Pillow Talking’s Interview with LYNN AHRENS
Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following interview with lyricist, songwriter LYNN AHRENS
Lynn Ahrens is a multi-award-winning (and even more staggeringly award-nominated) American lyricist, librettist, and composer for musical theatre, television, and film, as well as a writer of fiction and personal essays. She has won Tony, Drama Desk, Olivier, Emmy, and Outer Critics Circle Awards and has been nominated for multiple Academy, Emmy, Grammy, Lucille Lortel, and Golden Globe Awards. As the other half of the team “Ahrens and Flaherty,” she has collaborated on countless projects with composer and friend Stephen Flaherty. Together their credits are astoundingly long and incredibly impressive. In theatre, among others: Ragtime, Once on This Island, Seussical, A Man of No Importance, Lucky Stiff, Rocky, Little Dancer, and most recently Anastasia which premiered at Hartford Stage and is on the fast-track to Broadway in 2017. The duo also worked together on songs for the animated movie Anastasia.
In addition to her collaborations with Flaherty, Lynn has been a writer for television’s Schoolhouse Rock and currently is writing other works of fiction and essays. As we learned from this fascinating interview, Lynn loves writing that is meaningful and that which makes human connections. We were so fortunate to speak with this generous, creative, and lovely lady who made us feel like we also made a personal connection with her! We hope you enjoy reading this wonderful interview as much as we had doing it!
PT: We’re so happy to have the opportunity to speak with you. We feel, as we told Stephen [Flaherty], as if we are sort of attached to Anastasia because we interviewed Terrence [McNally], we interviewed Darko [Tresnjak], and we wrote a review after seeing the show, which we loved by the way!
LA: Oh, thank you so much!
PT: And then we just felt so compelled to interview you and Stephen because what you’ve accomplished collaboratively was so incredible. There were so many little cross-connections and coincidences, like Stephen was telling us about working for Terrence on one project and then Anastasia years later. So we said to ourselves, we have to interview you guys.
And I think the other piece of it is that we are in Connecticut, and I think we feel so honored that the genesis of Anastasia was in our state. Something of a little shout out to Connecticut.
LA: I think we lucked out in that regard. Having Darko as our director and coincidentally having him be the artistic director of Hartford Stage, we ended up here, and it couldn’t have been a better move for the show, and a better experience for us. It just was a fantastic coming together of artistic director, director, writers, a lovely town, and great patrons of theater.
PT: And it really is a beautiful theater, too.
LA: Beautiful theater and this terrific design team that all came together because of Darko and who he brought in and the people that we brought in. So we really lucked out.
PT: Absolutely! Yeah, it didn’t hurt to have Tom Kirdahy as well!
LA: He is fantastic and it’s just that we’re all family at this point, I think.
PT: That’s terrific. Well, we’ll start with asking you some general questions and then move on from there. Even though we’ve researched you quite a bit for the interview, tell us a little bit about your background.
LA: Well, let’s see. It all began when I was very, very young. I started out as a copywriter in advertising. In another coincidence, the agency that I happened to be working for at that time was producing a children’s show called Schoolhouse Rock! and they thought that maybe I was suited to write some songs for it. So I tried that, and lo and behold they loved the songs and I became a songwriter professionally as a result. One thing led to another, and I went from doing Schoolhouse Rock! which I actually still continue to do, to commercial music for jingles, to television producing and writing for television.
From there I sort of gradually segued into writing for theatre and I took a writing workshop as Stephen may have mentioned and met him there – and the rest is…here we are 30-plus years later still writing together and doing yet another show together. So it all, I would say, began really from that first songwriting experience on Schoolhouse Rock! and has led me all the way here.
PT: (Stephanie) I was a huge fan growing up of Schoolhouse Rock! as well as Captain Kangaroo. So those are some pretty exciting things to have read about in terms of your résume.
LA: That’s great. Well, that’s my checkered background and my career. I’ve done so much for children and television. Of course we did the movie of Anastasia for young audiences. So the wonderful thing about doing Anastasia now is getting to revisit work that was aimed at young audiences and bringing it to a somewhat more mature level. For us, that’s satisfying, and I think for the audiences who grew up on the movie, it’s satisfying to them now as grownups to see the show maturing and blossoming in the way it has.
