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John Patrick Lowrie (George Howard), Leslie Law (Judy Steinberg), Jayne Muirhead (Georgette Howard), John Dewar (Murray Steinberg)
Photo by Jay Koh. Property of Village Theatre.

VILLAGE THEATRE: What inspired It Shoulda Been You?

BARBARA ANSELMI (Composer): It Shoulda Been You actually started out as a concept piece called “The Wedding Project.” I had been to a whole bunch of weddings in a short period of time and I started to notice that what was going on with the guests (especially at one wedding in particular) was incredibly interesting. At the time I had to come up with an idea for a second year project in the BMI workshop and I thought it would be really fun to explore many different guests view of a wedding. I was working on this with a bunch of different lyricists when the song “It Shoulda You” was written. I presented it in class and someone’s comment was, “I wanna know what happens next.” Well, so did I, so I went on a search for a bookwriter. I finally met Brian and when I asked him to write the book for the show he replied…

BRIAN HARGROVE (Bookwriter and Lyricist): “Hell no. Are you crazy? I hate weddings. Weddings are borrrrriinnnng!” Well, that’s only partly true, but weddings can be pretty boring. We kind of know what’s going to happen – the couple is either going to get married or they’re not. And, let’s face it; doing a musical about a wedding is not exactly a new concept. I’m sure cave men and women were dancing and singing around the fire about weddings before they even realized they could put that fire in footlights. But, I loved Barbara’s songs. And the characters in the song “It Shoulda Been You” were so well defined, that I found the idea of expanding on them intriguing. So I asked her to let me think about it, and if I could think of a story that surprised and interested me, it would probably do the same for an audience, so I did and we did and there you have it.

Brian Hargrove (Book writer and Lyricist) and Barbara Anselmi (Composer)

VILLAGE THEATRE: It Shoulda Been You was a hit at Village Theatre’s 2010 Festival of New Musicals. How did that experience affect the development of the show? Have there been any major changes to the show since then?

BARBARA: “First of all, the Village Festival was such an amazing experience for us. It was incredible to see people who didn’t know us from a hole in the wall, watch and react to the show. It was such a wonderful feeling. On a more technical point, it was good to see what was and wasn’t working with different parts of the book and music. We have made some pretty big changes concerning certain characters and songs. And a lot of that was due to that one (magical for me) night.”

BRIAN: What she says. That was a great experience for us. The theatre, the audience, the whole community was so welcoming and supportive that it made us all the more enthusiastic about the show. Also, part of your process is both a talk back with the creators and questionnaires that you ask the audience to fill out about the show. I have to admit that it took me a month to read them – mainly because it was such a great experience I didn’t want it sullied if someone absolutely hated us. There weren’t any haters, but there were several specific criticisms that we found very helpful. Of course, my favorite comment was – “This show should go straight to Broadway!” I couldn’t agree more, but that doesn’t really help you make it better.

STILL BRIAN (I know, he does like to hear himself talk, doesn’t he?)
As to whether we have made any major changes to the show, the answer is yes and no. The essential story hasn’t changed, but we’ve rewritten a lot, both adding and cutting songs and beefing up some of the character’s development. For instance, Albert (the Wedding Planner) is now an integral part of the story. We always wanted him to be, but to be honest, there was no there there. Now he has his very own song, which although worked pretty well where it was, we’re trying in a different spot in the show so it will (hopefully) work even better. Also, the young people’s parts have grown and become more three-dimensional: especially Annie, the Bride’s best friend and co-maid of honor. We hope by the end of the show, you will have more sympathy for why and how things go down the way they do. And finally, we are in the process of writing a duet for Brian (the Groom) and George (Father of the Groom), which is going to get it’s first outing here at the Village. This new song will replace a scene between the two of them. We hope we’ve gotten it right, but if not, we’ll fix it in rehearsals. That’s one of the joys of working at the Village Theatre. You give us the freedom to try new stuff.

VILLAGE THEATRE: A lot goes into developing a new musical. What have you found to be the most rewarding parts of the experience? What about the most challenging?

BARBARA: The most rewarding part for me is to (during a performance) sit back and go on the ride. Because at that point as a writer, you’ve done all you can do. You’ve tried to implement everyone’s notes, you know you are about to see a story you love and you have absolutely no control! During the production at George Street I was telling that to someone in the green room and Tyne came over to me and said, “Now you know what it’s like to have kids.” The most challenging part is the moment before you are able to solve a situation that’s not quite working during the rehearsal process. It’s also one of the more fun parts of the process because I love figuring things out. I love letting my mind go to weird places and come up with ideas that are not quite right, because eventually they lead you down the right path and there’s often lots of laughter involved, especially when you take an idea a little bit too far.

