DGF Fellows Spotlight: an interview with Christiana Cole

(Via the Dramatists Guild Foundation Blog – read the original post here)

By Hannah Kloepfer

2020-2021 DGF Fellow Christiana Cole.
Photo by Aaron Phillips.

Welcome to the DGF Fellows Spotlight.

This series of interviews put the spotlight on individual DGF Fellows and invites you to take a behind-the-scenes look at our program.

The class of fellows was asked a series of questions exploring where they’ve been, what they’re up to now, and what they hope for the future.

Please take your seats, unwrap your candies, and silence your cellphones as we put the spotlight on Christiana Cole!

What was your first experience with theater?

I was a shy, anxious kid, and although I felt deep emotions, I struggled to express them. I felt misunderstood by my peers, and had trouble making friends. I felt very lost.

But then, something happened.

When I was 9 years old, I saw the national tour of CATS in my hometown of Austin, Texas. As Grizabella belted out “Memory,” a new sensation flooded my body: I was emotionally connected to the people around me. I was crying, which normally would have embarrassed me, but when I looked up, I saw that my parents were crying too. The whole audience was just as enrapt and sympathetic to the downtrodden glamour cat as I was. Suddenly, my emotions were not silly, or “too much” – they had a home, and that home was the stage. It was the best thing I had ever seen or felt. At that moment, I dedicated my life to musical theater.

In the days that followed, I obsessively re-enacted CATS at home, throwing couch cushions around to make the junkyard, wrapping a green quilt around my shoulders to be Grizabella one moment, and attempting spasmatic gymnastics as Mistoffeles the next. I began collecting cast albums and renting every possible movie musical from Blockbuster (except “Damn Yankees,” because it had a swear in the title, and I was a scrupulous Catholic child).

When did you decide to become a writer? Is there a writer, show, or piece of writing that was particularly influential on your path?

My senior year of high school, I had to decide whether I would major in creative writing or music. On the one hand, I was a compulsive journaler and poet, the comedy editor of my high school newspaper, and all-around English nerd. But, I was also a talented singer. I was first chair soprano in All State Choir both my junior and senior year (huge deal in Texas), plus I had been the ingenue in a dozen local kids theatre shows. In the end, I chose to study opera, because singing is essentially a sport: you must train your animal at a young age if you want to be competitive on a world-class level. I remember thinking, “Well, I’ll always write, but if I don’t get musical training now I’ll always regret it.”

I moved to New York to study opera at the Manhattan School of Music, where I got the best musical education money can buy. Although I preferred singing musical theater (I had only seen one opera before making the decision to major in it, and I fell asleep), I never considered majoring in musical theater. I knew that I wanted the most hard-core musical education I could get. I loved learning about the origins of music-drama, and finally wrapping my brain around music theory. I didn’t fit in very well with the singers, but I did fit in the with the composers, who became my best friends. I sang the hardest, weirdest new music I could get my chords on. I also began writing my own music and featured original works on both my junior and senior recitals. The composition faculty was very welcoming of me, a non-major, and allowed me to audit many composition classes. I also managed to audit a creative writing workshop at Columbia University, across the street. I am still so grateful for the years I spent at MSM, because they let me do my own thing and chase every angle of musicianship and creation.

After graduation I decided against pursuing an opera career because frankly, it was too expensive. (In classical singing, you pay to audition, and often work for free or near-nothing for many years.) I realized that unlike operaland, which operates as a museum/country club, Broadway was a real commercial business, so I began auditioning for musicals.

I attended a free seminar at the old Reproductions photo lab, where a nice lady named Judy talked to us about how to get an agent. But the thing that hit me hard was this flow chart. Judy put everything into perspective: at the top of the white board, she wrote the word “Producer,” the apex of the Broadway food chain. Below that, she wrote “Director,” then “Music Director,” “Assistant Director,” “Stage Manager,” so on and so on, until she got to “Junior Assistant Janitor.” She wrote “Actor” below that.

Then, she flew that magic little marker all the way up to the top of the pyramid. And at the tippy-top, above “Producer,” she wrote “WRITER.”

“Without the writer, no one else on this list has a job,” she said, poking the board for emphasis. “The writer is always the number one voice in the room.”

My student-loan-riddled, control-freak ass was sold at that point, although it would take years to accept it, because I was attached to the notion of being a singer.

But as time went on, I wrote more and more, and it became clearer and clearer that writing was a deeper, more intimate art form for me. I didn’t want to be a replaceable person, trying to do something interesting with “If I Loved You.” I wanted to bring something completely new into the world. I wanted to create entire universes for all those people on the flow chart to be a part of. I didn’t want to play Grizabella, I wanted to explode with a thousand Grizabellas, who could sing on and on long after I’m gone.