PT: (Stephanie) My oldest daughter is honing in on 20 (she is 19 and a half right now). And that was one of her favorite movies. She was born in ‘96, so obviously she didn’t see it the year that it came out, but she did watch it as a young child. Unfortunately, we have seven kids between us, so taking our kids along to the theater is extremely cost-oppressive (laughs), but we would love nothing more than for them to have the opportunity at some point down the line to be able to see Anastasia.
LA: I don’t know if anybody has told you in your interviews along the way, but we’re getting these girls who are showing up. We call them our Fanastasia.
PT: That’s great!
LA: Some boys, too. They all dress up. They wear tiaras and they wear some bows in their hair and all of this stuff. It’s crazy. The very, very gratifying thing for all of us but especially for me for some reason. I just love it that they love the show, and that they not only are taken with the new uses of the music and the way “Journey to the Past” is not her first song now but it’s her last song in Act I and how we’ve adapted some of the songs that we wrote originally to the new score that we’ve written. They get every little bit of it and I love that so much. They say things like, “Oh, you didn’t use the Rasputin song but I heard the theme in the underscore,” and things like that. It’s delightful. It’s really very gratifying and sweet to know that they are still enjoying it on a whole new level.
PT: And now as young adults, I’m sure it does not hurt that Dimitri was a very handsome young man.
LA: That doesn’t hurt at all, I must say. They are waiting for him with everything they can muster at the stage door after the door after the show.
PT: (Laughs) Oh, really?
LA: Oh, my gosh, yes. He’s quite a young leading man.
PT: Well, for your first production — to start out not only with just such a fantastic piece of work but to have the actors contributing in such a meaningful and really spectacular way. You had a great, great cast.
LA: I totally agree. Really, we are so lucky in so many ways. Whenever you have a wonderful actor and you’re looking at them and you think, “What can I write for them? What can I do to make them sound good and look good? What will bring out the best in them?” We’ve tailored songs for each of the actors on that stage and really tried to help them in all kinds of ways, lyrically and musically, to really, really shine.
And in fact, I’m sitting here with my computer right next to me which is asleep at the moment, but what will come up when I turn it back on is an expansion of one of the songs that Dimitri sings. Because we just love Derek Klena so much and we want to dive a little deeper for him and give him a little more to do. So I’m in the process of doing that right now.
PT: That’s so fantastic! And interestingly enough, I think Stephen was working on the same thing when we spoke to him because he said he was working just before we called him.
LA: Yeah. We’ve been working. I’m on vacation but we’ve been working back and forth by phone and by email. I’m going to get together with him. I go back to New York on Monday for a couple of days and I will get together with him then and we’ll compare notes and see what we have to do. But we’re working away for the next incarnation of the show. We’re very excited about it.
PT: (Wayne) Well, when he said he was changing — well, not changing but expanding or working on it, we said, “Don’t change anything. We think it’s perfect!” (Stephanie) Yeah, but if you want to add something, I think I said, “That’s okay. Just don’t take anything away!”
LA: We’re adding a little, we’re taking away a little. This is what you do. It’s just like we’re tailoring the suit a little more, but it’s all fun to just make everything a little more trendy and perfect. We have some ideas of what to do but nothing major, just tweaks and smoothing. It’s like a giant ice sculpture or some kind of a sculpture that you keep trying to sand the edges and just a little rough spot here and a little rough spot there and just trying to make it as perfect as you can.
PT: Right. What was it like for you to come back to Anastasia after so many years?
LA: Well we kept roughly something like five songs from the movie and added probably 15 to 20 new pieces of music including future dance sequences and that sort of thing. But a bunch of new songs and a bunch of new reprises and each of the original songs with the exception of two of them I think, have been completely rewritten for the stage and repositioned within the story structure.
The story is quite new. The character of Gleb is new. We’ve thrown out or not thrown out, but we’ve – what’s the word – retired the characters of Rasputin and the bat, the white albino bat who are really animated characters who we didn’t want in our show. So they are sitting it out. They’ll probably be there for opening night in some form or fashion. Basically, the whole structure, the plot, the story is different, and I think much more suited to the stage than it was before.