BRIAN: Every time a show goes in front of an audience is a lesson. It’s funny really; sometimes you want a moment to work so badly. And you’ll try it out a few nights, hoping that the first time it didn’t work was a fluke, and the second time, it was too hot in the theatre or someone coughed during it. Until finally, you have to admit that you’re the only one laughing. But that in itself is rewarding. Writers have a saying that can sound a little harsh, but it’s true – “you have to kill your babies. “ The best line, the best musical or lyrical phrase, the funniest joke you’ve ever written will be none of those things if the show as a whole doesn’t work. So you have to be willing to cut things that you love in order to make a show work. But not to worry, you can always recycle them –where do you think “trunk songs” come from?

VILLAGE THEATRE: Why should audiences be excited to see It Shoulda Been You at Village Theatre?

BARBARA: First and foremost, it’s a new musical with an original story written by an awesome librettist. Second, it’s a slice of real life. Although some parts are heightened for the comedy, I can tell you that everything the mom says are things that many moms say. If I had a dime for the amount of people who came over to me after a talkback and said, “That’s just like my family,” and also, when the grandchildren of the woman that Judy Steinberg was named after came to see the show, they said, “You totally nailed Grandma.” Third, it’s a multigenerational story. You get to spend time with many different points of view that all come together on this one day and highlight the idea of deciding to take the wheel of your own life-a moment I hope the Village Theatre audience can relate to and be inspired by.

BRIAN: Well, I can’t really improve on that except to say that the music is exceptional and that many people wanted to buy the cast album after hearing it the first time. Plus, Barbara and I would really like to be able to start flying privately, and the more of you who come; the sooner you can make that a reality. Seriously though, audiences do seem to enjoy the show. They laugh and they cry and they laugh some more. You’ll be seeing something that very few others have seen AND you’ll be one of the first. Love it, hate it, – hopefully love it – that’s got to be a chance worth taking and an experience worth having.

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Hey Blog Readers! We had a great afternoon with a large portion of the IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU cast — here are a couple behind-the-scenes-esc photos. The actual shots can be found in an album on our Facebook page here.

ImageThe Steinberg Family gets ready to pose!

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“How we lookin’?” The answer? GREAT!

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The best costume team EVER!

Learn more about the show here! Follow them on Twitter here.

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Finding Our Way

Since writing the last part of Installment #1, we’ve hired a new leading man, fired the production manager, and opened Iron Curtain to rave reviews. As the song says, “We’ll Make It!” and we did. Prospect Theatre Company is not unlike Village Theatre in that they are passionate about telling stories. Story tellers are a rare breed. They are devoted to creating something out of nothing. Shakespeare’s King Lear said, “Nothing comes from nothing” so perhaps I am wrong in saying that we make something out of nothing. But what is nothing? Nothing is something, right? After all there is a word for it, so it must be something. Wait – am I getting existential? Do I even know what that means?

I just know that I experienced a phenomenon during our three and a half days of technical rehearsals. Tech is where the actors work for the first time on stage and incorporate all of the designer elements: costumes, wigs, lights, sets, props, and sound. The actor’s performance is usually enhanced by the addition of these technical elements. I say usually, because this tech was wrought with problems. After three days of waiting for the set to be completed, the production manager was fired. So, the day before our first preview, we were faced with some very difficult situations: no set for Act II, costume quick changes unrehearsed due to lack of set, and lights were unable to tech due to… you guessed it, the lack of a set. But with determination, hard work, talent, newly hired carpenters, late nights for our tech crew, and a good sense of humor, we made it through.

Witnessing the strength of character and commitment to this project in this remarkable group of administrators, designers, technicians, and actors, I believe that something comes from nothing. On Saturday afternoon, we quickly ran through Act II so that the lighting designer was able to at least give us some sort of light so the audience could see us. The multi-level, moveable platforms had been built sometime between 11PM-2AM on Friday night, but we had to cut them for the evening’s preview performance as they didn’t move safely nor did the brakes work. For that evening’s performance, we reverted to the choreography used in the rehearsal room – levels were only imagined in our heads and the audience saw a more horizontal version of the choreographer’s design.

Saturday, November 5th – First Preview

No one Died.

We performed for our first preview audience without having to stop and without injury. That is a blessing because the adrenalin has been pumping constantly through the actors & technicians veins during this tech process; our bodies have been on fight or flight for four days straight. We are tired, scared, and angry. For three weeks, we have been working in the rehearsal studio to create a specific, unique, and believable story, but when the visual element of the story is left undone, we are forced to work even harder to convince the audience that they should listen to us. If we are performing in an environment that is not complete, then we have to not only create this crazy world of Iron Curtain, but we have to overcome visual obstacles that the audience constantly is forced to endure. Theatre is a group effort and when one person fails to do their job, everyone else is affected. First preview down – no one died – excellent.

