D.P. What was your inspiration for The Quiltmaker's Gift?
S.K. Alan is the one to answer this. He originated and spearheaded the project.
D.P. How did you all meet and decide upon doing an adaptation of the book by Jeff Brumbeau?
C.B. Actually, Alan brought the project to me. We had known each other for many years and it was great to work on his piece as a first time collaboration of this sort.
A.P. I was looking for a book for my nephew and found The Quiltmaker's Gift in Borders. In reading it, the scenes tumbled from my imagination and I knew immediately I wanted to share this book with as many children as possible. For me as a playwright, that meant transforming it for the stage. Having shared many hours of quilting with my grandmother also helped me understand the beauty of that quilting symbolism. Some of the moments could not be captured without something that transcends dialogue, so the musical was conceived.
A.P. I had known Craig for many years and we always had such great energized and artistic conversations. When you meet Craig, if you have an ounce of creative instinct, you can see and hear the joy and light in his being. While I had other composers interested, I knew his spirit was the one needed for this project. It screamed for his humor, his ear for the natural music in language and his drive to share his incredible musical gift with others. This piece is all about sharing. Craig was the one who suggested Steve and I am forever grateful. I completely trusted Craig in his choice. Steve and I never actually met until the first reading of the piece. We talked extensively on the phone and it was evident from the first that we were of like mind and humor. I've never had such wonderful creative phone conversations. When we finally met, it was like seeing the brother you hadn't seen for years. I think we are a wonderful balance for each other.
D.P. What type of collaborative process works for all of you in writing book, music and lyrics?
C.B. I have many methods of collaboration and seven different writers. In this case, Alan and I read the book and got together to agree on the various song points. It was great that we both separately had many similar ideas. Steve was extraordinary in generating funny, sensitive and frequent lyrics. There was so much variety and much to pick from, so it was really a smorgasbord.
D.P. What was your experience in mounting the musical at The Cookie Company three years in a row?
S.K. Alan invited Craig to compose the music, and Craig invited me to contribute the lyrics. We were all in separate cities most of the time, so lots of phone calls and e-mails. Alan had sketched out the book outline, with indications where songs might go and even title and content suggestions. This was extremely helpful to me. At that point, I began writing song/scene lyrics rather rapidly. (And I start by way-overwriting.) Alan and Craig teased me about bombarding them with new material almost daily, but in truth, the story generated the lyrics. They just flew out. There were at least two completely different versions of every song, and after much dialogue and some very brutal and helpful advice from Alan and Craig, we were able to whittle things down a bit. While I was writing lyrics, Alan was fleshing out the book, so we worked simultaneously and somewhat separately until a bit later. But Craig and I spoke on the phone almost daily. I would read him lyrics and we would check the scanning and talk at length about what worked and what didn't. Craig had many excellent ideas and suggestions and improved my work enormously. Since we're both composers, it was easy to discuss things in musical terms. The music came last, and quite quickly, as Craig is remarkably facile. (He flew to Cleveland and stayed with me for a week, completing most of the songs in that short time!) After the broad sweeps were done, we began to cut and paste, with Alan inserting dramatic dialogue into the songs, extending them into scenes. As the whole began to take shape, we realized where additional material might be needed. The song "I" was composed during rehearsals to broaden the "island" scene and give the Quiltmaker another song, and another couple of soldier's marches were added. One sidebar: The chorus of soldiers have a recurring chant/march which they use to move the plot forward and comment on the drama. There are about five of these, and they all begin with "We are soldiers of the King!" They're fun and they punctuate the show. Alan and Craig suggested we write one more to support part of the drama later in the piece. I began writing, and realized that not only was I tired of these, but the King must be as well! So the soldiers leap into their march, but the King cuts them off, yelling "Enough already! You're driving me nuts with that!" The soldiers lower their heads and slink across the stage. It was the perfect solution and it got a pretty good laugh too. I think we were blessed on this show The whole thing seemed to flow very easily. I don't remember any strife or intense disagreements. Maybe there were some, but memory has a marvelous knack of pushing them into the background.
