Adam Gwon

Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with composer and lyricist Adam Gwon and book writer Michael Mitnick about their work on Scotland, PA.

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on your decision to write for the theatre? Adam Gwon: I was born in Boston but grew up in Baltimore from the time I was two. I went to high school at Carver, a public magnet school for the arts where my 10th grade English teacher was constantly making the hard sell on Stephen Sondheim. One day he just played the Assassins cast album for a whole class period. Another time, he made me stand and recite the lyrics to “Putting It Together” and “Music of the Night” as a compare-and-contrast. I went to college as an acting major at NYU and had a teacher my freshman year who overheard me playing the piano, pulled me aside, and said: that’s where your voice is. He was a composer, and he died that year, and shortly after I started writing with his words in my ear. Michael Mitnick: I was born in Pittsburgh, PA. I went to Fox Chapel, a public high school with a strong extracurricular theatre program led by Craig Cannon and Sally Meyers. They made me feel I had value. My piano teacher Olga Kurland taught me piano and music theory. In graduate school, Paula Vogel, Lisa Kron, John Guare, and Lynn

Michael Mitnick

Nottage cracked open my brain. My mentors, though they might not want that designation, were Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. I was their gofer on four projects at Lincoln Center, and they taught me not to write shows that rely on attitude or style, but rather ones that aim to tell a dramatic story with essential songs that advance character or plot.

TS: What do you feel the musical Scotland, PA, is about? Does the material have personal resonance for you, and if so, how? MM: The musical is based on the movie of the same title, which is based on the Scottish Play, which is about ambition. Who doesn’t look around and say, “If only I had X, my life might be better?” That’s our show’s central theme, though I’d maybe paint it a little sunnier: What little do we need to be happy? It’s something I think about, and I imagine most people do—when does “happy and satisfied” click in? AG: I love that the story in our version doesn’t start with generals and noblemen; it’s set in a forgotten, working-class town. When I think of ambition, I think of the American Dream, and these are characters who’ve been denied their ambition, denied that shiny American promise of greatness. So they try to wrest it back. I found myself realizing: who can blame them? Ambition and greed, assertiveness and aggression, justice and revenge, they are points on the same spectrum. What is the tipping point from one to the other? We are always walking these lines, and I feel that especially now.


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