Sunday, November 6th – Tech in the afternoon and Second Preview in the evening.

New Set Piece Revealed – Oops

Repairs have been done to the ACT II moving platforms; they still don’t work right. We do the horizontal version of the choreography again. The audience seems to love the show and no one dies, however, there was a new set piece that was added in ACT I, but we didn’t rehearse with it. During the preview, one of the dancers didn’t know it was going to be there and proceeded with her usual track and danced right into it. It fell over. Thankfully she was not hurt and our sense of humor dominated the situation. That humor has been our saving grace; the tech process has been so full of problems that we decided to laugh instead of cry. These people are beautiful to work with.

Monday, November 7th

Day Off for Actors

The actors are off, but the crew will be working to fix the tech problems. We are all on vocal rest. My family comes to town to visit and see my Off-Broadway opening. I cannot talk much as I’m on vocal rest, but it is so good to see them and be in their loving company. We tour NYC by walking through central park, going to Top of the Rock (viewing the New York skyline from the top of Rockefeller Center) and learning all about Mr. R’s philanthropic vision for New York City.

Tuesday, November 8th – Afternoon rehearsal and Third Preview in the evening.

More Set Pieces

The platforms work and they are put into the show for tonight’s final preview. We get through it. The audience enjoys the show.

Wednesday, November 9th – Afternoon rehearsal and Opening Night.

Is It Playtime Yet?

We continue to rehearse rough spots from last night: set change transitions, new choreography is added, costume changes are rehearsed, and set issues are addressed. The 8 piece orchestra is behind the stage and the sound designer wants to hear them more acoustically. He takes away the heavy black curtain that has been separating them from the stage and adds a lighter drop so we can hear them better. Fingers are crossed that nothing goes wrong tonight. My family is in the audience tonight; some of them haven’t seen me perform since 1980. I hope they like what they see.

We got through the show without mishap. We can hear the orchestra now. No more rehearsals in front of an audience; we can now begin to find our rhythm and play. My family is here for my off-Broadway opening night. I see them afterwards and they are proud of me. My picture taking brother-in-law is taking photographs of everything he sees. The best shot is blurry, but it’s of my sisters and I (Karen is in green, Lorraine is on the right). A union of souls and blood is a powerful experience. I am deeply happy to share this night with them.

November 25, 2011-Black Friday (for retail) Nineteenth show (for us).

I am travelling back to NYC on a peaceful and smooth Amtrak ride. I had the pleasure of spending two days of the Thanksgiving holiday with my sister, Karen, and her family in Myerstown, Pennsylvania. It feels so good to be here on the East coast – so near family and so close to a vibrant city full of top theatrical talent.

Potential Producers are coming to the shows so that it can go further and perhaps get a Broadway Run. I hope Iron Curtain gets its chance on The Great White Way*; audiences will love it. We are getting great houses and are granted an extension through December 4th. This gives a chance for more potential producers to see this show. Reviews have been extremely favorable. I get first mention in the New York Times review and am called “Uproarious”. Wow. That was unexpected. I will have that vote of confidence in my life forever now. It feels so good.

*The Great White Way was a nickname originating in the headline “Found on the Great White Way” in the Februrary 3, 1902 edition of the New York Evening Telegram. The journalistic nickname was inspired by the millions of lights on theater marquees and billboard advertisements that illuminate the area. (Wikipedia)

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We had the distinct pleasure of receiving critical feeback on the new musical TAKE ME AMERICA from a veteran of the Canadian refugee/aslyum process — for ten year’s, this person served as a “judge” and Member of the Immigration and Refugee Board. This person saw the show a few weeks ago and had this very insightful, interesting feedback to share. Enjoy.

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The asylum process is not an easy subject to treat through this medium — as it is never easy for the actual participants in real life — and I applaud the courage and creativity that has gone into the Village Theatre production…and the film on which it was based. What came through clearly was the authentic and over-arching desire of the refugees to find new lives in America, whether or not their stories were truthful or met the official criteria for asylum. The gay character, Jean, who tried repeatedly to succeed by changing his claim, epitomized this in a disarming way. The same theme was beautifully expressed by Asif, in the song, “Surfing in Gaza.”

