New Work in Progress: Goddess

Every year Theater Latté Da’s NEXT Festival introduces their audiences to new musicals. We reached out to Peter Rothstein, Theater Latté Da’s artistic director, to learn more about a show featured in this year’s Festival, Goddess, written by Saheem Ali, Jocelyn Bioh, Mkhululi Z. Mabija and Michael Thurber. The show was recently selected to receive a Writers Residency Grant from NAMT’s NFNM.

Can you tell us a little about the history of Theater Latté Da’s NEXT Festival and what your goals are for the program? How does the program tie into Latté Da’s mission?

NEXT is Theater Latté Da’s new work festival showcasing three works that stretch the boundaries of musical storytelling. It officially began in the spring of 2013. Each show receives two or three public readings with time for the writers to implement changes between each presentation. Following each performance is an in-depth conversation between the audience, playwrights, composers, lyricists and directors, facilitated by a dramaturg.

Latté Da’s mission is to create new connections between story, music, artist, and audience by exploring and expanding the art of musical theater. As our world changes, so does our need to produce work that reflects that evolution. NEXT is a significant part of Latté Da’s investment in the bold future for American Musical Theater.
One of the shows being featured in this year’s NEXT Festival, Goddess, just received a NAMT Writers Residency Grant. How did that show find its way to Theater Latté Da, and more generally, how do you choose shows for the festival?
One of our artistic associates, Elissa Adams leads the selection process. Elissa has tremendous experience in new work development having served as a dramaturg or literary manager with the Sundance Theatre Lab, the Playwright Center, La Jolla Playhouse and the Children’s Theatre Company, where she is the Director of New Play Development. Elissa and I lead an extensive search to find new musical theater that has reach in terms of both content and form. We engage a diverse panel of artists and conduct interviews with the writers to arrive at the final slate of projects.

Goddess initially came to us through an agent.

What work will the Goddess team be doing while they’re in residency with you, and how does the Latté Da staff support teams during their time at the theatre?
The Goddess team recently brought on a new bookwriter, who has drastically shifted the focus of the narrative. The team will spend the bulk of their residency focusing on the new act one and mining the story’s exploration of cultural divisions in modern East Africa. Latté Da will provide the team with a cast of nine actors, a director, a music director, a percussionist and a dramaturg.

What about this piece are you particularly eager to share with your audiences?
Goddess is a contemporary spin on an ancient folk tale about the goddess Marimba, the deity of music. It’s a compelling story about love, destiny, and the confluence of traditional beliefs with the modern world. The score is a fantastic melding of jazz, afrobeat and taarab. I can’t think of another musical that sounds anything like it.

Why should everyone make their way to Minneapolis to see Goddess and all of the other NEXT Fest shows?
I believe the three shows this year reflect the diversity and the expansion of our art form. Five Points by Harrison David Rivers, Ethan Pakchar and Douglas Lyons is set in New York’s Lower East Side during the Civil War. Inspired by actual events, it looks at the complex relationship between African Americans and Irish immigrants, culminating in the birth of American tap dance. And we are working with playwright Glen Berger and composer Frank London to reimagine Glen’s celebrated play Underneath the Lintel as a play with music. I am excited to fuse this heart-warming story about an aging Dutch librarian discovering her rightful place in the world with the surprising sound of Frank London’s (The Klezmatics) provocative music.

For more information about Goddess and Theater Latté Da’s NEXT Festival, visit their website.

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