Anika Chapin will help Goodspeed scout and develop new works

Anika Chapin (Submitted photo)
Anika Chapin (Submitted photo)

There’s a neat bit of symmetry in the fact that Anika Chapin used to see shows at Goodspeed’s theaters when she was a child — and now, at age 34, she’s just been hired by Goodspeed to be the organization’s first artistic associate.

Her trajectory in between has been an expansive journey through the theater world. She was assistant company manager for a “Cats” tour that traveled around Asia. She spent a week as assistant to the director on an early-stages version of a little musical called “Hamilton.” She served as a research dramaturg on the recent Broadway revival of “Sunday in the Park with George.”

She has done everything from produce “Encores! Unscripted,” a discussion series about topics in theater, to covering nightlife events for The New York Times.

Chapin comes to Goodspeed from Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey, where, as literary manager, her responsibilities included being in charge of finding and developing new work.

New work, in fact, will be her focus at Goodspeed, too. In this full-time artistic associate job, she will provide Goodspeed with a presence in New York, where she’ll attend workshops and readings. She will also help the producing team develop new musicals and work with writers.

“I really have had a great love and respect for the Goodspeed since I was a kid,” she says. “… A lot of shows I saw for the first time at Goodspeed — some of the larger scale ones — and really became so enamored of what the art form is and what these shows are.”

Goodspeed famously stages revivals, but that’s not all it does. It develops musicals at its Chester theater, and, at its Opera House, it has staged such new pieces as “Chasing Rainbows” and such rewritten or reimagined shows as “Rags.”

Michael Gennaro, who has been Goodspeed’s executive director for two years, says that, during his time working at theaters like Steppenwolf in Chicago and Trinity Rep in Providence, he learned the value of having someone involved who has a dramaturgical point of view and isn’t concerned with producing the show. They can give feedback on a whole range of elements, down to, say, whether a song should be moved or cut.

“We just wanted to have someone who could really focus on developing new scripts and new writers,” Gennaro says. “One of the things (Chapin) gives us also is a presence in New York, because that’s where she lives. For myself and (Goodspeed Line Producer) Donna Lynn Hilton, we probably get invited to, I don’t know, 10 or more workshops or readings a week in New York, and there’s just no way we can do our day jobs and go see all the shows that are possible to see.”

That’s just part of how the artistic associate can help out. Gennaro says, “When I started talking to everybody here internally about, ‘This is a position I think we need going forward,’ we interviewed a number of people. I ended up going out and asking people around — I said, ‘This is a new position, I don’t know if there’s a position like this anywhere else, but this is what I’m looking for.’ Three people right off the bat said to me, ‘Well, have you talked to Anika Chapin?’ I thought, ‘This is interesting.’ Even now, when we made the announcement (about hiring Chapin), there are three directors that we worked with recently … they immediately sent me an email saying, ‘I can’t believe you hired the best person there is to do this.’”

He notes that Chapin teaches script and score analysis at Pace University in New York City and is an experienced literary dramaturg specializing in musicals.

And she’s someone who not only knows musicals well but also “understands our DNA and our aesthetic,” Gennaro says.

Indeed, Chapin has a longtime connection to Goodspeed and not just seeing shows. She served as assistant to director Jeremy Sams for “13” in 2008 at Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre, staying with the show as it moved to Broadway. That was one of the first new musicals she worked on, and she says, “It was just fascinating and wonderful to be able to see that show take shape.”

Another Goodspeed link: her father, Ted Chapin, is a member of the Goodspeed Board of Trustees. (He is also a 1972 Connecticut College alum.) He is president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, which is responsible for management of the copyrights for works by Richard Rodgers and/or Oscar Hammerstein II.

“I got such a wonderful hands-on theater education from my father, who just loves it purely and truly, and he loves what he does,” Anika Chapin says. “So, through him, I got this view of the world, and I got to see which theaters are doing what interesting things.”