How do you describe your work overall? What sets your work apart?

My writing is weird, cute, unpredictable, colorful, wildly funny and deadly serious, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In the years leading up to now, I’ve written a musical about hamsters. I’ve written a musical about magic underwear. I’ve written a musical about a drag queen who fights Nazis. I like to write about things that only make sense on the stage. I like to write roles that actors feel excited to tackle because they’re unlike anything they’ve done before. I like to write melodies that feel cathartic to sing.

I am an autistic person (mildly impacted, I mask very well, I’m reasonably good at parties). I am also a non-binary person. I have felt my whole life that my brain is simply different from other people’s. For a long time, I felt ashamed and tried to blend in. But now, I’m proud of who I am. My unusual brain is the reason I write unusual things.

Looking ahead at the major works I have planned, one theme jumps out again and again: religion. I have spent decades of my life working as a professional church musician. Before attending MSM, I went to a small Christian college in Texas for two years where I test-drove evangelical Christianity, and otherwise I was an enthusiastic Catholic. But faith has a way of cracking when you put weight on it.

Some people like to write about romantic love, or certain time periods. But I am obsessed with writing about faith and magical thinking, and reframing stories we think we know to reveal the shocking truth beneath them. I have occasionally thought about changing my name to something more gender-neutral, but “Christiana” is so apt, given that a lot of my writing is somehow a reflection (or rebuttal) of Christianity.

In the years to come, I look forward to sharing my work with America and the world, because I think musical theater has thus far failed to examine religion in a large-scale, candid way. It usually gets an ecumenical, pro-delusion pass. But I think we’re ready for something more provocative now.

Can you tell us a little bit about the work you’ve been developing as a Fellow?

TRIBE WITHOUT A GOD is a new original musical comedy. It’s about a tribe of Neolithic people who are hit by a big flood, and almost all of them die in the river. That’s a problem! But it’s an even bigger problem…because they worshiped the River God. We follow runaway human sacrifice Silverlight as she falls in love with TomTom, an existential ex-River Priest struggling to lead a straggling band of survivors. Will the tribe keep worshiping the River God? Or is there a bigger, better god just around the corner, waiting to be worshiped? At its very core, TRIBE WITHOUT A GOD explores who and what gets sacrificed in a world where god and government are impossibly tangled.

The music is a cross between Radiohead, Joni Mitchell and Stephen Schwartz, and the tone is like The Simpsons. The entire cast will be wearing knit bodysuits that allow their characters to be naked onstage (without requiring nudity from actors). There are roles for all kinds of actors who are normally not centered: Black trans women, Asian men, short dudes who are baritones, fat people, etc. Basically, a show that isn’t a love story between two white straight people with long legs. Sondheim says he goes to the theater to meet people he hasn’t met before, and I take that charge very seriously in my writing.

What do you find most rewarding about your work as a writer?

I find writing rewarding because if I didn’t write down all the things in my head, I would explode.

In all sincerity, there is nothing more thrilling than watching my words come to life with actors. I love making edits, I love rewriting, I love tweaking and finessing and fixing. I love it when a scene is perfect, when it has that SHWING! sparkle, with each line fitting perfectly in the chain, one pearl after another. My dad is a retired TV director for the local news, and my mom is a TV producer-turned-realtor. Between the two of them, they taught me about dramatic pacing, about how language should flow, how a show should be thrilling, how it’s not enough for something to be nice, it needs to be gripping. I live for those moments, both as a writer and an audience member.

Originally posted on the DGF Blog, January 25, 2021

“THE CHARM” by Shenton & Cole available for license by MTI

via Broadway world, Playbill, and more:

Theatrical licensor Music Theatre International (MTI) announced an agreement with Theatre Now New York, an artist service organization dedicated to the development of new works, to represent and license 25 short musicals from its collection beginning in early 2021. Included in the collection is “The Charm” by Christiana Cole (book/lyrics) and David Shenton (music.)

