Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Long Distance Collaboration on a Zombie Wedding: A conversation between R.C. Staab and Daniel Sturman

Continuing on with coverage of the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival, I am excited to share with you the very first guest blog here on Emerging Musical Theatre. British Composer Daniel Sturman and American Librettist/Lyricist R.C. Staab are the creative team behind the new musical, Zombie Wedding, which premieres August 15th at FringeNYC at The Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa. What I really found fascinating about their collaboration, however, is that until this week, they have never met in person. Their collaboration started and has flourished solely through email and Skype calls (crazy, right?).
For their post, Daniel and R.C. talk about what it was like collaborating over an 18-month period to bring their 90-minute musical comedy – My Best Friend’s Wedding meets a Zombie movie – to the stage:

R.C. Staab:
What ever possessed you to mash together a Zombie movie and "My Best Friend's Wedding" to create a musical comedy?
Daniel Sturman: Well when I first had the idea for Zombie Wedding it was in a rather different shape that it is currently. I initially envisioned a two act show in which the whole second act involved the bride, groom and a Reverend Mr. T type held captive in besieged chapel. In my head it seemed like I really clever "bunker" play but in retrospect, it would have been the wrong plot for a musical, or even a play I would want to watch. It certainly wasn't My Best Friend's Wedding.
R.C.: I forgot about that. It certainly wasn’t in the original short script I read. I probably never would have suggested a stronger romantic story.
Daniel: When I began working with you -- starting almost from scratch on the story -- the characters and basic setup gravitated towards a love triangle and I seemed right to go in that direction. Interestingly in the beginning I was nervous that making the show too much like a chick-flick would mean compromising conflicts in the characters, but in reality it has made them and the show richer. I wrote a flawed zombie musical that evolved into "My Best Friend's Wedding". As It happened I had only seen that film after you had mentioned the show could go in that direction, so it was research.
What were your initial impressions of Zombie Wedding?
R.C.: For me a librettist and lyricist, I’m only interested in working on a project that has music that I love and whose basic concept can be boiled to an elevator pitch. Okay, so I’ve done marketing all my life. I thought the music – only three or four songs – was terrific. And because you already flushed out the basic concept, we didn’t have to spend hours trying to agree on basic character motivations and plot.
Given that our initial discussions sent you in a different direction and the time zone, geographic and age differences, what made you decide to give the collaboration a go?
Daniel: I always believed that I had a fun idea with Zombie Wedding, but I was quite aware that what I liked was the high concept and not really anything in the writing at that point. So to have Zombie Wedding taken in a new direction was not an issue. A no brainer really. You and I are different ages, and come from different eras of popular culture, but I didn't really see that as I problem, not for me or for the work. Although the show is set in the 80s, an era that you know better that me, it's that cinematic, vernacular zeitgeisty 80s that exists more in Brat Pack movies and MTV videos than in reality. And anyway differences of age are just some of listless differences you can have with people. I can easily say that in all of our collaboration to date, my using British idioms in lyrics has brought about more confusion than any age differences. As for time zones and geography, we are separated by seven hours and thousands of miles. We also have email and Skype. It was never going to be a problem.
R.C.: Especially because you must stay up to 3AM almost every night. I admire that.
Daniel: I really don't.
What made me decide to give this collaboration a go was reading an interview R.C. gave with a San Francisco reporter. He was discussing a workshop production of his show, “Shadows of Pompeii.” In the interview he talked about how he had commandeered a theatre company. Hoodwinked a composer. Bullied some actors into reading (a theatre term). I think there was probably some blackmail in there too. I am possibly misremembering. But anyway. He talked about the experience of letting the audience give their criticism via various multiple-choice questionnaire. Questions like "If you could cut one song..?" stick out. For all it's dangers I liked the moxy and it was refreshing to hear of someone thinking about musicals in such an... now I don't mean this to sound bad... in such an artless way.
R.C.: The power of the Internet! I never sent that story.
Daniel: Musicals are as vulnerable as any other creative form of getting lofty and 'for the writers' rather than the audience. You weren’t doing that. So I was very impressed. You had also created the basically show on your own. I didn't get the impression that the show was a classic "collaboration" like Zombie Wedding.Altogether you seemed very motivated and ambitious and, as much as anyone can in this business, you seemed to know what to do. Giving the collaboration a go seemed like one of the best decisions I could make.
R.C.: My biggest concern was that it’s so easy to ignore email. If we were in the same town, it would be harder to avoid me if I called or saw you at a show. The biggest risk was that I would spend several months on the project, and you’d never get around to sending me the music.
But email helps in a different way, it allows us to be contemporaries even if we have such apparent differences. My guess is that if we lived in the same town and had run into each other a speed dating for composers/lyricist, we would never have immediately connected. We would have thought of each other as coming from different worlds.
Daniel: That's true.
Buy tickets and get more information on Zombie Wedding here.


R.C. Staab said...

See the review of the show:

Kimberly Lew said...

Congrats, guys! That review is great!