Chapin — who earned her bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and her masters of fine arts from Columbia University — will be part of the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals next weekend, discussing “Dramaturgy 101” in one of the seminars held on Jan. 13. So how would Chapin define what a dramaturg does?

“I went to grad school for dramaturgy. We would always say, if you asked five dramaturgs what a dramaturg is, you’ll get seven answers,” she says with a laugh, “because it’s so different and it’s so hard to define. I’ve been doing it for a decade, and I still don’t have a very concise answer.”

She jokes that she’s a therapist for new work; she tries to help writers fully realize their project. That might mean acting as an editor or reflecting what she sees in the script. In all ways, it involves making sure that what they are intending to convey is what is actually coming across, as well as making sure, for instance, that the tone and characters all feel as though they’re in the same world. In short, a dramaturg helps ensure that writers are telling their stories to the best of their ability.

Chapin says that, for as long as she can remember, she has been a huge fan of theater and of musicals specifically. She recalls going to school listening to one cast album and coming home listening to a different one.

“I always knew (theater) would be where I ended up but, despite some high school aspirations, I knew pretty quickly I wasn’t an actor,” she says.

Chapin laughs that she became a dramaturg, in essence, because she did every other theater job first. As assistant company manager for the “Cats” Asia tour, her work mostly involved making sure the performers had everything they needed; she coordinated food between shows, made sure they had access to a gym if needed, and helped them settle into their hotels, among other responsibilities.

She worked a bit in casting. What she did most regularly was be the assistant to directors, which, she says, “was the closest thing to what I loved, because it allowed me to be in the room and to be seeing the piece as a whole, but I also didn’t feel that drive to be the one that’s standing up in front of the room myself. I kept finding pieces of all the different jobs that I loved. I knew I loved the text, I knew I loved some of the research behind it, I knew I loved working with writers, I knew I loved seeing the production as a whole. But it wasn’t until I read a description of what a dramaturg was that I thought, ‘Oh, that’s it. That’s what I am. That’s exactly what it is.’”

The director she worked most often with as an assistant was Tom Kail, who was a mentor to her — and who directed “Hamilton.”

“I think he’s the greatest. He’s so smart, and I learned so much about theater from him while we were working together on several things. I think it was during ‘Once On This Island’ that he said, ‘Lin(-Manuel Miranda) wrote this new show. We’re going up to New York Stage and Film for a week to workshop it. If you’re around, do you want to do it?’ I said, ‘Sure.’”

When she got the “Hamilton” script and some song demos in her inbox, she realized what an extraordinary project this was. She felt, she recalls, “that weird sense inside you of ‘What IS this?!’ — that kind of shimmer that happens when something really exciting is in front of you.”

She says that during that weeklong workshop, “It was astounding to watch this nugget of a piece that was so unique and so exciting, just clearly something completely new and completely mind-blowing.”

“Unfortunately, when I took my job at Two River, there were two things I had to give up, and that was one of them,” she says.

Chapin believes musicals are “special and powerful creations.”

“I deeply, deeply love musical theater because I think it is an unparalleled opportunity to tell stories in a way that is emotionally accessible. I find that, in the greater world, there’s a lot of ‘Oh, musicals are silly.’ There’s a lot of dismissal of musicals for being this kind of dumb, bad play where you stop and there’s a dance number. I feel that’s so untrue. What I always say to people is, we as human beings, we naturally find meaning in music. You go through a breakup and sit in your house, and you play music that makes you feel better. We sing music in times of joy. We have music around us all the time, so music is conveying meaning to us at a visceral, fundamental level,” she says.

“When you have a musical, what you have in its purest form is a story that uses this other art form to reach you on an emotional level that you might not be able to reach with words alone. I think it can be magical, especially right now, when the world feels incredibly fractured. I’ve always been someone who thinks that art and theater teach radical empathy. I think it’s the only way to really appreciate the experiences of someone who is not like you. I think that’s the best chance we have as a people to really be able to learn about what other people are going through, what it means to be human in the widest sense of what that is.”

 

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