Wednesday, November 9, 2011

5 Quesions with Joan Cushing

Our FORUM series this year features three plays which are appropriate for the entire family. Joan Cushing's LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY kicks it off.

You can catch the reading of this play at The Growing Stage in Netcong, NJ, at 7:00pm on Thursday, December 1 or at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Dreyfuss Theatre in Madison, NJ at 7:00pm on Friday, December 2.

Joan Cushing is best known for writing and performing political satire in Wash, DC, more recently Cushing is adapting children's books as musicals, receiving over 350 productions. Works include Miss Nelson Is Missing! (winner, Nat’l Children’s Theatre Festival), Field Day, Junie B. Jones, Petite Rouge (NY Musical Theatre Festival), George and Martha, all commissioned by Imagination Stage, and Diary of a Worm, A Spider & a Fly, commissioned by Oregon Children’s Theatre. Others: The Christmas Doll, Nat’l Youth Theatre Award for Outstanding New Musical, Tussaud, based on Madame Tussaud’s bloody pursuit of art, and Breast In Show, a brand new musical about breast cancer. Representation by The Susan Gurman Agency. See

1. What inspired you to write Lizzie Bright And The Buckminster Boy?
The book had a really interesting title, it had won several prizes, and the synopsis was intriguing, including the fact that it was based on a true event. At the time, I was adapting “hot” children’s books as musicals for young kids. I was also raising a son and we listened to tons of audio books in the car. The books for young adults were the ones that grabbed us the most. After reading this book, I couldn’t get the story out of my head. At first, I didn’t see the book as a candidate for the musical stage. How would I capture the gorgeous descriptive language? And the main characters didn’t seem to me like characters who would sing. But over several months, I decided to try my hand at adapting it as a play.

2. What is your process for adapting children’s books as musicals?
In the early days, we worked by the seat of our pants. I just wrote the show, with some help from the theatre, in terms of plot synopsis, character development, the journey of the characters, cast size, and what we wanted to accomplish. Now I am commissioned two years out, and we always do a 4 to 5 day workshop a year in advance. That way we can work out the problems and make every line work. I develop most of my scripts with Imagination Stage. Janet Stanford (art. dir/playwright) and Kate Bryer (assoc. prod. dir.) are masters of development.

3. You have written and performed political satire in Washington, DC,do you prefer one over the other?
I never meant to stop writing satire, but my director (of 13 years) died and I was commissioned by Imagination Stage to write my first children’s musical, based on a popular children’s book, Miss Nelson Is Missing. To my great surprise, it was a huge hit. Then I adapted Junie B. Jones, which was an even bigger hit. Since then I have had nonstop commissons to write new musicals, but mostly for young kids. I keep meaning to get back to the satire, and occasionally perform, but mostly political roasts.

4. Tell us a little about your new musical about breast cancer?
A local woman interviewed 200 hundred breast cancer survivors and asked a playwright to write a script from the material, and me to write music and lyrics. Several months into the project, my husband Paul was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I dropped everything to take care him. The producer put off the project for a year to keep me on board, and after my husband died – 4 months later – I had something to say. I brought in Kate Bryer from Imagination Stage to direct and dramaturg. We mounted an initial production with sets, costumes, and orchestra for 2 nights. It got an overwhelming response, and requests for productions are multiplying. It was very healing for me, as I was able to take my husband’s death and turn it into something positive which will touch a lot of people.

5. Do you prefer coffee, tea or soda for your caffeine fix?
I go to Starbucks every day and order a tall skim no water chai. No coffee for me.

Click here to purchase a ticket to see LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY at The Growing Stage.
Click here to purchase a ticket to see LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY at FDU.
You can also find additional information on our website about the entire FORUM reading series.

$10 per reading
$25 for a FORUM pass (attend all 23 readings in the series)
Children attend free (with a paying adult) to the December 2 reading at Fairleigh Dickinson
LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY is appropriate for the entire family.

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