Lunch With Stephen Schwartz

...In Which Sara and Zach Almost Pass Out

Sara Cooper, guest blogger Composers & the Voice librettist, 2011-12


In an apparent attempt to make us the happiest composers and librettists on earth, AOP has paired all of us with a mentor for our Composers & the Voice fellowship.  Zach and I were paired with Stephen Schwartz, and, on Wednesday this very 5th of October, we (along with Steve and Charles) were lucky enough to have lunch with him.

Now, I should probably mention that Zach and I come from a musical theatre background.  We also, oddly, both have Important Early Performing Arts Memories of Pippin, one of Stephen Schwartz's early shows (and one of my all-time favorite pieces of theater).   Pippin was Zach's first experience playing in a pit band.  And, for me, Pippin was an obsession that lasted for years and which reached its first furtive climax when, at the age of 10, I got into a concert for free at which Ben Vereen (the original Leading Player) KISSED ME ON THE FOREHEAD, forever solidifying my then only vague notion of pursing a life in the performing arts.

But I digress.

So we had lunch with Stephen Schwartz.  And it was enlightening.

Stephen gave us some invaluable advice about the relationship between lyric and music.  He told us stories from his own experience.  And he answered all the questions we could possibly come up with.  We were particularly interested in what Stephen had to say about story in opera as it relates to story in musical theater.  Since Stephen places a great deal of importance on storytelling, we were eager to hear what he had to say on the subject.  He talked at length about the differences (or, more accurately, the similarities) between opera and musical theater.  We were struck by his ability to connect the abstract ideas involved in writing to the very concrete details of his own career; this, perhaps, was the most valuable thing of all.

Steve and Charles helped to moderate the conversation, which made it not only enjoyable but also interestingly academic.  They asked some great questions that Zach and I (secretly quite starstruck) would never have come up with.  It was also very cool to see the relationship that has developed there, after having, together, put up Stephen's opera.

Stephen also spoke briefly about the very specific challenges of being a successful writer.  With Godspell and Wicked on Broadway and other large-scale productions around the world, Stephen has to find the time to actually write.  This was very inspiring to us as early-career writers; it is always challenging to balance life and work, even for Stephen Schwartz.  Anything is possible.

A truly wonderful experience.  Thanks to all.