An interview with Maria Goyanes, Associate Producer at The Public Theater, about February House by Gabriel Kahane and Seth Bockley as they prepare to bring the show to New York this May. The show was the recipient of one of our National Fund forNew Musicals Project Development Grants.
About February House: Carson McCullers. Benjamin Britten. W.H. Auden. Gypsy Rose Lee. Visionary and flamboyant editor George Davis transforms a dilapidated Brooklyn boardinghouse into a bohemian commune for these leading lights of 1940s New York. The residents of 7 Middagh Street create a tumultuous and remarkable makeshift family searching for love, inspiration and refuge from the looming war in Europe. Inspired by true events, this powerful and funny newmusical marks the first commission of The Public’s Musical Theater Initiative.
Why did The Public Theater decide to commission Gabe and Seth to write February House?
Oskar Eustis, the Artistic Director of The Public Theater, has known Gabe since his college years at Brown University. They had stayed in touch while Gabe made his way through the music world circuit, putting out a pop album, composing classical pieces and occasionally music directing for the theater. Ted Sperling, when starting The Public’s Music Theater Initiative, asked Gabe if he was ready to try his hand at writing a musical. He became The Public’s Music Theater Fellow and then pitched the idea of February House, from Sherrill Tippin’s book of the same name. When it came to finding a bookwriter, Gabe turned to his old college friend Seth Bockley, who had been making a name for himself as an emerging playwright and director in Chicago.
The Public Theater has been working on the show for a few years in many different readings. How has the show changed since the first reading in 2009?
The show has changed so much—and all for the better! Gabe and Seth always knew that they were making a different kind of musical, a chamber piece of sorts, with 9 leads and no chorus. So much of the development of this piece has been about honing in on the three principals—George Davis, W.H. Auden and Carson McCullers—and their needs for this house, hopes for their art, and the looming war in Europe. Because there is no single protagonist, the piece has been a delicate balance of these three storylines intersecting, influencing and playing off of each other.
This summer the writers had a chance to have a workshop at New York Stage and Film, in collaboration with The Public and supported by our National Fund for New Musicals. How was this process vital to prepare for the productions?
As the piece is set in an old Victorian home in Brooklyn, NY, the house is definitely a main character in the piece. How it comes together, how the characters inhabit the space together —these are key discoveries to be made for the show to be successful. New York Stage and Film was the first time we had the show up on its feet, and we could start to problem solve those ideas. It was invaluable.
The show opened last month at Long Wharf Theatre, in a co-production with The Public, before it heads to NYC in May. What is the importance of this co-production to the show’s development trajectory and why was Long Wharf chosen as your partner?
Gordon Edelstein [Long Wharf’s Artistic Director] is a great friend and colleague of Oskar Eustis. We shared the piece with him and he has provided incredible dramaturgical support and nurturing for Gabe and Seth. New York is a scary place for a first-time musical—musicals are such complex pieces to get right (and this one more so than others). It felt important to try to elongate the rehearsal process for it with a first stab at a production out-of-town, to learn from the audience and the experience, and then bring it to NYC.
Why should we all head to The Public Theater this May to catch February House?
Gabe is one of the most exciting young composers of the decade. His music is beautiful and haunting and true—this is your chance to see the first musical from an artist who is sure to have an impact on the American theatre for a long time to come.
For more information about February House, please visit www.publictheater.org.