Festival Show Update: LIZZIE

Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt recently began licensing their 2010 Festival show LIZZIE. Now that they’ve begun licensing the show, we wanted to check in with LIZZIE one last time to find out what this new step means for the show.

LIZZIE has had quite the journey since it appeared in the 2010 Festival! Can you tell us a little bit about the developmental path that brought the show to its current form?
SC: In the 2 years following NAMT, we did a developmental production at Village Theatre in Washington, a concert at Ars Nova in New York, and a co-production of Baldwin Wallace University and Playhouse Square in Cleveland, directed by Vicky Bussert who we met when she directed our NAMT presentation. All those productions were very different, and working with such different directors and actors was great for allowing us to see how the show worked and to zero in on things that needed to be sharpened. We did a lot of rewriting in those years, added a few new songs and reworked whole sections. And we changed the name of the show from Lizzie Borden to just LIZZIE.

Then we made the album! We always described LIZZIE as a concept album come to life, but it was just a way of talking about the show. There was no actual album. But in 2013, Alan completely orchestrated the show and produced the recording, which we approached more like a rock record than a cast album. At that point, the show really felt “finished” to us. (The album is on Broadway Records and is available as a CD, digital download, and vinyl.)

Since then we’ve had productions at TUTS in Houston, Portland Center Stage, Fredericia Teater in Denmark, and Ray of Light Theatre in San Francisco.

You recently began licensing LIZZIE as a writing team, managing requests through your website. What inspired you all to take this next step for the show, and how did you go about making it happen?
SC: Right after we were in the NAMT Festival in 2010, we were approached by producers, and, for the next few years, LIZZIEwas under option by various commercial producers. We got a lot of requests to license the show during that time, but we wanted to make sure we had the definitive production of LIZZIE before we sent it out into the world. When we were finally ready, the intimidating part was figuring out the day to day work of administering the licenses.
TM: All three of us come from DIY backgrounds in theater and music, so the idea that we’d tackle this ourselves wasn’t a completely foreign one. And nowadays, there are great tools online, folks have easy access, and technology allows us to collaborate remotely with the various theaters, producers and directors to answer their questions, and move from inquiry to executed license pretty easily.

Have there been any unexpected benefits or challenges that have come along with the decision to license the show yourselves?
ASH:  For me, I have enjoyed connecting directly with creators of theatre, small and large, all over the place, some in ways and places I would never have imagined LIZZIE swinging her axe—environmental theatre in a public park, a small-but-mighty troupe in Alaska, an antique furniture restoration shop which also happens to present cutting-edge boundary-pushing critically lauded productions in their back room.
SC: We have nothing to compare the experience to, and it’s early, but so far, self-licensing has gone really smoothly. This isn’t exactly an “unexpected” benefit, because we all know it’s true, but one of the really energizing and inspiring things about dealing directly with all these theaters large and small across the country is that it’s a great reminder of the fact that really talented, committed, creative people are making theater everywhere and are excited about new work.

What has the response been now that you’ve begun licensingLIZZIE? What news can you share with us about upcoming activity surrounding the show?
SC: As soon as we set up licensing on our web site, we had a flurry of requests. There were a lot of theaters that had been waiting for it to become available. So within a really short time, we’d licensed several productions for the 2016-17 season and some into the following season. We have confirmed and announced productions in Santa Barbara and San Jose, Phoenix, St. Louis, Tampa, and Washington, DC, with others working their way through the pipeline.
TM:  As Steven mentioned, there are several other licenses with some great companies that are in progress right now that we can’t announce publicly yet, as well as some other news that we hope to be able to announce soon!
ASH: The response has been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. We also recently began offering sheet music of selections (also available via our website), and I’ve been amazed by how many requests we’ve had and from where. We’ve had orders from all over North America and Europe, and from as far away as New Zealand and Japan. I have no idea how these folks are hearing about the show, but it is kind of mind-blowing and intensely gratifying to feel that connection.

What is the most exciting part of being able to share this story with different communities and audiences across the country?
ASH: What’s always been the real thrill for me is hearing gifted actors and musicians bring life to the notes and words on the page, and to share their humanity with others—their ensemble-mates, audiences. I feel we’ve created a work with many layers of dramatic and musical complexity and it will be exciting to see how it plays in so many different communities.
SC: It’s very emotional when I stop to think about it, to be here, all these years later, with this show that grew out of a fascination with the Lizzie Borden case and a hunch that it could make a great rock musical. Not to minimize our many years of work and persistence to make it happen, but a big part of why LIZZIE has grown such a following is that people are fascinated and moved by Lizzie’s story in the same way that we were and still are.
TM: It’s been so incredible to travel to productions all over the country, and beyond, and watch audiences experience the show, eavesdrop on them at intermission, see them break into applause at the curtain, and read the local press. It’s extremely rewarding as a writer to see the show be so well received by so many diverse audiences.

Why should everyone start making plans to see one of the many upcoming productions of LIZZIE?
You don’t want to get on Lizzie’s bad side now, do you?…

For more information about LIZZIE, visit the show’s website.

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