Festival Show Update: My Heart Is the Drum

This month, we chat with Festival Alumni Phillip Palmer, Stacey Luftig and Jennie Redling about their 2013 Festival Show, My Heart Is the Drum, which opens at the Village Theatre in Issaquah tonight. The show previously received a Writers Residency Grant at Kent State University School of Theatre and Dance.

My Heart Is the Drum has had quite a journey since the 2013 Festival! How did the show make its way to the Village Theatre for this production?
It has been quite a journey! And along the way, My Heart Is the Drum has become sort of a poster child for NAMT-member development. At the NAMT after-party, we met Robb Hunt, Village Theatre’s Executive Producer, who told us he loved the show. A few months later, we had a formative week-long writers retreat at Goodspeed Musicals. That summer, Drum was part of the Festival of New Musicals at Village Theatre. That was followed in the fall of 2014 by a workshop at Kent State University, and, that winter, a developmental production there—which Robb Hunt attended, and where we signed our contract with Village Theatre. Two workshops at Village happened after that, and here we are—with opening night of our World Premiere at Village Theatre [tonight]!

The last time we checked in with My Heart Is the Drum, the show was preparing for a production at NAMT member Kent State University. What has kind of response has the show had since then?
We’re thrilled to report several honors since then to complement the BMI Harrington Award for Creative Excellence that Jennie Redling had earned a few years back for the libretto. In 2015, Phillip Palmer and Stacey Luftig won the Fred Ebb Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre Songwriting, and in 2016 Stacey won the Kleban Prize as Most Promising Lyricist—both awards based on songs from My Heart Is the Drum. The show was also a Finalist for the 2016 Richard Rodgers Award. And Village Theatre was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts Grant to help expand understanding of issues raised in My Heart Is the Drum.

What did you as a team learn about the show during the production at Kent State, and how has the show developed since then?
A short list: We made major changes to the act break; we cut a beloved song that wasn’t doing the right job for us; we wrote what we consider to be a powerful new song for an important character; we shortened the opening; we clarified and simplified the ending; we cleared up other points of confusion; Phillip reworked the orchestration with Robert Elhai (Tony-nominated orchestrator for The Lion King); and we streamlined like mad.

In other words, we refined the beginning, middle and end…and everything in between.

The production at Village Theatre will be My Heart Is the Drum’s World Premiere—what has the partnership between you all and the theatre looked like as you prepare for opening night?
Village Theatre has been a magnificent partner. First and foremost, they recognized the fantastic work done at NAMT by our director, Schele Williams (Associate Director, Motown the Musical) and brought her out to direct this production. Throughout the process, they have provided us with the gifts of time for workshops; a generous budget for the show; and along the way, their wise and gently delivered critiques. They encouraged us in directions that made the show not only clearer, but bolder and even more truthful. We feel fortunate to have had such guidance along with so much artistic freedom.

What moments of the musical are you most excited to share with the audience?

So many moments! The opening number and its immersion into the fictional village of Kafrona, in Northern Ghana; the vibrant West African choreography by our brilliant choreographer Sonia Dawkins; and the musical, lyrical and dramatic moment-of-no-return for our heroine in Act II are just a few of them.

Why should people plan a trip to Washington state to see this world premiere?
My Heart Is the Drum
 has been gaining momentum ever since NAMT introduced it to the theater community in 2013. That momentum is now culminating in a gorgeously produced and beautifully performed world premiere, with a 10-week run, that has been developed at the same theatre where Next to Normal and Million Dollar Quartet started out. This story is infused with timely themes, including the importance of education for girls and the dangers and hardships that girls in particular experience as they seek that education. But most of all, people should come to see this show to immerse themselves in a moving and inspiring story, with a driving African-influenced score, and told with truthfulness, humor and a sense of celebration.

For more information about My Heart Is the Drum, visit Village Theatre’s website or the authors’ website.

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