Lori Fineman: Transport Group has a history of developing and producing new works, especially musicals. Of the 12 musicals we’ve produced in our 18 years, six have been world premieres and three have been New York City premieres. Most of our musicals have also championed women musical theatre writers—seven of our musicals have had a female book writer, lyricist or composer. Renascence will be our next world premiere, and we’re particularly excited that it will be Carmel Dean’s debut as a composer, as well as our first collaboration with Dick Scanlan. All of our new musicals have been recorded, published or licensed—we are passionate about adding new shows to the canon of American musicals, particularly stories that fit our mission of exploring relationship and identity in modern America.
How did Renascence first find its way to Transport Group, and what kind of developmental work have you done with the writers on the path to this world premiere?
Jack Cummings III: Chris Burney from Second Stage e-mailed me a few years ago and told me about Renascence; he wanted to connect me with Dick and Carmel, feeling it would be a good fit for Transport Group. Dick then e-mailed me directly and asked if I would meet with him and Carmel in a studio so that they both could read and sing through the piece for me—that is a difficult invitation to turn down so I met up with them and heard the piece directly from them. I went in with no real expectations other than I respect both Carmel and Dick and at the least, it’d be nice to spend some time with them. I left feeling very intrigued by the unusual nature of the piece and deeply impressed by Carmel’s score. So then Dick and I met and I told him that I’d like to direct it but I knew he was planning on directing it himself. He graciously offered me the option of co-directing it with him and I said yes, deciding it would be an interesting adventure to explore as I have much admiration for Dick not only as a writer but as a director as well. We took it slowly at first—doing a private one-week reading of everything except the 20-minute ending which always needs a separate workshop due the demands of that segment. Many months later we did a separate workshop of just the ending followed by a few days in Ashland, Oregon working only on the text at Oregon Shakespeare Festival who generously allowed us to come out and work with their incredible company of actors. The following year, we did another private reading followed several months later by a four-week developmental lab. The path has been slow and steady by design with enough time in between phases for rewrites and reflection on what our thoughts are each time we revisit it. While I don’t advocate for over-development (nobody advocates for that obviously), I am a strong believer in strategic development over time that tends to err on the side of slow over fast. I learned early on with developing new work that rushing an original piece into full production is never a good idea!
LF: Renascence is the story of jazz-age poet Edna St. Vincent Millay just before and just after she writes an epic poem (entitled Renascence) that catapults her to national stardom. She becomes one of the most famous women in America, outspoken about women’s rights and unconventional in how she lived—at a time when women were still fighting for the right to vote! Millay’ fierce commitment to self-expression and her art both elevated and alienated those around her. Like Millay herself, our production of Renascence will be unconventional and surprising. This is not a period piece—it is a contemporary exploration of an artist’s moment of creation, celebrating the themes of Millay’s work: passionate, sexy, illuminating, rebellious. If you are coming to New York from out of town, or even if you’re a native New Yorker, this show is the perfect one to see to experience groundbreaking, downtown off-Broadway theatre—with Broadway talent! Our venue, Abrons Arts Center, is in the heart of the Lower East Side—lots of very cool restaurants and bars to visit nearby (much better than the selection in Times Square!). Contact us for tickets and restaurant and bar recommendations: firstname.lastname@example.org. We are so grateful to NAMT for the grant support we’ve received from the National Fund for New Musicals and we are excited to share this world premiere with the NAMT membership!
What inspired you to write this piece, and how has your vision for the piece evolved over time?
Dick Scanlan & Carmel Dean: Renascence was inspired by a handful of songs by Carmel Dean featuring poetry written by Pulitzer Prize winner Edna St. Vincent Millay over a century ago (when she was barely 20). In researching Millay’s life, Dick Scanlan was struck by her passionate and complicated relationship with her family—and by a time in her life when NOT getting what she thought she wanted actually paved the way for her to find her heart’s desire. Both of us were taken with Millay’s thoroughly modern take on a woman’s right to build any future she can imagine for herself.
What has it been like to work with Transport Group on this piece, and what has made the staff at Transport Group great partners in preparing for this world premiere?
DS & CD: Jack Cummings III shares our belief that the best way to achieve spectacular results is to not think about results and focus instead on process, process, process. Following Jack’s lead, everyone at TG has vast quantities of imagination, commitment and patience. They are willing to do whatever it takes, for however long it takes, so that a musical can reveal itself to its authors, and then to the world, including a series of readings and workshops, each one of which was designed to meet Renascence‘s specific needs. Renascence is unusual because of the integration of Millay’s lyrics into the storytelling, and Transport Group’s faith in our ability gave us the confidence we needed to figure this one out.
What do you hope is next for the show?
DS & CD: In keeping with our “process not results” credo, it’s hard to say what we hope is next for the show. For us, what’s next is opening night of Transport’s production of Renascence, and our hope is that the show we watch on stage that night at Abrons Arts Center is everything and more all of us wanted it to be when we started this journey a few years ago. Of course, all writers hope that their work will live on, with multiple productions and people we don’t know and will never meet performing our words and music, and we’d be ecstatic if that is part of Renascence’s future. To be revealed….