PT: (Stephanie) When I first read and heard that those two characters were not going to be in it, I remember thinking to myself, “Oh no, but I love those characters!” But you don’t miss them at all which is maybe sad to say but also wonderful because the story absolutely didn’t need them and what you did with the new stage version was just phenomenal. It really was.
LA: Thank you so much. The other thing is that in the animated movie, Rasputin essentially started the Russian Revolution. Now, we know that’s not true. He was dead by the time the Russian Revolution happened. He comes back from the dead as an animated character with bits and pieces of him falling off to cause trouble. We could have put that on the stage. We could have done that. I think a lot of the — not a lot but some of the Disney adaptations or whatever just put the movie directly on the stage, and we really didn’t want to do that. We really wanted to delve a little more into the history, the actual history and what might have actually happened at that time. It is fairly historically correct, and in that sense, Rasputin couldn’t be in the show at all.
PT: (Stephanie) And Bartok. Bartok is the other. His name just popped into my head!
LA: Yes! I keep trying to find some little homage to Bartok somewhere along the way. I haven’t found it yet. But I keep thinking there’s just some little animated bat that goes across the stage on a spring or something, or maybe not.
PT: We’ve heard it from everybody we’ve spoken to that everyone works together so collaboratively. But we might as well ask you as well, how was it to work with Darko and Terrence and Peggy.
LA: Truly they’re fabulous. First of all, I’m sure you know this but it’s my third show with Terrence. And it’s my millionth show with Stephen. I don’t even know how many we’ve done together. But that little triumvirate, we’re very friendly. We know each other’s working habits. We know each other’s sore spots. It’s like a little family. We have our spats, but we love to work together. We actually brought Terrence on to this project because he brought us on to Ragtime. Because we enjoy the process and we know we will get good work out of one another and work that we enjoy doing.
And as far as Darko, he is brilliant. He is quirky. He is delightful. I just would work with him again and again. I think he’s done such a brilliant job with the show, visualizing everything. He’s so respectful of us as writers. He doesn’t try and impose himself on the work. He rather tries to interpret the work that we’ve written and then take that and polish it. He’s just fantastic to work with. Of course as the artistic director, he has been very protective of us and of the show and has made also sorts of magical things happen that I don’t think would have happened otherwise. Like the great red dress at the end. I hope you saw the show when the red dress arrived.
LA: Yes, because that arrived very late in the game. That arrived the Tuesday of the week that we opened. But he felt, “We had to have it.” She had to come out in a different kind of look and something that really put her at the pinnacle of royalty so that the audience would be very aware of the journey that she had taken and the choice that she has to make at that point. All of those things, I don’t know that that would have happened at another theater. So in that sense, he’s been great.
And of course, Peggy is great. She was commuting from Chicago to be with us. She had another job and going back and forth and has done such a beautiful job with so many different kinds of dance. She and Darko of course have worked together on I think something like 50 shows. There’s a tremendous amount of communication and collaboration between the two of them especially.
PT: We asked Stephen this question, I’m sure you’ll read it in our interview – but we want to know what do you think makes your collaboration with him so successful?
LA: Hmm, tell me what he said (laughs). Let me know what he said first (laughs).
LA: You know what I think it is honestly? I think it’s a lot of things really, but when all is said and done, we just seem to have the same sensibility. We’re very, very different people. We lead very different lives, but we have wonderful long-term relationships with our husbands, and we have the same thing with each other. We have grown to know how to communicate. We don’t hurt each other’s feelings but we’re very honest. We share a sense of humor.
And truly I love his music and I think he loves my lyrics. I also think that what helps quite a bit is that I am also a composer and he is also a lyricist. He’s a very good lyricist but I’m better. I’m a very good composer but he’s better. We can really inform the other one’s work without getting in the way of it. He writes the music, I do the lyrics but I can say, “You know, what if the melody just did this at this point?” And he can say to me, “I don’t think this lyric is easy enough to sing” or “I think it should be clearer” or whatever. So we’re very, very collaborative in that way as well. I think it all just adds up to two people who have been — gosh, I don’t need to know — writing since 1983. So whatever that math is, I guess 33 years now.
