Back with family, from The Carols composer Monica Stephenson

Last month, I took the drive from Philadelphia back to my hometown of Pittsburgh.  I had been at 1812 Productions for a workshop of songs and scenes in new musical collaboration with Jen Childs.  The five hour turnpike drive provided for plenty of opportunity to reflect on the workshop and how the idea came to fruition.  This will be our second musical collaboration.  The Carols was our first and after such a successful and enriching experience with it, doing another musical together felt like a no-brainer. It was on opening night of The Carols that Jen and I looked at each other and said, “What next?”  And now, 10 months later I’m driving back to Pittsburgh pondering the question, “What next?”

Tyndale Place is the working title for our second musical collaboration.  The show is somewhat of a continuation of The Carols in that it tells the story of a quartet of women in the next decade, the 1950s. There will be songs reflective of the time period (Chordettes, Doo-wop, early Rock n Roll) and songs that push the narrative forward in a contemporary musical theater style.  Thanks to the time, energy, and talents of TJ Harris, Rachel Camp, Emily Kleimo, Michaela Shuchman, Laurel Hostak and Marla Burkholder, we laughed a lot and were able to flesh out some of the script, characters, and songs.  Jen and I are asking a lot of questions right now.  She is finding the story. For me, it’s all about making music that best supports her story and lyrics and captures the essence of the time period. 

This December 11th & 12th, 1812 is bringing The Carols back for a live concert performance.  Rachel, Emily, Caroline and TJ will be reprising their roles! We will also get to see Joliet Harris in the role of Miss Betty and Scott Greer as Melvin Shaatz. I hope to make yet another cross-state turnpike journey for what promises to be an amazing show.  The Carols will also premiere in Pittsburgh on December 7th . Carnegie Stage is producing the show and rehearsals begin in November.  Soon a new cast of actors will be singing the songs and inhabiting the roles that I have, up to this point, so identified as belonging only to the original cast.

I have to reflect The Carols. It was a very special show for me. This was the first professional project I took on after the birth of my son. The trip to Philadelphia for workshops and rehearsals gave me a break from the day to day hustle of being a new mom. Writing the music helped me to know myself, again, as an artist and composer. It also meant that I got to make new connections and spend valuable time with my dear 1812 friends. Before moving back to Pittsburgh, I was an 1812 staffer. I have a lot of important memories with them. I’ve eaten Thanksgiving dinner at Tyler’s home, attended Jaime’s wedding, rocked out in Doylestown with Dave, stayed in Jen’s home after a break-up and too many other experiences to recount.  They make me better and they help make the world less heavy.  I many ways they were my inspiration in composing the musical.

Together, we made The Carols, a funny musical with important themes of being inclusive, being generous, about finding joy in difficult times, and lifting up all of the people around us. Last December we needed this message and this December we still do.  Luckily, audiences on both sides of Pennsylvania will get to see The Carols this year and hopefully even more people will get to see it in years to come.

As Jen and I continue to work together, I will be making more trips from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and back again. I’ve become quite use to the drive and the reflective time it allows me. I’m excited for what is ahead as Jen and I make Tyndale Place and I’m proud to see future productions of the The Carols take shape. And, so I must ask, “What next?”

(Tickets and information about The Carols: Live in Concert can be found here.)

The awesome art-makers of the  Tyndale Place  workshop. (L-R) Emily Kleimo, Michaela Shuchman, Monica Stephenson, Jennifer Childs, TJ Harris, Rachel Camp, Laurel Hostak.

The awesome art-makers of the Tyndale Place workshop. (L-R) Emily Kleimo, Michaela Shuchman, Monica Stephenson, Jennifer Childs, TJ Harris, Rachel Camp, Laurel Hostak.