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Ten Questions: Sara Wordsworth
Sara Wordsworth brings a musical to Broadway – And it only took 16 years
By Victoria Mier

After years working her way up in the theater industry, Egg Harbor’s Sara Wordsworth is not only fulfilling a lifelong dream, she’s doing it in a most unusual way. The writer has brought an a cappella musical to Broadway after 16 years of development. “In Transit” opened last November as the first musical – with no instruments – to open on Broadway.

 

How do you go from writing a musical to actually getting it on Broadway?

The first thing you really need is exposure. The show started out in 2002 as a self-produced cabaret that we performed ourselves for eight years. We did it anywhere we could – in clubs, in festivals. We also kept writing it and changing it and submitting it. For the first eight years of the project, it was all us. Then we submitted to the National Music Theater Conference, and that was a huge turning point. We got offered our first commercial producer. But then it was years of development. You simultaneously work on the development as they’re working to do the show. That’s how it worked for us. I think that’s how it works with a lot of writers working on an original piece.

 

In Transit Circle in the Square Produced by Janet B. Rosen and Six Train Productions Book by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth; Music by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth; Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth; Vocal arrangements by Deke Sharon Directed by Kathleen Marshall; Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall; Associate Director: David Eggers; Associate Choreographer: David Eggers Scenic Design by Donyale Werle; Costume Design by Clint Ramos; Lighting Design by Donald Holder; Sound Design by Ken Travis; Hair and Wig Design by Cookie Jordan; Production Design by Caite Hevner Executive Producer: Scott Landis; General Manager: Alchemy Production Group Production Manager: Juniper Street Productions; Production Stage Manager: Kim Vernace; Stage Manager: Megan Schneid Musical Supervisor: Rick Hip-Flores Casting: Binder Casting; Press Representative: Polk & Co.; Advertising: AKA Cast David Abeles Dave Moya Angela Momma Mrs. Williams Althea Steven "HeaveN" Cantor Broadway debut Boxman Justin Guarini Trent Telly Leung Steven Erin Mackey Ali Gerianne Pérez Broadway debut Kathy Margo Seibert Jane Chesney Snow Broadway debut Boxman Alternate James Snyder Nate Mariand Torres Broadway debut Nina Nicholas Ward Chris Standby: Adam Bashian (Chris, Dave), Laurel Harris (Ali, Jane, Kathy), Arbender Robinson (Steven, Trent) and Aurelia Williams (Althea, Momma, Mrs. Williams)

What is “In Transit” about?

The majority of the musical takes place on the New York subway system. It follows the intertwined lives of 11 New Yorkers faced with the challenges of city life and the difficulties reaching their dreams. One character, Ali, is loosely based on myself – she’s heartbroken from a recent breakup and trains for the New York Marathon in an attempt to move on. The subway is a metaphor for the journey each character takes to accomplish their goal and all the stops they make along the way.

 

Where did the initial idea come from?

The first seed of, “Hey, this could be a show,” was actually the day after 9/11. I will never forget – I took the subway on the first day you could ride it again. It was a really, really poignant subway ride for me. New Yorkers were looking at each other for the first time like, “We’ve all been through something.” They were smiling at each other like, “I understand.” It was a feeling that’s hard to describe. My collaborators and I met because we wanted to be together and sing a little. We decided to write a show that was positive about New York and have something to work toward that was creating good energy, good art. That was the seed of it.

 

That was 16 years ago. Has it taken 16 years to get to Broadway?

I always say we’ve been working on it for 16 years, but not consistently. We’d put it down for a few months and then we’d pick it back up whenever someone had a new idea. Pretty much, for 16 years, we always met at least once a month, and we’ve worked on it all over the place – our apartments, if we were using a theater at that time. There was lot of Starbucks meetings. A lot of New York City diner meetings.

 

Were you worried about how a Broadway audience might react to an a cappella musical?

A cappella used to have this stigma, but because of shows like “Pitch Perfect,” it’s become mainstream. That definitely wasn’t the case when we started working on the show, but now a lot of people love it.

 

So what made you choose a cappella at a time when it wasn’t popular?

The musical is a cappella simply because we my friends and I were a cappella group. It was just our medium. We became really excited about it, because a cappella does not do story songs, you never hear original music, it’s mostly covers. The more we worked on the show, the more we found people were excited about using a cappella in that way. It’s also thematic – it’s about everybody running around NYC trying to get somewhere and not even realizing the whole city is backing up their journey, backing up their song and helping them get where they need to be. It’s the beautiful message of a cappella: you can’t do it alone.