PT: So we’re sure it’s not the first time you’ve heard that people probably consider that to be your “theater” marriage. You have your marriages with your husbands and then you have your working theater marriage.
LA: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a theater marriage. I sometimes call my husband Steve and then I sometimes call Stephen Neil, and they understand. I really do get the names confused because when we’re working on a show I spend more time with Stephen than with my husband. So it gets confusing at times.
PT: Well, you know what, you said substantively the same thing that Stephen did. He actually said it almost exactly – there are times when maybe he needs two more lines or you need a different lyric, he said because you know music composition, he knows lyrics, you edit each other. And you finish each other’s sentences, whether that’s musically or whatever.
LA: That’s exactly right. Yes, we do. If you have ever interviewed us together, you would see that. He just jumps on the ends of my sentences and vice versa. We really do do that!
PT: (Laughs) (Stephanie) As a husband and wife team, we can appreciate that because we create projects, too. Theater reviewing and interviewing is something that we sort of fell into as we were trying to get our own projects out there. But people do ask us that similar question. What is it like to work together? And of course you don’t always agree, and if you say you always agree you’re not telling the truth.
LA: (Laughs) That’s right.
PT: So you have to figure out ways to work together and preserve your relationships, too. But for us and as we hear you saying about Stephen (and even the others) you do work so well together.
Lynn: But that must be very unusual for you two. I mean there’s only one other husband-and-wife team that I can think of that I’ve ever talked to. They are the Siegels. I don’t know if you know them. But they have a blog and they write and produce together and stuff. But it’s very unusual for husbands and wives and I’m amazed you’re still married (laughs).
PT: We’ve only been married since October (laughs). But we have been working together on and off for eight years.
LA: That’s hilarious. Okay, well, then you must be going in the right direction. My husband and I, when I was in advertising, I met him at that first advertising agency, the first and only agency that I ever worked at. He worked there as well. We worked together for a very brief time. He was an art director and I was a writer. I think it took about maybe six months before we realized that this was not going to be good for our relationship. So we’ve been married forever but we don’t work together.
PT: (Stephanie) I think for us there are times — and I actually put something out there on my Facebook the other day how we’ve always called it “being in the zone.” When we’re in the zone – we mean that both personally when everything is just sort of really rocking and rolling, but also when we’re working together. And we’ve spent like hours on end just at computers side by side working whether it’s on novels or screenplays or stage plays. He’ll write things and say, “You read this, now you put in those pieces.” Or I’ll write something and I’ll ask him to clean it up and we go back and forth.
You have to know when things are working and flowing and when they’re not as well. But fortunately, we’re Pillow Talking. We lay our heads on the pillow at the end of the night, and we have to hope that whatever we might have disagreed about is gone by that point.
LA: Yes, exactly. That’s a wonderful picture of a marriage, really. I think it’s great. I love the image of the computers side-by-side. That’s great.
PT: (Wayne) You’re close to our heart as far as writing because we write – and I know you’re writing fiction now, too.
LA: (Laughs) Yes. Wow, you did your homework!
PT: (Laughs) (Stephanie) Yes, we always do. We try. (Wayne) Our readers like to know about process. I asked Terrence about his process and he evaded it completely (laughs). He said he couldn’t tell us his process. If you’re approaching something, whether it’s a television project, a piece of fiction, or a Broadway show, do you have a process?
LA: Well, there are a lot of different answers for me. It does kind of depend on what it is because, for example, if it’s a piece of fiction, I have my own zone. The way you’ve described it as the zone, there is a zone that you get your head into where you might have an idea or a notion or an image but you have to let the story flow freely and let the characters begin to tell you what they want to do and you kind of go with that flow.
But a musical is very, very different than that. A musical has a lot to do with craft and with collaboration. So you can’t just be floating around in your own brain. There are other people to consider. There’s a structure to consider. And for a lyricist, there is musical structure as well to consider. There are a certain number of notes. If I’ve been given a wonderful melody, I am limited in a way by what the melody is and how it goes and what words would sound the best and how the ideas are best expressed sitting on that melody.
