FringeNYC has a Stalker!
As the summer dwindles down under the August sun, the nooks and crannies of New York City are newly alive and pulsating with the magic of theatre! Featuring 200 different pieces falling all over the theatrical spectrum, The New York City Fringe Festival or FringeNYC presents its’ 19th annual season with a little something for every kind of a theatre goer. Head to FringeCentral on East 1st Street to browse the shows’ fliers and pick your poison – but I guarantee you will only find one hailing all the way from Australia!
Set in a dystopian world where love has been eradicated and lust is celebrated, Stalker the Musical is a dark comedy that follows the story of Jay Cloudstreet, who finds himself unusually and illegally drawn to one particular girl. Written by Aussies Alex Giles and David Russell, Stalker features a handful of up-and-coming talent from Australia and the U.S. with music written by Andy Peterson. I was lucky enough to steal a bit of Andy’s time and get a behind the scenes look at Stalker…
(T=Tara, the New MT Blogger; A=Andy, the composer)
T: Hey Andy! Give me a taste of your artist roots and how you blend together (or juggle!) being a composer, musical director, arranger, and orchestrator. Which title or hat do you wear the most? What are some of the pivotal and inspiring moments that have marked your career thus far?
A: At the moment, I work mostly as a musical director and arranger as there’s a little more work out there for it (well, at least paying work). The thing I find most challenging is finding time to work on my own music when I’m being paid to work on other people’s music. I find I have to schedule specific times to write my own material and treat it as if I’m being paid to do it at the moment. Some of my favourite moments in my career so far have been playing piano for the Australian Girls Choir at the Sydney Opera House, conducting Kiss Me, Kate in China and working alongside some of the best Broadway actors and creatives for my Off-Broadway debut (which inevitably brought me to NYC). I was lucky enough to work under Christopher Jahnke last year (orchestrator for Legally Blonde and the revivals of Les Miserables and Grease), who taught me so much about what I do and is just an all-around awesome dude!
T: Amazing! And you were born and raised in Australia, but now you live in NYC. What is the driving difference in the collaborative process and exposure for new composers in Australia compared to the states? Also, what was your exposure like to musicals growing up?
A: There is a VAST difference in exposure for new composers and new works between Australia and the USA. Unfortunately, there is not much opportunity for new works to be developed in Australia because producers aren’t really willing to take a financial risk on a show that isn’t an established hit. This leads to the public not being aware that we have some amazing home-grown writing teams who produce world-class work but aren’t supported at home. I applaud the arts scene in the US; it’s thriving. There’s always a new musical opening up in NYC or Chicago or LA, practically all over the country, and people are encouraged to pursue their writing dreams.
I grew up in a small country town and my first exposure to musical theatre was doing a course in music class on Andrew Lloyd Webber. This made me fall in love with the art form and I got involved with my school musicals and started writing my own in high school. For my 18th b’day, my parents bought me my first plane ride to Sydney and a ticket to my first big professional show, The Lion King. I still remember the chills I got from that opening number! From then on, I was hooked!
T: So beautiful. Now, how was your current NY Fringe piece, Stalker: The Musical, born? What has been the show’s journey to date?
A: My writing partner for Stalker, Dave Russell, first approached me in about 2010 about writing music for Stalker. He had been developing this concept since he was a teenager and had finally put pen to paper to start noting down the ideas and forming a coherent story (which is no easy feat when creating an original story). We wrote about 2 songs for the show that year and then it went on the back burner for a little while. About a year later, Dave brought on Alex Giles to help write book and lyrics. We worked on the show on and off, setting ourselves regular meetings at the pub so we had deadlines to work with. The project didn’t gain much momentum until last year when we decided to workshop Act I with actors and present it in front of an audience. It was on!
We fast tracked writing all the songs (by this point I was living in NYC so we were writing via Skype) and put on a show for an audience of about 100 family, friends and industry professionals. With an overwhelmingly positive response, we were encouraged to pursue it further. We set up more readings and and workshops and then we decided to aim high and apply to put the show on at the New York Fringe Festival. Low and behold, it was the only Aussie show selected. Excited and terrified, we wrote like mad men on speed to get the show finished and ready for its debut in NYC. We were lucky enough to lock down some Aussie cast members to take the journey with us and join up with some fantastic New York Broadway talent, all helmed by our insanely talented New York-based Aussie director, Benita deWit, who put our fully staged and choreographed show together with just 5 days of rehearsal (and countless sleepless nights). We are all so proud of what we are presenting!
The best part of it all has just been able to share my music with an audience through these incredible voices. I have had some many tingles in rehearsal when things I have only heard in my head (and on my terrible MIDI computer sounds) come to life and work exactly how I wanted them to!
T: What drew you and your team to the NYC Fringe Festival? What do you see as the next step for this musical?
A: We were drawn to the NYC Fringe because we wanted to be ambitious in a smaller and more supportive environment. We knew we wanted our show to play New York and the Fringe provided us with an opportunity to dip our toes into the water and test it out to see how it would be received by a regular theatre-going audience. I think our next step will be mounting a full version of the show, perhaps in Australia or even as an Off-Broadway show. It all comes down to precious financing and finding those people willing to take a financial risk on you!
T: Also, I know that you have worked all over the globe as a music director. I’m a gypsy myself and always love hearing about others’ on-the-road experiences. What has international traveling given you and your music?
A: I absolutely love the tour life. Getting paid to see the world whilst doing the one thing you love the most is a dream come true. I have had the chance to see other cultures’ theatrical art forms, like real Chinese Opera or traditional Malaysian bands. It also has shown me what a international language music is and how much it breaks down cultural barriers. Having the opportunity to see Wicked in Japan fully performed in Japanese was incredible because the same music and story that I experienced in Aus/US in English was just as moving to me and everyone in that audience in Japanese. Or seeing the Malaysian Symphonic Orchestra perform a Mozart orchestral piece helped me realise that no matter what language you speak, music has the power to speak to you.
T: Amen! I couldn’t agree more! Now in the online world, how do you embrace social media such as youtube and Facebok as a composer and as a viewer?
A: Social media has given me a platform to be heard around the world. I can post a new song on Soundcloud, post it on Facebook and reach thousands of people within a day. It’s such an amazing concept. It’s great for me to be able to check out what other new writers are doing and what they’re creating and give them my support.
T: What’s on the horizon for you?
A: I’m keeping busy arranging and musically directing a new 1960s soul musical where the actors also play all the instruments (the soul version of Once, if you like). I am also writing songs for a couple of other new musicals which are in still mostly the foetal stage but I’m already insanely excited about.
T: And lastly, what do you hope for the new musical theatre scene globally?
A: My hope for new musical theatre is that people keep taking risks, telling new and different stories that reach out to the general public. I was over the moon for the success of Fun Home and I was eternally grateful to the producers who took that financial risk and put on a freaking amazing show that spreads a good and much-needed message.
To find out more about Andy and his works, visit andypetersonmusic.com.au.
Check out Stalker the Musical August 14th-26th at the Lynn Redgrave Theater @Culture Project located at 45 Bleecker Street, NY, NY. For tickets and showtimes, visit stalkerthemusical.com.