October 29, 2015
Songbird at 59E59 Theaters
Lauren Pritchard is a singer-songwriter under the name LOLO and an actor—she played Ilse in the original production of Spring Awakening—but she’d always wanted to write a musical. She’s now realized her dream with Songbird, a new musical based on Chekhov’s The Seagull for which she wrote music and lyrics. The country musical, running through November 29th at 59E59 Theaters, stars Kate Baldwin as a fading country star coming home to Nashville. Culturadar blogger Shoshana Greenberg talks to Pritchard about finding relevance in The Seagull, what she learned from Spring Awakening, and the country songs she used to sing on the playground.
Culturadar: Aside from being in Spring Awakening, you are primarily a singer-songwriter. What made you want to write a theater piece?
Lauren Pritchard: It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was really young. I used to write plays when I was a little girl.
CR: When did you start working on the piece?
LP: I’ve been working on it with [writer Michael] Kimmel since November 2012. Shortly after meeting we began having conversations about working on a piece, and it just kind of snowballed. We didn’t think about it too much, we just did it. We were very fortunate to do a few concerts for Joe’s Pub and 54Below.
CR: Is there anything you learned from being in Spring Awakening that informed how you wrote this piece?
LP: Our piece is not a traditional musical. The songs comment on the emotional value of the moment, but they don’t necessarily drive the story. Spring Awakening was not a traditional musical, so to speak. Our production of Spring Awakening was very minimalist. The audience could sit on stage with us. The chairs moved around a lot, and there was an amazing choreography that had to happen to figure out what chair went where and why and how and make sure it was functional and wasn’t going to get someone’s way. In Songbird, our version of the chairs is the musical instruments. People pick up the mandolin or fiddle, but everything has a spot. There’s a method to the madness. In a logistical theater sense, Spring Awakening has helped me tremendously.
CR: What is your history with The Seagull?
LP: I saw it a lot from a young age. I think I was nine the first time. It was done at a community theater near my hometown, and my cousin was in it. It’s one of those traditional plays that gets performed often because it’s an interesting, in-depth piece of theater. A lot of my friends that went to school for theater studied it. I never did any of that. When Kimmel and I decided to take on this project, I got to do my own version of research and study.
CR: Were there themes from that play that you wanted to explore?
LP: What I find interesting about The Seagull is that it’s one of those stories that remains relevant regardless of what’s going on. I grew up where our show is based, and what was interesting to me in the creative process was taking The Seagull, which is something set in a completely different world, and giving characters names and faces and voices to something I know and grew up in. I had always felt the play was relevant, and it’s been fun to see that validated. We can put it here in modern day Nashville.
CR: What does setting it in Nashville bring to the piece?
LP: We wanted it to be in a place that even if the audience had never been there, they could visualize where it is. For me, as far as the storytelling goes, there’s a lot of things out there that misinterpret the south, whether it’s Honey Boo Boo or Duck Dynasty. We’re telling a story of the south that I know, real people living real lives.
CR: Would you say this is a musical or a play with music?
LP: It’s hard to pigeonhole it because the music functions as the characters’ source of life. I’ve been calling it a theatrical musical piece. Trying to describe it is hard. You just kind of have to see it.
CR: What is the music like and what were your influences?
LP: The music in the show is country, folk, and blues music. There are some songs that are way more traditional than others depending on the moment in the show. The music was very much inspired by music that I grew up listening to. I grew up in Tennessee in a town called Jackson between Memphis and Nashville. There’s a lot of music that goes on between those two places, just around the area—constant blues bands and soul bands and bluegrass. It’s amazing. Before Songbird, I had never really sat down and focused on writing country music and I wasn’t really sure what it was going to be like. It was actually much easier than I expected because I started to realize that country music was in my bones from my upbringing. I listened to traditional Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and Loretta Lynn, even Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and Brooks and Dunn. I used to sing “Achy Breaky Heart” on the playground.
CR: As a performer, why don’t you perform in this piece?
LP: It’s not what I’m doing here. I have wanted to be a musical theater composer since I was young, and I want to be on the other side of the creative table. I have an enormous amount of respect for someone like Lin Manuel Miranda. It’s a lot to write and perform it. For me, this is the composer side of me, and that is purely the focus. Down the road I might change my mind, but at no point in this process was there ever a discussion of me being an actor in the show.
CR: Is there anything else you'd like audiences to know?
LP: That we’re telling a story about real people. Heartbreak. Sadness. Boozing. I hope that our audience sees things that they recognize. We’re trying to tell a story about the ups and downs of life and how music can function as the one things that binds us together, that one force in the universe that helps you communicate your feelings.
Photos by Jenny Anderson Photography.*******
Shoshana Greenberg writes musicals, plays, and prose. Her musicals include Lightning Man (Ars Nova ANT Fest) and Days of Rage, and her play The Rapture of our Teeth (a parody of Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth) is published on Indie Theater Now. She earned her MFA from NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program after graduating from Barnard College. She also writes about theater for Women and Hollywood and The Huffington Post.
Posted at 3:23 PM