I felt the motivation of the decision-makers was portrayed less sympathetically and the characters seemed comparatively superficial. Their musical numbers, “I Just Work Here,” “Gotta Get’ Em”, and the refrain, “punch a clock, save a life,” gave me a chill. That’s not to say such attitudes don’t exist, but this is a sort of trite characterization of government officials. The new agent on the job did illuminate the struggle to show compassion while still assessing credibility and applying the legal requirement for a “well-founded fear.” The challenge to communicate and avoid misunderstandings (without an interpreter present) also got some deserved attention.

I’m very grateful for this whole experience and throughout I kept wishing that I had been able to make a contribution when the musical was being developed.

Please keep up your good work at the Village Theatre. I hope to sample more during future visits to Seattle.

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Humanities Washington is launching Beyond Talking Points, an ongoing discussion program examining headline issues from various perspectives and promoting shared understanding. The new program debuts with the three-part event “Perspectives on (Im)Migration,” taking place Oct. 11 and 25, and Nov. 16 in Bellevue.

“Beyond Talking Points aims to bring community members together to learn about and discuss controversial topics in a civil manner,” explains Executive Director Julie Ziegler. “Using the humanities as a tool, we hope to promote shared understanding and critical thinking on issues that divide us, enabling us to move beyond sound bites and slogans.”

The series got underway Oct. 11 at Bellevue City Hall with a screening of the award-winning documentary The Other Side of Immigration, and continued Oct. 25 at the same location with a discussion about immigrants as job creators. The final installment takes place Nov. 16 at the Bellevue Arts Museum. That session will feature a discussion with refugees from several different countries who now reside in Washington state, along with the screening of clips from the award-winning documentary Rain in a Dry Land.

If the topics and ideas portrayed in TAKE ME AMERICA interest or interested you after seeing the show, we hope you’ll consider attending the final installment tomorrow.

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We’re a little behind schedule with posting Bobbi’s happenings in New York, but here we go! Follow Bobbi (who you know as Mrs. Potts or Hildret Heinz in IRON CURTAIN) as she makes her first Off-Broadway appearance as Hildret at Prospect Theatre Company!

Getting  Lost. I’ve always been a person who follows my gut instinct. Sometimes, however, my gut wants to take the long way.

I flew out of Seattle at 3:00PM on Friday, October 14th on my journey to New York City to work Off-Broadway. I still am unable to wrap my head around this incredible blessing. I look for wonders along the way; it starts with meeting a friend on my flight and one of my seatmates knows a fellow Village Theatre donor and friend, Maggie Pehrson.  I feel uneasy about the challenges ahead, but I know that these connections are sign posts for me. I sense that I’m in the right place, but I am still reaching for courage. I grew up in Pennsylvania and took multiple trips to New York City, but found that New York is a city that has a beat or a pulse that forces me to cocoon. My soul closes up, I become frightened, I feel invaded by the incoming energy. It makes me want to run away and hug a tree.  I reach out to find strength and I receive a feeling that I need to allow my roots to grow far and deep. I go with this. Like I said, I follow my gut instincts.

I arrive at Newark Airport at 11:00PM. Prospect Theatre Company has arranged for me to be picked up by Carmel Car Company. My bags made it safely and I call the car company and I’m told that I’ll be “picked up at Level B, Station 5 in 7 minutes.” I grab my four bags (Hey, I’m here for a month through three seasons!) and I look for the Level B, Station 5 sign. I see it across the roadway right next to the parking lot. I wait but no car shows up. 10 minutes later, I call the car company, “He’ll be there. Look for a black town car!” It’s now 25 minutes later and I call a third time. As I’m on hold with the dispatcher, I turn around and see a black town car across the roadway right where I came out. I see the driver standing outside his car, talking on the phone, and making gestures of frustration. I decide to get his attention by shouting across the driveway, “Hey mister, are you waiting for me?”  Just then, the dispatcher gets on the phone and I ask him if he’s on the phone with the driver and sure enough – the driver has been waiting for me at level B, station 5.  I inform the car company, that there are two Level B Station 5’s. Like I said, I go with my gut but sometimes, I have to take the long way home.
I arrive at my new home for the next two months and am greeted by my kind friends, David Austin, Tim Wilson & their dog, Bodie.  I have to quickly settle in because I need to be at rehearsal at 10AM the next day. First night in NYC; I sleep like a cat in winter and am up early raring to go.

How do I get to rehearsal? I’m used to driving an hour to work every day, but I also know where I’m going. I’m living on the upper west side. Rehearsal is on the lower east side. How in blazes do I get there? I take a taxi. $15.00 and 20 minutes later, I’m at The Baruch Performing Arts Center to start rehearsing my first off-Broadway show.

More from Bobbi next week!

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