A.P. This is my first collaboration on a project this size. While I have written more than 70 produced scripts and some with music (in which case I most often write the lyrics), this was a new and very enjoyable process for me. Craig and I first met over coffee. I brought what I felt was a strong dialogue plot, and we both brought with us ideas for song location and what was to be brought out of each song. We were amazingly on track with each other, which I think speaks not only to our creative connection, but to the strong story line of the book. I had many conversations with Jeff Brumbeau prior to meeting with anyone as I wanted to be sure I was honoring this book that I so respected. Once we decided what was to be dialogue and what was to be song, we started getting bombarded with the most delightful lyrics from Steve. I was just thrilled with the humor, content and style and that his alliteration and rhythms and rhymes were so similar to my own writing style. All of us tweaked words, phrases and ideas about the songs, as we then did with the dialogue and later with the music. I think the secret to this delightful collaboration was that we each so respected each other's talent, while being open to hearing each other's points of view and suggestions. I can't think of a time when there was any tension over any element of the creation of this piece. And in a couple of instances our conversations, and the editing as a result, created some of the most precious moments in the show. If there was one challenge it might have been my schedule, as I was forced to maintain all my responsibilities at the theatre (40 to 60 hours a week) and was writing other shows at the same time I was working on this one. Sometimes I felt that was frustrating to Craig and Steve, but they were kind, patient and understanding.
A.P. I intentionally wrote this piece so it could be done as simple or as elaborate as possible. I wanted it to be producible by small and large theatre companies, often meaning all sizes of budgets and casts. Under Michael Barnard's creative style of production, it was interpreted as an elaborate romp with bright colorful costumes, flexible set pieces and fast-paced staging and action. Knowing we were to do it for several years, we committed as much budget and energies as we could to improvements each year. For instance, the set pieces, originally painted to resemble quilts, eventually became quilted set pieces. Special effects became more sophisticated. While it is not "needed" for the piece to play effectively, it adds to the spectacle and helps fill the larger theatre space it was being performed in. Some of the cast members have remained the same each season (three last year) but there is great joy in finding the new interpretations of the characters by each actor. I enjoy seeing the transformation of each actor who is a part of this show. In many cases it renews their understanding of their own sharing of their talents and how important that is, especially when sharing with children.
D.P. What are some of the approaches producers at other theatres have taken with the show?
C.B. Indeed the Phoenix Theatre kept improving the set and tweaking the staging. It was beautiful the first year, but by the third, it was amazing!
A.P. I have been unable to see any other productions of the show as yet. I am usually busy writing or directing the next piece and moving the goals of Phoenix Theatre's Cookie Company forward. I think Craig has seen other productions.
D.P. What was your proudest moment(s) in relation to mounting this musical?
S.K. I haven't seen others either. But the Phoenix production was very lavish and colorful. The backdrop and lighting were stunning, the costumes where quite detailed and true to the book illustrations and there was an abundance of choreography, so the whole production was very eye-catching. I can't say enough about the director, Michael Barnard. During the workshop he became a real collaborator and brought a lot of creative energy to the whole process.
C.B. I have only seen one other—Laguna Playhouse. They had quite an extensive budget for sets and so it did not have the simpler approach of PT. They also augmented the soldiers since they have a large cast for their family theatre. I think there were 12 and the bear role was not a double. In the PT production there are doublings of roles. It is fun to see that kind of virtuosity in actors, but the piece seems very adaptable for many sizes of ensemble. I know that the Dallas production was very well reviewed and they used simply three boxes and a quilt as well as percussion and piano. They produced it two years in a row.
A.P. The reaction of Jeff Brumbeau, who told me, "You have made my book better." The reaction of the audiences as they leave the theatre is always a proud moment. To know you have momentarily, at least, reminded someone of such an important universal truth is a very sweet moment for any playwright.
D.P. What's going on with each of you in the near future?
C.B. The premiere and the great respect that the theatre and the authors gave our work on opening night.
S.K. I was personally pleased at how the emotional moments landed. Though there is a lot of humor in the show, I was most pleased at the simple emotion of the ending.
A.P. I have penned five new plays and two new musicals since Quiltmaker's and am in the process of editing and formatting some of my other 70 scripts for publication. I am planning the 2005-2006 season which will include the third musical in our "Be Smart With Art" series. We have created a series of touring productions, created for elementary schools that are curriculum based including "Taking the Wrath Out of Math" and "There's Something in My Kitchen."
D.P. Thank you, and good luck with your upcoming projects.
C.B. I am writing a musical, The Haunting of Winchester, for the San Jose Repertory Theatre's 25th anniversary season (September 2005). Also, I am writing Sacagawea for the Willows Theatre for their 2006 season to celebrate the end of the Lewis and Clark journey. In addition, I am having a new orchestral piece with the Billings Symphony and numerous productions of my other shows.
S.K. I'm working on reconfiguring the electronic music studio at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where I teach. Quite a different sort of job! My brother and I are about to start our fourth independent short film and I've begun arranging my third collection of American folk song settings, a passion of mine. All other waking moments are spent keeping up with my 5-year old son, Ryan.