The 25 musicals that will join the MTI catalog all began as part of Theatre Now’s annual SOUND BITES Festival of 10-Minute Musicals. Now in its seventh year, the Festival showcases eight new musicals by up-and-coming musical theatre writing teams. The licensable versions of the shows will all be around 10-20 minutes in length and will be available for streaming and remote performances. The list of the 10-minute musicals includes:

  • A MOST AVERAGE MUSICAL Book & Lyrics by Jonathan Keebler, Music by Bob Kelly, Based on a Screenplay by Talia Berger
  • A RELATIVE RELATIONSHIP Book, Music, & Lyrics by Timothy Huang
  • ANT AND GRASSHOPPER Book & Lyrics by A.J. Freeman, Music by Dimitri Landrain
  • BITTERSWEET LULLABY Book by Will Lacker, Music & Lyrics by Dylan Glatthorn
  • BOOK LOVERS Book & Lyrics by Talaura Harms, Music by Jonathan Bauerfeld
  • BYSTANDER Book & Lyrics by Ed Levy, Music by Eric Grunin
  • COOKIE SOIREE Book & Lyrics by Justin Anthony Long, Music by Ge Enrique, Concept by Jonny Lee Jr.
  • COOKING FOR TWO Book & Lyrics by Charlie O’Leary, Music by Karl Hinze
  • DEAD FLOWERS Book, Music, & Lyrics by Michael Finke
  • DINOSAUR Book, Music, & Lyrics by Zach Spound
  • END OF THE LINE Book by Howard Ho, Lyrics by Chris Edgar, Music by Kristen Rea
  • FINDING THE WORDS Book & Lyrics by Andy Roninson and Chris Critelli, Music by Andy Roninson
  • FRANKLIN PIERCE: DRAGON SLAYER Book & Lyrics by Preston Max Allen, Music by Will Buck
  • ON YOUR MARK! Book & Lyrics by Danny K. Bernstein, Music by Aaron Kenny
  • PELLETS, CHERRIES, AND LIES: THE PAC MAN STORY Book, Music, & Lyrics by Erik Przytulski
  • RUN THIS TOWN Book & Lyrics by Cindy Sideris, Music by Assaf Gleizner
  • SUPERHOTS! Book & Lyrics by Blair Bodine, Book & Music by Joel Esher
  • THE ALMOST IN-LAWS Book & Lyrics by Greg Edwards, Music by Andy Roninson
  • THE ANSWERING MACHINE Book & Lyrics by Kevin Hammonds, Music by Andy Roninson
  • THE CHARM Book & Lyrics by Christiana Cole, Music by David Shenton
  • THE FACEBOOK FIGHTER Book, Music, & Lyrics by Chris Kerrigan
  • THE HIPSTER SISTER Book, Music, & Lyrics by Andy Roninson
  • THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS Book, Music, & Lyrics by Chris Kerrigan
  • WELCOME TO RIDGINGTON Book & Lyrics by Jordan Silver, Music by Luke Steinhauer
  • WHAT’S YOUR WISH? Book, Music, & Lyrics by Thicket & Thistle

MTI’s President and CEO, Drew Cohen said, “We are very excited to partner with our friends at Theatre Now to license their collection of 10-minute musicals, all of which premiered at the SOUND BITES Festival. These new works allow us the opportunity to highlight burgeoning writers, particularly at a time when their shows’ abbreviated running times and ability to be performed remotely are perfect for the age of social-distancing and beyond.”

Read more here.

Click here to get a copy of the Anthology here for $25.

Christiana Cole is a Dramatists Guild Fellow 2020-2021

Via Broadway World:

Dramatists Guild Foundation (DGF) has announced the 2020-2021 class of Fellows. The 20-year-old program propels the most promising creative talents to their full potential to help shape the future of theater. This season’s class includes six musical theater writers and four playwrights, who were selected from more than 500 applicants.

The Fellows program is a selective, year-long intensive for playwrights, composers, lyricists, and bookwriters. The program provides these writers access to accomplished professionals who help them hone their process and find their unique voice.

The 2020-2021 DGF Fellows are:

Calley N. Anderson, Playwriting
Aya Aziz, Musical Theater
Christiana Cole, Musical Theater
David Gomez, Musical Theater
John-Michael Lyles, Musical Theater
Dylan MarcAurele, Musical Theater
Eliana Pipes, Playwriting
Juan Ramirez, Jr., Playwriting
Mike Ross, Musical Theater
Regina Valázquez, Playwriting

The Fellows program, currently Chaired by Migdalia Cruz (Fur), Michael Korie (Grey Gardens), Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde), and Lucy Thurber (The Hill Town Plays), is highly sought after for its uniquely successful format of partnering playwrights and musical theater writers together in the learning process.

Dramatists selected for the program meet with Program Chairs, guest artists, and industry professionals twice a month for feedback on their works in progress. In addition, Fellows receive a stipend and the opportunity to partner with several arts organizations for Fellows-specific development opportunities. At the end of the season, Fellows have the opportunity to present their new work for theater industry professionals and esteemed writers, along with their family and friends.

