This month, we caught up with Adam Gwon and Sarah Hammond, the writers of 2014 Festival show String to chat about the work they’ve done on the show in the past few years, and to learn more about the show’s upcoming world premiere with NAMT member Village Theatre. Gwon is also a Festival alum for his 2011 show Bernice Bobs Her Hair and his 2008 show Ordinary Days.
String has had quite the journey since it appeared in the 2014 Festival! What was the response to String like after the Festival?
For the first couple days after the Festival, people would stop us in the street to tell us how much they liked the show. That was a thrill. It was the first time we really showed it off in New York to a big swath of industry folks so it was encouraging to see it get the laughs, and then learn how much it hooked people. In typical NAMT fashion, it also led to other professional opportunities for us—we were invited to places like McCarter Theatre and Feinstein’s/54 Below, and, of course, the Village Theatre in Seattle, which is how we wound up answering your questions while in tech for our world premiere!
Not long after NAMT, we found out we won the Richard Rodgers Award for String, and through that we got to do a wonderful three-week workshop at Playwrights Horizons. After that, we were invited to participate in the Village Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals—that was a staged reading which led to a developmental production in their Beta Series last spring. The Beta Series production was a really useful step for us. It was a fully staged production (with complete but minimal design) in front of a paying audience that ran three weeks, with the opportunity to rehearse and rewrite during the day in response to what we saw with the audiences at night. During that process, we cut two songs, reordered some scenes in Act One, put a song back in, and generally made a lot of adjustments as if we were in a preview process for the whole run. We’d gotten a surprise phone call before we started rehearsals for the Beta Series that Village wanted to produce the world premiere in their mainstage season—that was a great gift because we really felt the freedom to try new things during the Beta Series, that it was okay to try something and discover it didn’t work without jeopardizing a shot at the big league. We learned a lot and came into rehearsals for the mainstage production with a brand-new finale and some new scenes. And we’ve been having fun tightening the show even further as we get it on its feet.
Building an original show is always a unique process. In this case, not only is the show original—and a musical—but it has a magical realism component that required some very special brain-sharing. During the first draft, we had to go down a lot of different paths to discover what the show really wanted to be, both in terms of the songs and the story. Many a song and many a scene have been cut. We’re generous with each other when it comes to creation, and then ruthless with each other about rewriting, and we’re in each others’ business along the way so it all feels like one voice in the end. Ultimately, that’s led to a show that has a real new-ness about it. Ideally, we’ve built a world you care about and characters you’ll remember, but all in a package you haven’t seen in a musical before.What would you like to see as a next step for the show?
We’d love to have String run in New York, since that’s such a launching pad for a life regionally and in schools. We’d be thrilled to find a next production with another NAMT member theater to continue the show’s momentum and development, or a commercial producer to help shepherd us to a next step. Second productions can be such a key and often overlooked step for a new show opening out of town. At the moment, we’re leaving it up to the Fates…
Why should people book their tickets to Seattle to see the upcoming production?
These performances! It’s been a pleasure to get to know the Seattle theater community over the past year and a half. The actors here are extraordinary, a whole ensemble of quirky souls with killer voices. And our three Fates especially are a glorious trio, giving a terrific performance—funny, heartbreaking, complex. Just what we dreamed they’d be. On top of that, it’s a big production, with elevators that light up and move and striking costume choices, magical and unexpected. Plus, it’s our first time hearing the whole score with orchestrations—it’s a six-piece band featuring an electric string quartet that’s all hooked up to distortion and pedal effects like they’re electric guitars. Lots of folks have said it’ll look and sound unlike anything that’s been on the Village stage. The imagination at work here has been thrilling.