Sometimes I get an idea for a song and I’ll write that first. I’ll write the lyrics first and give that to Stephen. Sometimes he writes the music first. Sometimes we sit in the same room and we bat ideas back and forth and he’ll needle a little bit on the keys and I’ll type a little bit on my computer and we go back and forth like a ping-pong match.
But it’s a much more structured form. Musical theater is a much, much, much more structured form than say a novel or a short story where you can afford to be a little freer and people read a book at leisure. They can take three weeks to finish, reading a little of it every night. In the theater, you can’t go over a certain limit because a show has to be about two-plus hours. It can’t be five hours, unless you are Nicholas Nickleby. You can do it in two nights (laughs).
In terms of my process, I would say that for musical theater, there’s a lot discipline involved. There’s a lot of collaboration involved. It’s free-flowing in a sense that we allow ideas to percolate back and forth. But yeah, when all is said and done, there is a structure that you need to conform to, and other kinds of writing I think can be a little less structured and less stringent than musical theater. I don’t know if that helps the readers but that would sort of be my answer.
PT: It does. Do you have a preference in terms of fiction, musicals?
LA: Well, I am a musical theater girl. I love the whole process of being in a room with a bunch of people and making a show like Mickey and Judy. It’s so much fun and joyful and inspiring to work with other talented collaborators. Writing fiction is a little more freeing on some level because you’re on your own schedule and you’re in your own brain. It’s also lonelier. On some level you are the one responsible for the results. So there’s a little more satisfaction in a certain way that you did it all by yourself or you failed all by yourself. And in musical theater, you share the blame and the glory sort of equally.
It’s hard to say. I mean I really think that musical theater is where my heart and soul reside but I love the adventure of trying other forms of writing. I’ve written essays and I’ve written short stories and I don’t think I’ll ever give that up either.
PT: What about writing to the different audiences? Writing to a more mature audience versus children, do you have a preference? How do you feel about those two different types of writing?
LA: I think writing is writing, and I certainly don’t want to be pigeonholed that I do one or the other. I’ve written Ragtime and I’ve written Seussical, and those two shows are as different as they could possibly be in terms of their audiences. And yet, in some odd way, they are very similar and they’re both very much me. By similar, I mean they’re not musically similar and they’re not thematically — there’s nothing about which you could say that they’re alike and yet they both have to do with family and with forming different kinds of families and themes that are deep and moving, the rights of human beings and the prejudice that exists. And whether it’s the turn-of-the century New York or whether it’s in a fictional kingdom where little Whos are trying to be saved by an elephant.
They sort of thematically run together, and I feel like each one is a different kind of a challenge for me as a lyricist or for me as a storyteller. Whether I’m writing very simple but pithy little lyrics for Seussical that have to be witty and have to rhyme perfectly, it has to be put together and be very accessible. Or whether it’s for Ragtime where I’m delving into emotions of adults and trying to bring to life different characters of different ethnicities and different ages. It’s all part and parcel of being a writer. You try and inhabit characters and try and bring them to life and channel them. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s for kids or for adults. I’m happy doing it all and I hope to continue doing it all and not be pigeonholed as doing one thing or another.
PT: (Stephanie) I love that. Wayne and I both teach. I teach psychology and Wayne teaches communications. We’re always thinking about people and how people touch each other and how people communicate with one another. It’s not only what we do on the side but also what we put into our work. And the idea of bringing people together through theater in general or with your characters, I love that. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s to children or to adults. It’s really just about humanity.
LA: Exactly. I think that’s the bottom line is just try to communicate to human beings – “person to person no matter how small” is a line from Dr. Seuss. That is the bottom line of Seussical. And no matter how large the Earth, we are human beings living on this planet and trying to understand one another. I think no matter how that comes out, that’s what I love writing about.
Even on the show Once on This Island, I don’t know if you know that show, but it started out as a book for young audiences. We adapted it for the stage and it gets done in schools all over America and all around the world. But it also gets done at regional theaters by adult theater groups. It just is one of those shows that sends a pinpoint of understanding to the “Human Heart” which is actually one of the songs in the show, the title of one of them. That’s what I’d like to do, make it something for everyone.
PT: Well, if you think about all the young adult books that have become major motion pictures to mainstream audiences, Twilight and even Harry Potter.
LA: Yeah, absolutely.
