Monday, April 2, 2012

My Next Story: An Interview with Nick Blaemire

About two and a half years ago when I started this blog, the first post I ever wrote talked about the work of Nick Blaemire. I had recently seen his Glory Days CD release concert at Joe's Pub and being inspired by seeing the work from his Broadway writing debut (along with the many other projects I had seen him perform in prior) was what pushed me over the line to finally start writing about my passion for new musical theatre artists. I know this past month has featured a lot of posts about him, but I am thrilled to be able to bookend the coverage of so many of his gigs as of late with an interview with the man himself (big thanks to Jennifer Ashley Tepper for setting this up!). As mentioned before, Nick is currently in the fantastic ensemble of Broadway's Godspell and has also recently released an EP with The Hustle. So read on to hear about how Godspell is influencing his writing process, what new musicals he's writing now, and what things make him excited enough to "poop his pants" (his words, not mine).

(Interview with Nick for MTI Showspace)

Me: One of this production of Godspell’s greatest assets is its young and incredibly talented cast. What do you think it is about this show that makes it relevant and important for younger audiences (and actors)?

Nick Blaemire: The opportunity to actually be yourself onstage is an incredibly rare and exciting one - as actors we're usually asked to fit someone else's mold to some degree, unless you're creating the character - but even then you're trying to be someone else, where as in Godspell, as long as we're telling the story, we can do it any way we want. So there's a huge freedom there that allows for some really exciting improvisational moments, and a sense that anything can happen. Hopefully that translates to the young people who come to see it, in that their energy in the audiences influences ours, and it becomes this reciprocal, very alive experience where everybody's contributing to what's being created.

Me: Tackling themes of religion, faith, and ultimately just the mention of God is usually shied away from onstage and in mainstream media. How do you feel Godspell has been able to survive and breakthrough this barrier? And how do you as an actor approach this heavy subject?

Nick: I’m not a particularly religious guy, so for me, the way I found to connect to the material was to honor the truth of the lessons jesus teaches. It doesn’t matter how you approach them, whether it's through the venue of organized religion or just as social doctrines, because the content is always just as valid. I do think that what Godspell does successfully is focus on how we as human beings treat other human beings, rather than about "rules" or "a way of life," which can be alienating if it's not a methodology you connect with. But we're all human, so the way we treat each other is always going to be a subject worth talking about.

Me: Has the improvisational nature of Godspell influenced your own writing in any way?

Nick: Absolutely - especially in pop music. That feeling that anything could happen is how a song should feel, especially in live performance, but even in recording - because surprises are what drive us. We continue to live and move forward because we dont know what's going to happen next, and we want to control it as best we can, but ultimately, every new moment is going to be a surprise, and from Godspell I've learned the value in creating new things with that mindset, of constantly jumping off a cliff and trying to just ride the proverbial wave that music and stories provide.

(Nick singing "My Three Best Friends" from Glory Days)

Me: What is it like to be back at Circle in the Square post-Glory Days?

Nick: It's surreal. I cant believe they've allowed me back in the building. It's especially cool because all the tech and maintenance people are still the same, and it's like getting to hang out with old friends - there are even some little remnants of our production around the building that never got taken down, so that's a trip. And artistically, its beyond humbling. It was such an honor to be there with Glory Days, and I’m reminded every day of the magic of that space every time I come to the theatre for Godspell.

(Nick singing "Alaska" by Adam Gwon)

Me: You seem to work with so many new musical writers that I started calling the phenomenon The 6 Degrees of Nick Blaemire. What attracts you to new writers, and what does it mean to be a part of that community? Do you seek them out, or do they find you? Are there any writers who you’d still like to work with?

Nick: Well, first, thank you for the compliment - I have gotten incredibly lucky to have worked with with a ton of talented writers in my few years in New York, which was always my dream. New work has always inspired me and challenged me most - it asks so much of everybody involved in the creative process in order to literally create an artistic structure out of nothing, and the fulfillment of really landing a moment, or even better a whole story out of that process - there's nothing like it. I want to do it forever, in whatever medium I can. As for writers I’m dying to work with, id love to get the chance to work with Sondheim, even just to be in the same room with him while he puts something new together. This new David Ives collaboration makes me want to poop my pants. I’ll gladly get coffee to get to be in that room.

Me: What is the most exciting thing to you about musical theatre right now, as both a writer and an actor? What do you think is the greatest challenge?

Nick: Once is what it's all about. I haven’t even seen it yet and I’m electrified by it. A commercial production of a story told simply but truthfully and with ingenuity - if that was everybody's goal, there would be a lot less crap out there. What they're doing is what is so exciting about musical theatre - forwarding the art form to reflect the growing intelligence and nuance of the human race. We can’t play by the same rules we played by in the 40s, and when shows figure out how to get people's attention now, in an age where reality TV reigns, It's a huge accomplishment. It's also much more challenging cuz nobody wants to put money into risky ventures like those, but the ballsier we can be, the better shit we'll create, and the harder it'll be for producers to turn us down. Nice job, Once. Can’t wait to see you.

(Nick singing "Pot at a Funeral")

Me: How did you and The Hustle form? What was it like recording the EP?

Nick: The Hustle formed out of a conversation I had with my buddy Jesse Vargas, an incredibly talented arranger and orchestrator I worked with for years on Glory Days - we share a love for soul music, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Donny Hathaway, those guys - and we'd both been craving an outlet to make music like that, but not just 70s or 80s pastiche songs - to take the incredible elements that style of music offers, those chords, hooks, ornamentations and instrumentations - and make them work in a modern context, in a similar way to Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake. However, because I’m the one singing, and I’m not one who feels too comfortable gyrating in front of people like I’m a matinee idol, we do it all with a light heart that allows it to be a little less self-serious, and more just about making fun music with and for people who like that kinda thing. It's been a huge challenge, but ultimately this incredibly fulfilling new muscle we're learning how to exercise. The EP was the culmination of the first leg of that process. We wanted to put together a business card of sorts that let people know who we are and what we're about. And now, after 5 months of recording, rerecording, mixing with our producers in brooklyn, it's finally out, and we just wanna keep learning, playing, writing, and inviting people to come jump around with us. It's so fun.

(Molly Hager singing "Peanut Butter" from When the World Ends)

Me: Any updates on your other musicals? Any performances coming up of After Robert Hutchens or When the World Ends?

Nick: Jesse Vargas and I are actually working on both of these together as well, so it's been a little bit of a juggling act lately, but such an exciting one - both musicals are finally ready to be produced, so we're talking to a few different theatres about each one, to find the right home. They're very different - World Ends is a tiny, intimate New York-centric show that falls in and out of reality and is much more ethereal in its construction, and Hutchens is modeled after an indie movie. We like to call it a kitchen sink musical, in that the connection between the music and lyrics is intended to be symbiotic - the songs aren’t numbers as much as they are just the most important emotional moments in the scenes. Hopefully we'll have more information about where each one is going to end up in the next few months.

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