Friday, February 10, 2012

Looking Behind the Music-al: An Interview with Kyle Ewalt and Michael I. Walker

Last November, I had the privilege of seeing an installment of Behind the Music-al at 92YTribeca. The whole experience was a total geek-fest for any lover of new musical theatre, and the many insightful conversations and exciting new talent fostered a great sense of community. Much of this can be attributed to composing team Kyle Ewalt and Michael I. Walker, who regularly organize these events and often present their work alongside guest composers. The first 2012 show of Behind the Music-al is coming up on February 22 (with a theme of 'Teenage Dreams' and guests Kait Kerrigan, Brian Lowdermilk, Nick Blaemire, and Steve Fickinger as moderator) and to celebrate this wonderful series, Kyle and Michael agreed to answer some questions about what makes Behind the Music-al so special:

Me: How did Behind the Music-al start? What has been your process of organizing each event?

Kyle Ewalt and Michael I. Walker: We had been working with 92YTribeca for a while, and had done a number of concerts of our own work there, when they approached us about establishing a musical theater series with them. We had seen a series that 92Y does uptown called “Lyrics and Lyricists,” in which a moderator interviews established writers about various songs from throughout their career while singers perform those songs. We really liked how the show combined performances with insight into the writing process, and wanted to try to translate that for a younger audience downtown. We decided that it could be really exciting to have more established writers or producers interview emerging composers about their process in order to give new musical theater fans a look behind the scenes at how contemporary writers work – and “Behind the Music-al” was born.

Our process been pretty much the same since we started last season – we act as curators and organizers for each show, reaching out to songwriters and moderators through friends and colleagues, and picking a theme for each show. Each songwriting team really puts their own set together (they bring their own singers, songs, etc). 92YTribeca produces the show, including PR, venues, etc.

(Molly Hager singing Ewalt and Walker's "Do Not Disconnect"
at Behind the Music-al:Rocks!)

Me: What have been some of your favorite Behind the Music-al moments? What have been some of the most interesting discussions that have come out of the shows?

Ewalt and Walker: We’ve really loved each show and the community we’ve been able to build with the series. Getting the chance to share the stage with all the other great writers and talk with them about their work has been so much fun for us.

Each show seems to have its own magical moments, but a few stand out. When Stephen Flaherty was moderating, his stories were incredible. At one point, as he was talking with Drew Gasparini, Drew just stopped and said, “I need a moment. Oh my goodness, I’m talking with Stephen Flaherty!” Seeing Drew’s excitement talking to one of his idols was really fun.

And in our last show, watching Adam Guettel work with each of the songwriters was truly like being at a master class. At one point, he suggested that Michael Holland do a song a second time without any accompaniment. His singer performed the song again, and it was hauntingly beautiful. You could sense that everyone in the audience knew that Adam’s suggested had affected Michael’s ideas about the song. We were watching a musical get written, in real time. That doesn’t happen very often.

Me: The theme of your next show is ‘Teenage Dreams.’ What does that mean to you guys in relation to musical theatre? What are you looking forward to most about your guests and their takes on this theme in their work?

Ewalt and Walker: All of the writing teams involved have worked on shows written for young casts which address issues affecting teenagers today: their growing pains, hopes, fears, and, well, dreams. We thought it would be fun to talk about how emerging composers are trying to make contemporary musicals that young people can relate to, and that speak to a new generation. The future of musical theater is dependent on finding new audiences and exciting the next generation with stories that they fall in love with. We know Kait, Brian, and Nick are part of a movement trying to do just this. And Steve Fickinger, our moderator, works at Disney Theatricals. Who knows more about what young people dream about than Disney?

Me: Speaking of your upcoming guests, I am also doing a little Q&A with Nick Blaemire later this month. Any tips?

Ewalt and Walker: Nick is an incredibly nice guy – and very easy going, so you won’t need any help. Interviewing him will be very fun, we’re sure!

Me: What has it been like talking about your own work at Behind the Music-al? Has participating in the show had any influence on your own work?

Ewalt and Walker: We feel like we learn something in every show. We learn from hearing about how the other songwriters work and from stories that the moderators share. And it is always good to answer questions about your work – it makes you push that much harder to make sure you’ve thought through everything thoroughly. Why did you make that choice? That lyric? That note? If there’s anything we’re not sure about, you can bet that is what will be called into question on stage. We thrive from that sort of pressure.

Me: What are you guys currently working on? Any upcoming productions?

Ewalt and Walker: We’re currently working on developing a few projects, but don’t have any public productions on the docket at the moment. We’re working hard behind the scenes to make sure we develop Bromance in the right way and in the right hands. Look for some exciting announcements on that front in the coming months. And we’re currently putting together a series of early readings and workshops for a totally renovated, revised, and reexamined show of ours called Separate: Battle Songs of Youth.

But of course, the best way to check out our music and what we’re working on is to join us at Behind the Music-al! You can find info on upcoming shows, tickets, and updates on everything we’re working on on our website,

Thanks for your great questions! And for spreading the word about all things new musical theater!

No comments: