Monday, October 5, 2015

Tony Winner Jeanine Tesori and Fun Home Discount

Fun Home based on comic strip writer Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir. The show is multi layered and plays out in 3 stages as it weaves the story of a young girl's view of her life, her family and how she comes to terms with certain aspects of her life that have shaped the person she becomes and accepts. It demonstrates how far the LGBT community has come and how it has affected the ways we see ourselves and the world around us. It has been on Broadway for about a year and really made its mark regarding the beauty, originality and the difficulty we all experience as part of our families, coming out and finding ourselves and the ways in which we fit with our families and community.

There has never been a play or musical like this on Broadway especially one that is so beautifully crafted that it captures both critics and audiences attention, admiration and praise.

While many associated with this production were nominated for a Tony Award for their contribution. The Fun Home family won in their 3 of their nominated categories including the writer & lyricist, music and director.

Lisa Kron (L) and Jeanine Tesori (R)
Tony Award Winners for Best Original Score
for Fun Home

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jeanine Tesori, who alongside Lisa Kron, made Broadway history by being the first female duo to win Tony for their work music and book and lyrics respectively.

Jeanine Tesori is an American composer and musical arranger. She is the most prolific and honored female theatrical composer in history, with five Broadway musicals, four Tony nominations. She won the 1999 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music in a Play for Nicholas Hytner's production of Twelfth Night at Lincoln Center and the 2004 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music for Caroline, or Change, and the 2015 Tony Award for Best Original Score for Fun Home.

She shared her thoughts on her inspiration for the show, its acclaim and her Tony win.

Would you share with us what it took for you to get to this Tony award winning place, particularly around this show, what inspired or what drew you  to this story how did you come about getting involved?

Lisa Kron actually brought it to my attention. I didn’t know the book I’m sorry to say or in a way I’m glad to say because the way that I first read it, I read it was with a musical in mind and that was helpful. Not knowing it and seeing it immediately as source material I think was helpful.

What did you think of the memoir?

I think you have to be a pretty hard-boiled egg to not be moved by that story and the way it’s told. She is such a complicated and wonderful person. She is so insistent upon being so open and yet she is completely private. There are these parts of her that don’t align that I think make her story even more compelling. She so compelling when you put her on stage and there aren’t that many authors that you could do that with.

How did you find the process of approaching someone like Alison to do this? Was Alison on board right away?

She’s been pretty candid about thinking she didn’t know why anyone would want to or how it could be done? She’s said in the past she thought it would be some light hearted – I wouldn’t say a romp, but something very light. It’s interesting that she would think that. I remember thinking...did you read your book? So I think when you have an objective eye –
Lisa and I had enough in common with Sam, I feel that we are fully represented for many, many reasons for being able to tell that story.

Alison didn’t allow the movie rights because she thought she couldn’t live with it being a bad movie but could live with it being a bad musical. That really made me laugh. Because of course a bad musical would just close and a bad movie would be around forever.

Did you find it a challenge to bring to Broadway or to stage?

A challenge is definitely the word. It felt impossible at many, many points and I just thought this is never going to happen and it’s because we weren’t a talented group of people but, it was such a reach to write this kind of show. That feeling of being in the woods and in the weeds a lot was not my favorite feeling and I often do everything to avoid that and that means procrastinating, fleeing and wrestling with it and because it’s nonlinear story – really difficult to tell.

It’s unwieldy because you’re dealing with memory, so in a way it means that people can fly, they can turn green because memories are limitless, in a way. They are mixed up with a character revising what happened or it opens up a whole landscape of thought and putting things together. A musical is built by inevitability and what made these 3 things, these 3 strands, the present and 2 in the past inevitable and why would one be presented 20 minutes in and not 23 minutes it was absolutely maddening. So we just stuck with it and it was definitely difficult.

What would you say to anyone working to make their Broadway dreams a reality?

I think they would have to keep putting in front of an audience and learn. There is no other way than to put it in front of an audience that’s what I think is most difficult about this art. It’s not that you can hand a book to your friends and have them give you feedback, it exists in time and space through using actors and then it has to be lit and in a proscenium or black box or in the round. There’s no other way to understand a theater piece until you create it in front of an audience.

Who were you biggest supporters while making the show?

I would say first of all Allison. She got on board as soon as she heard the demo. She was a fantastic supporter, the number one, her wife, Holly, my agent John Pesetti, Lisa’s agent Patrick Harold and of course Sam Gold he was with us. Then when we got to the public theater, all of the people at the public theater were really incredible, the commercial producers, anyone who signed on to make this became a huge supporter.

Personally, how has this entire experience been for you? Did you ever think I’m going to make Broadway history?

No, the helpful thing about me was that I started out at 19. I was just a gigging musician. That mindset, I wouldn’t say is not a lofty one it’s a very solid one. It was just about making a living and learning and expanding what it is that I can do. I was really trained to constantly be a student. That has really been helpful. My feet are always on ground and often in shoes covered in mud. I mean they just are and I’m thrilled beyond measure how this has happened. The way it was made, that’s it was made and how it’s been received. The people that I’ve made it with, that is a dream come true. and yet it’s another show out of  the 8 that I’ve written and I’m the 9th one. So it’s both and it’s a balance. I couldn’t be prouder and every time someone emails me about it or says it has affected them it just re-energizes me. Not just in an ego way but in a way that reminds you the next time you’re in the weeds, in the woods which is what happens when you write a show, you have to stay with that and figure out your mess.  Not to get out of the mess, but that doing the work is going to lead you out of the that darkness and then you’ll’ make another piece of work. That has been another profound lesson of going ahead anyway when you are so unsure about what you’re doing.

I so love the open table of critics sitting down with artists and actors sitting down with directors and just seeing what it’s like on both sides of the table. This is one that is really helpful to understand on both sides that is why I so appreciate when people call and tell me if they were moved and what it like to see it and if they’re interested I can regale them endlessly.

There is a spectrum to the acceptance of the show. Some folks love being a place of going to see a show that resonates with them and they are moved beyond words and at the same time there are those that are moved in a visceral way because it resonates too much. How has it been to hear that your piece moved someone to tears?

I think it is more evidence that we are much more alike than we are different. That anything that makes a room of 700 people make it a collective. It’s very powerful. And in a day and age where there is more and more isolation, it is so important to be in the room.

There’s that great song in Hamilton about being in the room when it happens. I attribute that to theater, you want to be in the room when that happens. That’s the power of story-telling. The power of radio - hearing a disembodied voice causes then you begin to use your imagination and what the rest is like. There is a power of sitting and witnessing theater and seeing yourself on stage and coming out just a little transformed. I have always believed in the power of the musical. I have never felt any kind cynicism or a condescension to the form.
It is such a beautiful form, there are so many things you can do with it. It’s like a master mix, it’s an American master mix. Musicals can accept so many different kinds of artists and I think we are in this stage where we’re seeing that right now. The brain trust is coming back to musicals. So it’s very exciting to be part of that. I feel it’s why I’ve been studying musicals all along without knowing what I was studying for.

What’s next?

Right now, I’m putting my final season together for City Center. I do the off-Center Encores that we do off-Broadway Season. This is my fourth season coming and my final one. Basically, we produce 13 shows in about 3 weeks. It requires an intense amount of planning that happens right now. I’m writing a new piece with David Lindsay-Abaire and a movie musical and I’m working on a piece about Liberia that I love very much. There’s a lot and they are just bubbling. I’m back in development!

What inspires you? What are you listening and reading?

I love classical musical more than anything. There a lot of bands I love like talking heads and the pretenders.  Dan Savage, the Podcast on being, memoirs and biographies, I’m a fiend for all that. Agnes De Mille book on Martha Graham. I love going to hear things that students have written. I love to go hear plays. My imagination really catches fire. Musicals are hard for me, I work, my ear and mind start working and I quite can’t free myself. Anything by Sondheim and Lin-Manuel. Anything new and under the radar festivals. Anything that my students at Yale are doing. My daughter is 18 and she was working at Spring Awakening. She’s practically fluent in sign language and got a job as assistant there. Watching whatever she’s doing is really inspiring.

Any message you’d like to send out to the universe, what would it be?

I would say probably inspiration, to keep it going because it’s so much easier to stop. In everything, it’s so much easier to stop. I think life has so many complications. At my age I’m seeing them all of them. I think that at middle age is such a time of wisdom. You look forward and back as much as one can. I’m noticing the patterns. In the mess, to know the only way out is through, not over and under. The wisdom is always in kids’ songs…you have to go through it and know that you will come on the other side. You don’t know what you’re going to find there as you through it and that’s the adventure.

The Fun Home family has graciously extended a promotional discount to experience this brilliant show.
It is valid for $75 tickets now through November 1 for performances 10/27-11/1.

To get the special discount enter code: FHSTAFF14 when clicking here.

Written by Ingrid Galvez,
Chair, Diversity & Inclusion Outreach Committee, NGLCCNY
Organizational Development Consultant, Strategic Remedy Group

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