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Book Writer Michael Mitnick in rehearsal for Scotland, PA Photo by Jeremy Daniels


TS: Adam, how did you decide what the score for Scotland, PA would sound like? What kind of research did you have to do in order to write it? AG: The film studio had only one request when we pitched them our adaptation: that we keep the story rooted in the 1970s. Happily, that was never a question for me. It’s what excited me about wanting to write this score. I hadn’t heard a musical take the sound of that era and filter it through a contemporary lens, the way, say, Hairspray did with the 1960s. Pop music of the ‘70s has such a broad, exciting palette. Even the radio hits are harmonically interesting and unabashedly theatrical. I listened to a lot before I started writing—Bad Company, The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, David Bowie, Queen, The Carpenters, Elton John—then put it all away and did my own thing.


TS: Can you give us a sense of your individual process? What was the most challenging part of adapting Scotland, PA into a musical? What was the most fun? AG: For me, music and lyrics come at the same time, and I work closely with my book writer to make sure we’re building a cohesive world. The biggest challenge was figuring out the exact way that musical theatre songs spill out of these characters’ mouths. They live in 1975, but they’re not listening to the original cast recording of A Chorus Line, if you know what I mean. We wanted there to be something unpolished and a little off-center about how and what they were singing, a specific point of view. I’m realizing now that the most challenging part was also the most fun. MM: I’d studied Shakespeare’s play in college and obsessively watched Billy Morrissette’s film in high school. Adam and I had many conversations in person before any writing took place. I sketched an outline. Things shifted significantly over four years. More often than not, I wrote monologues/dialogue that I knew would get chopped up and replaced with music and lyrics. My goal was to write as economically as possible to connect plot dots and then get out of the way so Adam’s songs can carry the story.


It stinks writing a musical for characters who lack motivation. While pop and rock work well with the idea of “I don’t want X” and “screw Y,” musicals work better when there is a positive goal. Otherwise, we hear people singing on and on about what they don’t want and we say, “OK. I get it. Fine. If you don’t want it, don’t take it. Now, where did I park?” It’s stronger hearing the aspirational goals of the central characters and watching as they do or don’t achieve them. In our show, we have people like Mac (one of our two main characters), who is essentially fine being exploited by life as long as he’s drunk and with his love Pat, so what’s the big deal? The fun was the challenge of figuring how to activate him while still portraying a stoner/slacker.


TS: How are you collaborating with Lonny Price, the director? MM: Lonny has the rare gift as a director of simultaneously living inside the work as a character, playing out the work as an actor, and overseeing the entire experience as the audience. Writing a musical based on the Scottish Play is tricky because it’s a tragic story that can bend rather unsympathetically away from our main characters. We need people on Mac and Pat’s side as they kill people and get greedier. Lonny was a compass that guided us through the musical tone. He and Matt Cowart, our associate director, also work with such a level of detail, focus, and enthusiasm that there was no hope but to be all aboard the same ship. AG: We connected with Lonny early in the process, before we’d even finished the first draft. He’s got fantastic instincts about story and the mechanics behind what makes musicals tick. But one of the first things he did was get us thinking about a physical production. What’s the set going to do? How’s he going to change his costume? How can it be part of your storytelling? We built the Act One finale after Lonny told us what he thought the set should look like. That combination of dramaturgical insight and big vision is invaluable on a new work. Everyone’s trying to fit these puzzle pieces together, and you’re always calibrating. Lack of ego helps, too—the sense that, if something isn’t working, a solution can come from anyone in the room.


TS: Who or what inspires you as an artist? MM: A work that contains genuine surprise. A story that is actually dramatic. A song that goes to both unexpected and inevitable places. I like to see things that aren’t murky or boring. I’m inspired by what cuts through to some kind of emotional or thoughtful truth. AG: My collaborators, a perfect rhyme, and a well-made plot.


TS: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to write for the theatre? MM: Don’t give up, but write a lot. Write every day. Read at least 30 novels a year. You may have to write a lot for a very long time that goes on and on and into your thirties and your friends now have very nice houses on very nice bodies of water, but sooner or later, you will have the chance to share your writing in a professional setting. AG: Be steadfast in your pursuit of craft, but flexible enough to know when it’s getting in the way of doing something surprising.


TS: What other projects are you currently working on? MM: Teaching my dog Mabel that at a point in the near future she will stop receiving treats for going to the bathroom. I don’t get treats when I do, and neither should she. AG: I’m working on commissions from Playwrights Horizons, South Coast Repertory, and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. I’m kind of behind, so if you see me after the show, remind me that I should get home to write.•


Composer and Lyricist Adam Gwon in rehearsal for Scotland, PA Photo by Jeremy Daniels


SCOTLAND, PA UPSTAGE GUIDE


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