PT: There really is no boundary. They may label them as YA, but they really play across the board.
LA: That’s right. And that’s when they’re at their best. When something is talking to and being [only] for kiddies, I don’t like that kind of writing and I don’t like that kind of work particularly. I really like things that are more universal and that everyone can get something out of. I mean little kids are coming to Anastasia, and I think they are coming because they think of the animated movie and they think, “Oh, it’s for little kids.”
But the interesting thing is there are generations inherent in Anastasia. There is the Dowager Empress. There is Lily. There is Anya. There is Dimitri. And there is the little girl. There’s something about the show and it’s kind of the way it crosses generations. When people come out of the theater, the kids have been thoroughly entertained and the adults are in tears. And I love that about the show that it really crosses over so many generations and has something to say to everybody about home love and family and what we all want in life.
PT: (Stephanie) We have children who range in age from 11 to, as I said before, going on 20. Wayne is not the biggest fan of animated movies, but I’ve seen tons of them with my own kids. I love when I can be as entertained along with the kids. I sort of always chuckle when there are moments that I know just went right over the kids’ heads, whether it’s a little innuendo or something like that, but I want to go and be entertained. As you said, you don’t want to dumb things down for kids, but you want to make it so the kids get something out of it certainly and are entertained by it.
LA: Exactly. Yes, exactly. I think you need some kind of a big family discount and take them all to the theater.
PT: (Stephanie) Oh, my gosh, yes (laughs)!
(Wayne) Actually, we do get comp tickets [for just us] as reviewers and we were sitting across from Tinkerbelle the Dog. I was just so happy Tinkerbelle didn’t get better seats than we did.
LA: Tinkerbelle the Dog? Who’s Tinkerbelle the Dog?
PT: (Stephanie) She is the Broadwayworld.com dog. (Wayne) They brought Tinkerbelle to the show and she went backstage and met the cast.
LA: Oh, my gosh. I’m going to have to look that up when I get off the phone.
PT: (Stephanie) I guess she’s been in a lot of Broadway shows and some movies. (Wayne) If you read our review of Anastasia, we actually put her website in. (Stephanie) We shouted out to her at the end.
LA: Oh, my God, that’s hilarious (laughs).
PT: (Laughs) Yeah. What do you think has been the impact of the whole social media craze on the industry over the years?
LA: Well, I could go on for a long time about that, but what I will say is that I don’t really take part in it because it was devastating to Seussical. Seussical was the first show that became what I would call victim of the internet and of all that stuff. It was sort of unheard of at that point, and unfortunately, it sort of roared up and conversations were being reported online that were being had in private backstage and all that sort of stuff. Since then I’ve been a little shy of it.
Having said that, I will say that the Broadway World, Playbill online, TheaterMania, all of those are fantastic outlets for the theater and for people to find out what’s happening and to communicate it. I love all of that. What I cannot take part in and what I am actually afraid of are the chat rooms and the social media. All that stuff, like I stay as far away from it as I can. I don’t have a Facebook page. It really frightens me and I try to stay away from it. That’s how I feel about it.
It was very painful at one point so I have been weary of it ever since. And again, not the journalistic part because I think that that has been fabulous for the theater and really has in a certain way taken a little of the power away from The Times for instance or those things. They have spread the power around in terms of reviews and stuff like that. So I think it’s been very, very helpful.
PT: (Stephanie) Going back to having teenage children, our kids have not been victims to bullying, but it almost sounds like a bullying type of a situation where people just take advantage of being able to disseminate a lot of ugliness. That can really hurt whether it’s about individuals or hurting businesses.
LA: Yeah, that was a very, very bad experience, but I will say that I never read one word of it. I knew it was happening but I thought if I read anything, it will devastate me and I won’t be able to finish writing this show. So neither Stephen nor I read anything. We just kept going and did the best we could. And now, the show – it bombed on Broadway. I think the knives had been sharpened before it arrived, but it has risen like the Phoenix. We took it back. We did our work that we had the time. It was a labor of love to make the show better and to take it back into our own hands and make it what it should have been all along and what it started out to be. And now, it’s the most performed show in America basically. It’s right up there in the top-performed shows. I think we would not have been able to do that had we paid any mind to what was being said even though it really, really damaged the show at that time.
