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Artists develop works at inaugural Goodspeed writers colony

By Kristina Dorsey

Publication: The Day

Published February 19. 2013 4:00AM

Patrick Lundquist and Peter Seibert have made very good use of their time at the inaugural Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed Musicals.

Their goal during their time in East Haddam was ambitious but simple: write an entire musical.

At the start of the session, they told dramaturg/mentor Michael Bush what they wanted to do, and they recall his incredulous reply was, "In four weeks?"

Well, yes. And by this past Saturday, four weeks later, they watched as students from the Hartt School in Hartford did a performance of their piece, "Swan Lake," at Goodspeed.

This is exactly why the writers colony was created: to give artists the time to concentrate entirely on their work.

This colony is, representatives say, the first of its kind in the U.S. that focuses solely on creating new musicals.

Forty composers, lyricists and librettists were selected for the program. They lived in Goodspeed housing and were given a stipend. They got a creative mentor as well, along with access to Goodspeed's Scherer Library of Musical Theatre and the theater's music studios. They received input from each other during salons where they perform their work.

Members of Goodspeed's artistic staff, as well as professionals from the Johnny Mercer Foundation, provided guidance for the students.

Seibert and Lundquist had done a lot of preliminary work on "Swan Lake," which they describe as an epic romance that draws on parts of "Swan Lake," the "Tristan and Isolde" legend, and "Romeo and Juliet."

Once they got to East Haddam and began getting feedback from others involved with the writers colony, though, they realized they had to pretty much start again.

"We found out that our story was all over the place and way too complex and all of these things," Seibert says. "We sat down and outlined a new story."

This is, in fact, the first musical for the collaborators from L.A.

Singer/songwriter Lundquist has written music with and sung back-up for Al Jarreau. He has been a vocalist on such releases as Adam Lambert's "For Your Entertainment" and the movie "Easy A," too.

Composer/conductor/pianist Seibert's credits range from the films "Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland" and "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" to the TV shows "Drop Dead Diva and "Mob Doctor."

A little over a year ago, Seibert spoke with Lundquist about wanting to do more than write background scores.

After all, for TV shows and movies, Seibert notes, "if you ever draw attention to your own music, you've failed." In addition, by the time the composer comes in, the creative process is pretty much done - the story has been written.

Creating a musical is, of course, a whole different proposition. And the kind of epic orchestral pop the collaborators wanted to do is right at home in a musical setting.

Lundquist says that Seibert's speciality is "the John Williams-James Horner soaring strings and big orchestra and drumbeats. We wanted to take that and combine it with the Josh Groban heightened emotions but with a more Phil Collins pop vocal. You know, we wanted to try things. What we realize now is, we were already writing theater."

They needed a story that would allow for that kind of big music - hence the drama of "Swan Lake." The set-up for the show is this: wars between two rival peoples, the Black Swans and the White Swans, have ravaged the Great Swan Lake Empire for centuries. The princess of the White Swans - Odette - lives under an enchantment, where she is human by night and swan by day. An illicit romance blossoms between Odette and the Black Swan's second-in-command, Carter.

Lundquist and Seibert are happy to have a month at Goodspeed to concentrate all their energies on "Swan Lake." They are roommates in L.A., but their schedules don't always overlap, so their collaboration can be sporadic.

Lundquist says, "Pete will say, 'Hey, man, I've got a really cool idea for this song.' I'll say, 'Cool, cool, can you send it to me?' I'm walking out, and he's coming in. I'll listen to it, and six hours later, I'll get home and say, 'Yeah, yeah, sounds good.'

"There's just not that energy (that there is) when we get in one room and we get to help each other."

Getting that opportunity here, he says, has been really fun. Working together at the writers colony also allows them to build momentum in a way they can't when real life intrudes. Some of the best songs they've written here grew out of risks they were able to take.

"We'll try something, but if it were back in L.A., we might sit on it for three weeks and decide against it," Seibert says. "Or we might hit a plot point we can't fix, and that might stop the project for a month.

"But here, if we hit something we can't fix, we ask somebody, or we call Michael. He's been doing this for years, so he's like, 'You have some options.' It sets us right back on track within a half an hour."

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