3 shows for potential future release (not sure how or when exactly – we won’t be able to answer this question for a while yet – but we’ve seen the footage, courtesy of the excellent Erik Bryan Slavin and his team, and it looks terrific). Costume designer Jen Caprio and makeup artist Dave Bova helped us look our best for the hi-def filming, and the fun intimate vibe of the Zipper plus the wonderful energy of the audience helped make the shoot all we had hoped for.
None of us had any idea that this beloved theatre would soon be no more. The Zipper Factory suddenly, sadly closed its doors on January 14; it was one of our very favorite venues to play, a fantastic happening-hip-yet-slightly-off-the-beaten-path destination, with lovely passionate people running the place. Bill Coyle in particular, who booked us there, is a savvy presenter who cares deeply about his shows…during his tenure at the Zipper, when he was not bustling around the venue making things happen, he could also be found pounding the pavement at the TKTS booth, using the most hands-on approach to filling his theatre. We’re sure that the folks from the Zipper won’t be gone for long…but meanwhile, as our friend Nathan Tysen wrote last week, “RIP ZIP.” We are extremely grateful that we got to film our show when we did.
After celebrating the new year our traditional way with STRIKING 12, we had a few days to catch up on life and then did our annual showcases at the national Arts Presenters (APAP) conference in NYC, where we premiered one of our favorite songs from our upcoming SLEEPING BEAUTY WAKES CD. Formerly known as “Ordinary Magic” (for those of you who saw the original production of SBW), this song now has some brand-new lyrics and a new bridge…and we’re currently debating what the new title will be (the front-runner is “I Dare Say I’m In Love” – which is what Brendan’s character, the narcoleptic trucker-turned-orderly, sings to Gene’s character, the King, as he makes his case for the love of Sleeping Beauty). I can’t wait to show everyone this song, which I think is our “breakout single” (if such a thing even exists these days!).
From APAP, Brendan and I (with Mose and Julie) took off immediately for a week of writing back in Palo Alto, at the TheatreWorks Writers’ Retreat. This is the third time we’ve taken part in this amazing event (the first time was with Gene in 2005, working on WHEELHOUSE – and that autobiographical show about our time in a used RV is still going to happen, we promise! – the second time was last year working on LONG STORY SHORT – and this time we were there working on a new one-woman musical, a solo show for me to perform called ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME).
The way the Writers’ Retreat works is, several writing teams are invited to participate and given rooms in a rehearsal building in Menlo Park. Pianos, printers, technical support, actors, music director, stage manager and coffee are all provided (in addition to housing, travel and a little stipend) – and the idea is that you work on whatever you want for a week, and then there’s a presentation for the TheatreWorks staff and major donors. (The presentation is optional, but since the program’s inception, no one has ever opted out.)
It’s like the Brill Building; you go in, work in your little room and you can hear strains of what the other writers are working on wafting through the walls. The best part is simply being in this atmosphere of intense creativity; it’s great to be able to say “hey, we just finished a song – could you come listen and tell us what you think?”
The other writing teams were: Daniel Zaitchik and Jordan Winfield, new collaborators just beginning a show about the man who invented both the polygraph and Wonder Woman (yep, it’s one man – who knew?); Kim Sherman and Darrah Cloud, longtime collaborators working on their 7th? show together (they couldn’t remember how many, but it’s been a 21-year collaboration), a history of Mary Kay Cosmetics called MAKEOVER; and a new team consisting of novelist Barbara Quick and one of Brendan’s and my longtime heroes, composer Gunnar Madsen. Gunnar was one of the founding members of the famous new wave a cappella group THE BOBS, and we were overjoyed (and slightly nervous) to meet him. He turned out to be, as he always seemed on stage, a terrific, genuine, sweet, smart, incredibly talented guy, and we are thrilled that we got to know him a little bit. He and Barbara are starting to work on a musical adaptation of her novel VIVALDI’S VIRGINS, a fascinating historical novel about the orphans that Antonio Vivaldi turned into outstanding musicians in the early 1700s. The main character is Anna Maria del Violin (all the girls were named for their instruments, since they had no other surnames); so in a bizarre coincidence, two of the four pieces in progress at the retreat featured singing violinists. (Anna Maria del Violin hasn’t been cast yet, so her parts were played on the piano at the presentation.)
I’ll write more about ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME very soon – for now, suffice it to say that it’s a fun show about a single mom/video-game-music composer who discovers the heroic story of Ernest Shackleton, the legendary Antarctic explorer. We’re writing it with Joe DiPietro, and could not be more excited about it. At the presentation, in addition to my solo parts, we got to feature Brendan as Shackleton, with a chorus of sailors behind him, including the always-game Gunnar Madsen, singing a sea chantey of love.
Now we are back home in Brooklyn, negotiating extreme ambivalence about being here at all (we arrived to the welcoming sight of our van mirror having been smashed in by vandals, for the fifth time – the good part was we couldn’t see through the frozen grime and salt anyway, so we didn’t miss the mirror that much)…plus the annoying frenzy of preschool applications, which in NYC it is impossible NOT to get swept up in no matter how hard you try (there is actually a school near us where hopeful parents wait in line *outside* on a frigid February morning starting around 2 AM, for first-come-first-serve registration. We will not be applying to that one)…but through it all reminding ourselves once again of how lucky we are to be spending most of our waking hours doing something we love, and how being here makes it possible at this point. This past weekend, Brendan and Gene and I played an incredibly fun sold-out show at the lovely BlackRock Center for the Arts in Maryland; the SLEEPING BEAUTY WAKES tracks are sounding tremendous; and out the window of our warm cozy studio, the snow is falling softly. Today, Brooklyn seems a little less gritty and a lot more beautiful…this is the place where we are right now, and so it is the right place.