PT: (Stephanie) If I’m not mistaken, I’m almost certain that my son’s middle school just did Seussical Jr. this past year, this past February.
LA: Yeah, they probably did. It gets done everywhere. We don’t ever know when it’s happening.
PT: (Stephanie) I just pulled it up on the website. There is your name (laughs).
LA: (Laughs) That’s great!
PT: What advice would you give young writers?
LA: Young writers?
PT: (Wayne) Young or just starting out…
(Stephanie) Or people like us (laughs).
LA: You don’t need my advice (laughs). Young writers, maybe. My advice [to you] would be no more children (laughs).
PT: (Stephanie) No worries. I’m thinking we’re a little past that at this point (laughs).
LA: I would probably just tell them if they’re interested in any kind of writing, whether it’s for the theater or whatever, to read as much as they possibly can, to study, to go to the theater as much as they can afford to go and to get a day job that enables them to write, something that gives them some time off. Or if they work nights, I know people who do music copying, who do assistant work, anything that doesn’t drain you so much that you can’t write or you can’t find time to collaborate with the people you want to work with.
PT: We want to ask you the same question we asked Stephen. Both of you have this amazing history, these wonderful, just incredibly successful careers and talking to both of you is like talking to friends. You’re just so down to earth. What do you attribute to staying so grounded despite having these moments when I’m sure people are knocking at your door on regular basis?
LA: Nobody is knocking at the door (laughs).
PT: (Stephanie) Come on, didn’t I just hear the door (laughs)?
LA: Yeah, that’s the guy coming to get rid of the carpenter bees problem.
PT: Oh, no (laughs).
LA: I don’t know the answer to that question, to be honest. We just are who we are. I don’t know how to answer that question. Honestly, I don’t. I don’t think we’re special. I think we just have fun doing what we do and we try to be, I guess, open to just people and it doesn’t matter who they are or how old they are or whether they’re emerging writers or Sheldon Harnick. We try to learn from whoever we can learn from and like whoever we can like. I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. Everybody is different.
PT: (Wayne) I think Stephen said it was because of his family upbringing. (Stephanie) Helping him to be grounded.
LA: I suppose. I have a wonderful family upbringing, very different from his. I do have a mother who I tease as being the “pinprick in the bubble of joy,” and I’ve actually written about that. I think part of it is that she has always tried to discourage me from getting a big head, and she’s also tried to discourage me from counting too much on something because it might not come to be and then I would be disappointed.
PT: (Stephanie) Sounds a lot like my mother – she’s always the realist – and I get that from her. In fact, I am that way with Wayne who’s the eternal optimist.
LA: So you know what I mean!
PT: (Stephanie) I do.
LA: The pinprick in the bubble of joy is like, don’t get too happy because bad things can happen and this might not come to pass. Maybe it’s that – I guess it’s partly that. I don’t really know the answer to that question. We just are. I just am who I am.
PT: (Wayne) Okay. I said the same thing to Stephen and you brought up the Phoenix. I love the meaning and imagery of the Phoenix. If there’s any show that I hope gets resurrected, it’s Rocky [the Musical], because for a kid growing up in Yonkers, Rocky Balboa was the ultimate comeback kid. (Stephanie) We have a Rocky poster in the bedroom, I must tell you. Not from the play because that was supposed to be his Father’s Day present. (Wayne) But it closed before we got to see it.
LA: Well, I’ll tell you something. That makes me so sad because that was a fabulous show. There was nothing wrong with the show. There was something wrong with New York. I really believe that. And now that the show has been running for more than two years, maybe three years now in Germany, we have done our usual. We go back. We revisit, we make it a little more streamlined. We make it a little more of this or a little more of that. We’ve done that. That show is ready to be resurrected here in the States.
I will tell you, there’s nothing planned. I’m not giving away any secrets, but I can promise you that it will be back. There was so much about it that was stunning but there were problematic things about the production in New York. There are a lot of problematic things that it’s not worth going into. But once those are peeled back the way they were peeled back with Seussical, once certain production elements go away and certain things that were imposed on the show go away and the beautiful show that it began as comes out again, I feel in my heart of hearts that it will be another Seussical in a way or another. Some of these shows have such hard knocks in New York and then people take another look at them in several years and say, “What happened in New York? This is a great show.” I think that’s what’s going to happen with Rocky.
