Monday, May 14, 2012

Q&A with Karen and Deborah

Dramaturg Kimberly Colburn asked playwright Karen Zacarias and composer Deborah Wicks La Puma about their inspiration and process in bringing Jane of the Jungle to life at SCR.

Where did you get the idea for Jane of the Jungle?
Karen Zacarias
KAREN: Debbie and I were talking about the difficulty and the joy of change. We had moved around a lot as kids, and we both had very vivid memories of how it felt to be 11 or 12 and have everything seem different. It's hard to be a pre-teen. Your feelings swing, your body starts to change and your relationships to your family, to your friends, to your school, all shift in unpredictable ways. Debbie's two older daughters were all heading for that challenging and exciting phase. We thought it was the right time to find a musical metaphor that encompassed this vital time of a kid's life.

DEBORAH: As a mom, its both comforting and distressing to see my children going through many of the same issues I had growing up—and being able to have my teenage and tween-age girls read the script and talk to me about these issues has been a huge inspiration!

While Jane is an original story, some of your other pieces are based on books or fairy tales. How is it different when you’re creating from scratch? What’s the process like?

KAREN: Most of our musicals are created from scratch, except Ferdinand the Bull (which is based on the book) and Cinderella Likes Beans and Rice (which is an original spin on the beloved fairy tale). When you start from scratch, you know that the audience has no pre-conceived ideas of the story or the you have to build them right there on stage in that moment every time. You have to create the story and world. When something is have something to lean on but that has its own up and downs. The audience must be able to recognize the story and characters, and yet still be surprised by what they glean from the stage. Adaptations need to both appease and challenge what audiences thought they knew.

Deborah Wicks La Puma
DEBORAH: Karen and I still love to write together even after so many shows because we are always looking to make each show unique—not just in the characters and what happens to them, but also in the sound and music. In Jane we wanted to have a sense of a very ordinary girl traveling into an exotic and unknown musical jungle, so we are using lots of interesting instruments in the arrangements from around the globe, like the Japanese Taiko mixed with Indian Tabla, South American Marimba, and mashed into a song using good old rock-and-roll guitar.

How has the piece changed since you started?

KAREN: In an earlier version, the play started when Jane moved to a new house and neighborhood. In another, Jane went to a new camp. We realized however, that the interesting thing that was happening to Jane wasn't the changes in the outside world, but what was changing on the inside. This version, Jane is living in her same house with her little brother Milo, with her same friends...and yet...everything changes anyway. Her friendship with her BFF Kayla changes a lot. How she figures out who she is as she's changing and how to deal with peer pressure is what this play is all about.

Is there anything you would want kids to know before they see the show?

KAREN: This show is about boys too. There is a really fun little brother Milo who is really important. His adventures are very exciting.

DEBORAH: This show makes me want to learn how to skateboard...(with a helmet, of course).

What do you hope kids take away from this show?

DEBORAH: That growing up is a scary but totally fun process that doesn't end when you are "grown up."

What keeps you coming back to writing musicals for young audiences?

KAREN: Young audiences are the most sophisticated, fun, demanding theater audience. And we like writing for the best.

DEBORAH: They say that teachers learn a lot from their students, and I know I learn tons about the world when looking at it from a young person's perspective. Young people focus on the future, not the past, and that is awesome!

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