June 22, 2013
Off-Broadway has been home to many new musicals this spring, and Prospect Theater Company presents the latest: Unlock’d, librettist Sam Carner and composer Derek Gregor’s 18th Century comedy based on Alexander Pope’s narrative poem “The Rape of the Lock.” Running through July 13 at The Duke on 42nd Street, Unlock’d has won the Richard Rodgers Award and was also part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2007. Culturadar Blogger Shoshana Greenberg talked to Carner and Gregor about finding the inspiration for Unlock’d, its journey from NYMF to Prospect, and what they bring out in each other as writers.
What was the inspiration for Unlock’d?
Sam: We were interested in the idea of looking at a very small event and seeing how it could have an immense impact on the world. All of the action of the show kind of hinges on the cutting of a lock of hair. In the end, it affects the lives of all of the characters, and the gods themselves get involved. We had written a one-act musical together, and in that show we had tried to cram as much action as possible into a tiny space, into 20 minutes. For our full-length show we wanted to explore expanding moments, looking at the intricacy of a single moment and the ramifications of a single moment. Derek had been playing with these classical and Baroque riffs that he was then blending with a contemporary pop-rock sound, so [we thought] a piece based on something kind of old and classical with a contemporary edge would be appropriate.
Derek: Alexander Pope wrote this poem to fix a feud that people were taking too seriously. This was based on a true story, and he wrote this to show these people that they should laugh at it, that they should let bygones be bygones. The spirit of that is what I want to do with theater—looking at something touching and powerful that moves you but makes everything better.
Sam: Pope was writing about all these trivial, obsessed people and advising them to be ruled by some sense of perspective. That’s something that relates to our time as well.
How did you find this poem?
Sam: I had read it in college. We were interested in finding something that had an 18th Century setting, so when we came up with this idea of looking at small events that changed the world, this poem came to mind. Most of the show is in prose, but there are a few passages in verse, and I really enjoy writing in the kind of verse that Pope wrote in, so it was fun to try to write that way as well.
How did this show come to Prospect Theater Company?
Sam: They had come to see the production at NYMF and had been fans of the show.
Derek: And we’re fans of theirs.
Sam: We love their stuff and love the work that Cara and Pete do together. They initially invited us to be part of their 10-minute musical festival, which we did last spring, and then we continued talking from there.
After the NYMF production in 2007, what was your process of working on the show in the years before this production?
Sam: Not just to continue working on it but to re-approach, to come back to it with fresh eyes several months later, a year later. As you’re developing a show, every time you take a new step, there’s a lot of waiting involved. I think it’s important to be involved in other projects as well, and that will allow you to grow as a writer and allow you to approach the show with a more sophisticated point of view.
Derek: Since this was our first show, we were simultaneously building our career as whole. In the beginning it was “just take a step forward whenever you can” just to manufacture some sort of traction. Every year there was just another step that presented itself. We weren’t just trying to move this musical; we were trying to get a foothold for our general career.
Do you work exclusively with each other?
Sam: I would say we work mostly with each other. We have side projects here and there.
What do you think you bring out in each other as writers?
Sam: It’s actually always changing. It’s about balancing. There are a lot of moments where Derek has a really funny idea, and I’m then looking to ground it in emotion. And then the reverse will happen. I think it’s more about bringing a sense of completeness to each moment.
Derek: I sometimes distance myself and try to be a little more romantic about just getting it out of thin air, like it just happens, but Sam has made me more aware of why. When I approach writing tunes now, I think I’m a lot more aware of why certain things are effective and why they’re not. I still have that magical feeling of sitting down with candles and wine and trying to feel something, and that’s often how I generate ideas, but once we get something I [now] know how to look at it clearly.
Sam: Until I started writing with Derek I was very much interested in light comedy, and that possibility of getting at something richer was not something that I understood how to do. Seeing [getting at something richer] as an aspiration was something I didn’t have until starting to work with Derek.
What has been your favorite part of the process of working on this production?
Sam: It’s always great to see things working in a way that you never anticipated. The collaborative aspects I think are the most exciting.
Derek: I like walking into the New 42nd Street Studios and being able to rehearse there. We have a huge, beautiful room with huge windows overlooking Times Square. That’s pretty cool for me. The best place to rehearse a musical in the world, and we’re there.
Shoshana Greenberg writes musicals, plays, and prose. Her musicals include Lightning Man (Ars Nova ANT Fest), Sophia Venetia Voyager, and Soon Never, and her work has been featured in concerts at Lincoln Center, The York Theatre Company, the Duplex Cabaret Theater, the TriArts Sharon Playhouse, the Goodspeed Opera House, and The Laurie Beechman Theatre. She earned her MFA from NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program after graduating from Barnard College. She also blogs about theater for The Huffington Post.
Photos by Lee Wexler / Images for InnovationPhotographed at The Duke on 42nd Street
Posted at 9:21 PM