Former Fellows include Michael R. Jackson (Pulitzer Prize Winner, A Strange Loop), Antoinette Nwandu (Pass Over), Lauren Yee (Cambodian Rock Band), Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Academy Award winner, Frozen), Rajiv Joseph (Pulitzer Prize finalist, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo), and Benj Pasek & Justin Paul (Tony winners for Best Score, Dear Evan Hansen).

DGF Fellows is supported through the generosity of the Seller-Lehrer Family Foundation.

Christiana will be developing their original musical comedy Tribe Without a God in the program. You can hear excerpts from the show on the Watch and Listen page.

For more information on the DGF Fellows program, visit https://dgf.org/programs/fellows/.

What has Christiana been up to in quarantine?

K and C oh

Christiana Cole (right) and Lauren Kleinbaum (left) have been busy writing their original musical comedy Puritan/Lesbian/Witch. The song “Neighborly” (sung by time-traveling Puritan girl, Mary May Obedience Higginbottom Brown) premiered on the McGuire & Simon Virtual Salon on May 21st. You can learn more about the show at kleinbaumandcole.com.

Christiana has been busy recording demos from their home studio, including all the treble vocals for a new opera by legendary composer Philip Glass.

Christiana’s short musical “The Charm” (with composer David Shenton) is being published by Theater Now New York.

Christiana continues teaching voice lessons and writing coaching over Zoom.

Christiana continues to stand with their Black friends in solidarity, and always welcomes feedback on how they can be a better friend, artist, and teacher. Black Lives Matter.

 

Christiana Cole sings with Joanna Gleason at Renberg Theatre in Los Angeles

joanna_gleason

From BroadwayWorld:

The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center will present Tony Award-winner Joanna Gleason in the West Coast premiere of her acclaimed solo show Out of the Eclipse for two shows only on February 15 and 16, 2020. Gleason wrote Out of the Eclipse after a dark period in her life – the loss of both parents within a four-month period in 2017. As she emerged from the darkness and back into the light, the idea for this show came to fruition. Although inspired by loss, it’s an evening as funny, charming, and playful as it is revealing.

In a deeply funny and moving musical journey through life’s mysteries, Gleason digs into life as a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, and Tony Award-winning actress. Said Gleason, “This is a story, a personal memoir … not a memorial and not a traditional cabaret show. It’s a theatre piece – I’m talking directly to the audience, talking about what I went through, what my parents went through, and how the stories they told took on new meaning.”

For these performances, Gleason will be accompanied by the Moontones, a group of three exceptional singers (Michael Protacio, Christine Cornell, and Christiana Cole), and musicians Jeffrey Klitz on piano, Katherine Spingarn on cello, Justin Rothberg on a variety of stringed instruments, and Shane Del Robles on percussion.
Joanna Gleason has appeared in 15 Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-off Broadway shows. She won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. She has three Drama Desk Awards, along with two Outer Critics’ Circle Award nominations and wins. She received Tony Award nominations for her performances in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Joe Egg. Off-Broadway shows include The Normal Heart (Public Theater), Sons of the Prophet (Roundabout), and It’s Only a Play and Eleemosynary (Manhattan Theatre Club). Film work includes Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors and Hannah and Her Sisters, Boogie Nights, Last Vegas, and The Skeleton Twins. Television appearances include The Affair, The West Wing, The Newsroom, Friends, Bette, Murphy Brown, and Love and War, among many others. For more, visit www.joannagleason.com.

Curtain time is 8pm on Saturday, February 15, and 7pm on Sunday February 16. General admission tickets are $35 and may be purchased online at www.lalgbtcenter.org/theatreor by calling (323) 860-7300. Net proceeds from all ticket sales will support the full range of free and low-cost programs and services offered by the Los Angeles LGBT Center. The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Renberg Theatre is located at 1125 N. McCadden Place (one block east of Highland, just north of Santa Monica Boulevard), in Hollywood, 90038.

Christiana Cole sings “Let it Go” and “Into the Unknown” with special guests Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez, songwriters of Frozen & Frozen 2

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christiana-cole-226-WEBChristiana Cole joins the songwriters of mega-hits Frozen & Frozen 2, Kristen Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez, for an intimate evening of song and storytelling on Friday December 13. Christiana will be Elsa for the evening, singing “Let it Go” (Frozen) and “Into the Unknown” (Frozen 2). Seating is limited for the special event, so get tickets now!

Friday Dec. 13 at 7pm
The Church of the Holy Apostles
612 Greenwood Avenue

Tickets are $60 and available at www.holyapostlesbrooklyn.com.