PT: We’re looking very, very forward to it!
LA: Do you have the CD? I’ll send you a CD if you don’t.
PT: (Wayne) No, we don’t have the CD. (Stephanie) Wayne would just flip…he’d be in heaven!
LA: Oh, you’ve got to hear the CD!
PT: (Wayne) Oh, my God, yes. (Stephanie) It will never be popped out of the car if you send it. That would be amazing.
LA: I’m going to send it to you.
PT: (Wayne) Oh, thank you so much! I.m such a child. (Stephanie) I don’t think we’ve heard any of the music from it, have we? (Wayne) No, we haven’t, no.
LA: Oh, my God. Okay, you got to hear it. And then you’re going to say, ”What’s wrong with this picture?” after you listen to the CD. That’s all I’m going to say.
PT: (Stephanie) Well, Wayne has been saying that all along, even without hearing it! Every once in a while, we have a rough patch and we say, “Okay, here’s an IOU for this holiday or that holiday.” And that was an IOU holiday, and then before we knew it, it was closed.
LA: Listen, there’s still time you can go see it in Stuttgart, Germany where it is right now. It would have been better for you to see it in Hamburg if you were going to see it anywhere because it’s a much better city.
PT: (Wayne) I’m just thrilled that it’s playing somewhere for sure.
LA: It is, it is. And then I think it’s going to Budapest or Prague or somewhere. It’s beginning to have its European life, which is great. And it will come back, I promise you. I know it’s going to happen.
PT: So what’s on your future agenda?
LA: I’m making it up as I go along (laughs). I always find something new to do while I’m doing something that I’ve been doing. I never let go of the thing before until I go to the next thing. Right now, I’m doing theater. I’m doing some private personal writing of short stories and essays and that sort of thing. It’s plenty for me right now, I must say. And in the future, I don’t know. I do think at some point I want to go back to school and get my master’s. I’ve never gotten my master’s and I feel like I just want to do that. So we’ll see.
PT: (Wayne) I’m surprised schools aren’t calling you saying, “Here’s a degree. Come and teach.” (Stephanie) Or, “Here’s an honorary doctorate.”
LA: They sometimes do actually, but I really want to go to school. I don’t want to be honorary. I want to earn it.
PT: This has been such a great interview. We always ask something of a signature last question – and we could tell you what Stephen said and Terrence and Darko if you want! But, if you were to sum up your life to this point, to date, in one word, what would it be?
LA: (Pause then laughs) You hear no words coming out of me because I’m thinking long and hard about this. What would it be? I guess lucky.
PT: (Wayne) Lucky, oh, that’s a good one. Terrence McNally actually said, “Can I have two?” And we said, “Yeah, of course for you, Terrence!” And he goes, “I’d say interesting but since I have two words, very interesting.”
LA: (Laughs) That’s great.
PT: (Wayne) And Stephen said unexpected. (Stephanie) Yes, unexpected.
LA: (Laughs) Unexpected. Of course as soon as I get off the phone, I will be thinking, “I shouldn’t have said, ‘lucky.’ ”
PT: No, that’s fabulous.
LA: But I do feel lucky.
PT: (Wayne) Well, there you go! (Stephanie) I think in a way, from what we’ve heard, you don’t take anything for granted. You feel fortunate that you’ve had these wonderful experiences and that you’ll continue to obviously because you’ve got so much more creativity in you.
LA: Yeah, hopefully. We’ll see. Hopefully the carpenter bees don’t get me (laughs)!
PT: Well, Lynn, thank you so much. This has been a great experience for us, really!
LA: Thank you both. It’s been great. And yeah, I can’t wait to see the interview and just check your mailbox for the CD!
PT: (Stephanie) Oh, Wayne will be running. (Wayne) I’ll be there every day. (Stephanie) He’ll be there on Sunday waiting for the Monday driver.
LA: (Laughs) Okay, great!
PT: Thank you so much for this incredibly fun, informative, fabulous interview!!
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