Last month, we caught up with alumni Creighton Irons and Sean Mahoney about the development of their 2009 Festival show, Factory Girls, and their upcoming reading and concert in NYC.
In 1843 in the new industrial city of Lowell, Massachusetts, best friends Sarah Bagley and Harriet Farley are using their published writing to prove to the world that “factory girls” are virtuous and intelligent and have accepted their positions as laborers voluntarily. But when a fellow spinner is worked to death, Sarah decides to use her pen to lash out against the corporation, jeopardizing their friendship and shaping the fate of the American worker.
Factory Girls was very well-received at the Festival but it was at a very early stage of development. What did you learn about the show from being in the Festival?
We loved being a part of the Festival in 2009. The show itself was still being written by just the two of us (Sean and Creighton), and while we had a wonderful experience working with [director] Vicky Bussert and an amazing cast, we knew the songs were much stronger than the book at that time. Our NAMT consultants have been such incredible supporters of us and of the show as we’ve sought to improve the book in various workshops since then.
You have added two bookwriters to the project in the past year to work on the show with you. How did they come to the project and how have they changed the collaborative environment?
We were looking for a bookwriter in the spring and summer of 2013, and in the meantime we were each working on a range of projects. Sean co-wrote a show with Sam Forman called Prep School Musical, and Sam came to an Irons-Mahoney show at Joe’s Pub that August after having been out of NYC for a while. Within a few weeks, we asked him to consider writing the book for Factory Girls, and he suggested Rob Ackerman (one of his writing partners on Volleygirls) as a co-bookwriter. By the time we met, they already had an outline for a new draft. Sam & Rob’s enthusiasm for the show has helped re-energize us. After seven years of writing, you sometimes take for granted the joyful and magical heart this piece has. The collaborative environment with these guys has been dynamic, fertile and productive. Over breakfasts and retreats (including a recent residency at Goodspeed through the Johnny Mercer Foundation), we’ve raced through several new drafts to a new one we are feeling great about. Overall, it takes a lot of trust and communication to navigate the sea of ideas we all have for the show; however, as long as the story is being told clearly, we are each able to thrive and find ways to contribute and support each other as we keep re-writing.
How has the story changed over the years and where is it at now?
The general setting, score and main characters are the same, but our latest draft is aiming to heighten the stakes as much as possible and focus on the relationship between the leads, Sarah and Harriet. We have always felt good about the theatrical velocity and depth of the score, and our goal is to tell the story with a powerful, lean and gripping book to match the music. Most recently, we’ve developed a young love subplot to add a dash of lightness and idealism to the show’s world.
How much does the show differ now from what you presented at the Festival?
The excerpt we shared at the Festival focused largely on what has become a secondary love story (between Harriet and an overseer) and featured a much wordier and less focused book. Our new draft has tighter book scenes—none over a page and a half—and a clearer arc for the main character, Sarah. We’ve also rewritten many of the old songs to bring more storytelling into the music.
You have a reading coming up in NYC. What are the aims of that reading and how can producers/theatres RSVP?
We’ve had several private table reads over the last 6 months or so with a group of generous, talented actors, and we are excited to share the current draft with folks who are able to help us take the next developmental steps. Industry people who would like to come to those readings on March 2 in NYC can email email@example.com for more information.
You also have a concert coming up at 54 Below. Why should everyone come to 54 Below to catch the newest version of Factory Girls?
We wish you could come see it, but it’s already sold out! We have an amazing cast for the night including Andrea Ross, Alison Cusano, Julia Mattison and Molly Hager, and every single song they will perform has changed in some way over the last year.
For more information about the upcoming concert of Factory Girls, visit the 54 Below website.