 

In Transit Circle in the Square Produced by Janet B. Rosen and Six Train Productions Book by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth; Music by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth; Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth; Vocal arrangements by Deke Sharon Directed by Kathleen Marshall; Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall; Associate Director: David Eggers; Associate Choreographer: David Eggers Scenic Design by Donyale Werle; Costume Design by Clint Ramos; Lighting Design by Donald Holder; Sound Design by Ken Travis; Hair and Wig Design by Cookie Jordan; Production Design by Caite Hevner Executive Producer: Scott Landis; General Manager: Alchemy Production Group Production Manager: Juniper Street Productions; Production Stage Manager: Kim Vernace; Stage Manager: Megan Schneid Musical Supervisor: Rick Hip-Flores Casting: Binder Casting; Press Representative: Polk & Co.; Advertising: AKA Cast David Abeles Dave Moya Angela Momma Mrs. Williams Althea Steven "HeaveN" Cantor Broadway debut Boxman Justin Guarini Trent Telly Leung Steven Erin Mackey Ali Gerianne Pérez Broadway debut Kathy Margo Seibert Jane Chesney Snow Broadway debut Boxman Alternate James Snyder Nate Mariand Torres Broadway debut Nina Nicholas Ward Chris Standby: Adam Bashian (Chris, Dave), Laurel Harris (Ali, Jane, Kathy), Arbender Robinson (Steven, Trent) and Aurelia Williams (Althea, Momma, Mrs. Williams)

How hard is it to have a career on Broadway?

One of the hardest things is to believe you will get there someday when there’s a heck of a lot of rejection – and to support yourself while you’re trying to make a living in the arts. We tend to want things in place, we want a place to live and security. When you’re starting a career in the arts, the starving artist myth is true. You don’t get paid for a long time, and you have to do a lot of work for free and take whatever opportunities come up. It was tough, but I had a really good support system with my family and a community in New York of like-minded people. I was able to stay the course, because I was emotionally supported. It’s a really special thing, and not everybody has this. I’m a mom now too, and you want your children to live a comfortable, safe life, so I feel really fortunate that my parents kept saying, “No, if you believe in it, keep going.” That’s one of the most damaging things we can do to young artists – ask how much money they’re making. We shouldn’t put a dollar value on work like that.

 

Your mother was an arts educator. Did she influence your love of Broadway?

Going to see theater was just something we did as a family, so I was raised on a healthy diet of classical musical theater. It was always there, but I started thinking about it as a career when I was in high school. I was going up to New York City a lot, seeing “Les Miserables,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” all of those shows. I was hoarding every babysitting dime I made to get up there and see shows with my friends.

 

In Transit Circle in the Square Produced by Janet B. Rosen and Six Train Productions Book by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth; Music by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth; Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth; Vocal arrangements by Deke Sharon Directed by Kathleen Marshall; Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall; Associate Director: David Eggers; Associate Choreographer: David Eggers Scenic Design by Donyale Werle; Costume Design by Clint Ramos; Lighting Design by Donald Holder; Sound Design by Ken Travis; Hair and Wig Design by Cookie Jordan; Production Design by Caite Hevner Executive Producer: Scott Landis; General Manager: Alchemy Production Group Production Manager: Juniper Street Productions; Production Stage Manager: Kim Vernace; Stage Manager: Megan Schneid Musical Supervisor: Rick Hip-Flores Casting: Binder Casting; Press Representative: Polk & Co.; Advertising: AKA Cast David Abeles Dave Moya Angela Momma Mrs. Williams Althea Steven "HeaveN" Cantor Broadway debut Boxman Justin Guarini Trent Telly Leung Steven Erin Mackey Ali Gerianne Pérez Broadway debut Kathy Margo Seibert Jane Chesney Snow Broadway debut Boxman Alternate James Snyder Nate Mariand Torres Broadway debut Nina Nicholas Ward Chris Standby: Adam Bashian (Chris, Dave), Laurel Harris (Ali, Jane, Kathy), Arbender Robinson (Steven, Trent) and Aurelia Williams (Althea, Momma, Mrs. Williams)

When did you first become interested in writing?

I was always writing scripts and things, but I never thought I could be a musical theater writer, especially as a young woman. No one was doing that. In 1999, I met Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who is one of my co-writers on In Transit. She and her husband won an Oscar for “Let It Go” from “Frozen,” but we were just sort of friends kicking around when she was starting her writing career. I was watching her do that, and I was like, “I could do that, I’m a writer.” I was the editor of my school paper, and I had written a bunch of different plays. I had written a lot of pop songs in high school, but I had never specifically written for musical theater. There is a musical theater training workshop in New York, and I thought, “Hey, I’m going to throw caution to the wind and apply for that.” I got in, and I’ve been there ever since. That’s when I got really serious about my writing.

 

You started out as a musical theater performer, now you’re a writer. Do you miss performing?

I do love performing, but for In Transit specifically, it’s been great to step back and look at it as a playwright. It’s satisfying in its own way. I think the answer for me is that I love a life in the arts. I like making new theater. Whichever side of the table I’m on, I just want to work on interesting projects.

January 2017
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Comments

One Comment

  1. Jarrett says:

    Uplifting show with memorable music, and flawless performances by a great cast. Audience reaction was off the chart. Loved it.

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