 

Christiana Cole stars in AN ENCHANTED APRIL Off-Broadway

enchanted april posterChristiana Cole stars as Rose Arbuthnot in AN ENCHANTED APRIL, Off-Broadway at Theatre Row starting November 1, 2019.

An exciting new musical based on the classic book – An Enchanted April casts its spell as four women escape their lives only to find themselves.

London…a particularly dreary February in 1922. Four world-weary women, desperate to escape their memories of WWI and the repression of London, dare to rent a villa in Italy for a month. Miraculously, in just one short Enchanted April, the lives and hearts of these women are transformed by wisteria, sunshine, a small medieval castle…and each other.

Enchanted April is by Elizabeth Hansen and C. Michael Perry, with direction by Alice Jankell.

Click here for tickets.

Christiana Cole sings on the soundtrack of The Farewell

the farewell

Christiana Cole sings on the soundtrack of The Farewell, starring actor and rapper Awkwafina. Alex Weston composed the music for the soundtrack. Christiana can be heard on the songs “Come Healing,” “Hotel Best,” and “Family.”

The Farewell is a 2019 American biographical comedy-drama film written and directed by Lulu Wang. It stars Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, and Jiang Yongbo and follows a family who, upon learning their grandmother in China has only a short while left to live, decide not to tell her and schedule a family gathering before she passes.

The film was screened in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was theatrically released in the United States on July 12, 2019, by A24.

The full soundtrack, including the tracks featuring Christiana, can be streamed on Spotify here.

Christiana Cole narrates In Dreams: Debussy and Fiday at the Arete Gallery in Brooklyn

In dreams poster
Sunday, June 16, 8pm: Christiana Cole joins flutist Alice Jones and pianist Derin Oge at the Arete Gallery for an evening of chamber music.

In Dreams dives into the hope and discomfort of the subconscious. Christiana narrates 12 sensual poems (originally attributed to Sappho) in Claude Debussy’s “Bilitis.” Michael Fiday‘s “Nine Haiku” (2007) sets works by 8th century poet Basho with flashes of powerful images, dreams that come into focus for only a moment before they vanish. The program also features Houtaf Khoury‘s “Apres un reve” (2008), a modern nightmare reacting to the terror of relentless war in the Middle East: a dream of hope amidst the fatigue of fear. Hasan Ucarsu‘s “…the city of anachronistic nostalgia, Istanbul…” (2003) celebrates his and Derin’s hometown of Istanbul, a city rich in contradictions and layers.

In Dreams
Alice Jones, flute
Derin Oge, piano
Christiana Cole, narrator

At the Arete Gallery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn
67 West Street #103, Brooklyn, NY
Sunday June 16, 8pm
$15 entry at the door

Directions: G train to Greenpoint Ave  or B46, B62, B43, B24

Areté is located in the rear of the building, through the main lobby and into the outdoor courtyard.

Christiana Cole sings on the BMI Showcase April 1

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Christiana Cole sings the work of up-and-coming musical theatre writing teams on the BMI Showcase on April 1. Christiana will be singing three solo songs for three very different roles that she has had the pleasure of developing:

“What Even” from The Average-Sized Mermaid by Jessica Fleitman and Rick Bassett
“Every Day” from Uncivil Ones by Christian Duhamel and Ayumi Okada
“Back to My Arms” from #Mars by Laura Kleinbaum and Willem Oosthuysen 

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The Drama League-, Drama Desk- and Tony®-honored
BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop

presents

THE BMI WORKSHOP SHOWCASE

New Theatre Songs by Members of the Workshop

The BMI Workshop Showcase will feature performances of new songs written and developed by recent members of the Workshop. Admission to this showcase is FREE.

The Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater
10 W 64th St
[between Lincoln Center Plaza and Central Park West at the West Side YMCA]
New York, NY 10023

Monday, April 1 at 3 pm
Monday, April 1 at 6 pm
Running time: 75 minutes

To reserve a ticket, please RSVP. Include the following information when sending your RSVP: Preferred Show Time, Name, Affiliation, and # of Tickets.

BMIMusicalTheatre@bmi.com or Sylvia at 212 220-3177

FEATURED WRITERS

Benjamin Velez
​Christian Duhamel & Ayumi Okada
Erin Murray Quinlan
Jack Coen
Jae Broderick & Andre McRae
Jae Broderick & Dylan MarcAurele
Janine McGuire & Arri Lawton Simon
Jessica Fleitman & Rick Bassett
Laura Kleinbaum & Willem Oosthuysen
Oliver Houser
Phoebe Kreutz & Dan Israel
Sam Wessels & Marc Chan
Sami Horneff & Ben Diskant
Tia DeShazor & Andy Roninson