BWW Interview: Jacob Tischler and Justin Petersen Talk GRINDR: THE MUSICAL
When it comes to social dating apps, Grindr is one of the most ubiquitous. While not the first, it definitely shook up the world of digital dating, and has earned several different reputations for itself. Naturally, it is ripe for being the basis of a musical. This summer, audiences will no longer have to imagine what one would be like because GRINDR: THE MUSICAL is set to premiere at the 2014 West Village Musical Theatre Festival. Recently, I chatted with music, book, and lyrics writer Jacob Tischler and social media co-head Justin Petersen about their exciting, upcoming project.
What was the inspiration for GRINDR: THE MUSICAL?
Jacob Tischler: The inspiration for GRINDR: THE MUSICAL comes from my friend. Basically, he has been using the application since its inception and has come across this entire culture that has been cultivated by this application. That's grounds for any sort of theatrical piece, and what we decided to focus on specifically with this theatrical piece was the theme of addiction and kind of falling into that world. Once you get exposed to it, how does one become kind of encased by that world?
Why did you decide to tell this story as a musical?
Jacob Tischler: [Laughs] I guess my best answer is that there are some things that just deserve to be told in a specific way. The content of this particular piece is actually kind of dark, since we are dealing with the theme of addiction, so our goal with putting it in the musical format is to kind of offer that ironic buffer between harsh reality and an enjoyable theatrical experience.
Also, for anyone who uses Grindr, they know it's an incredibly specific world with incredibly specific rules that govern every single person's interactions on there. So, it was very important for us, as a creative team, to find a relatable element that can span the gap between the "Grindr demographic" and the rest of the people who might want to join us but are not currently using Grindr. So, there's kind of a double function for presenting this as a musical. We are providing a way for every single member of the audience to relate this musical, and we're also presenting dark themed material in a lighter tone.
What was the composition process like for GRINDR: THE MUSICAL?
Jacob Tischler: For me, it was trying to find the best way to communicate this story of addiction as efficiently and in as little time as possible. This is the first opportunity we've been given to create this musical. And, given the opportunity to actually create a product, we had to start devising music. We were accepted in to the West Village Musical Theatre Festival, which is in its fourth year.
I am part of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop, where composers and lyricists are finding and cultivating contemporary style. My personal stylings, they do not lend themselves towards pop music at all, and I don't think, for my money, that pop music would have influenced the storytelling as effectively as the style and genre we are using now, which is contemporary Broadway stylings that honor the roots of the oldies. It honors the Rodgers and Hammersteins, the Sondheims, and the Adam Guettels who are kind of of that world still.
Justin Petersen: On the most basic level ever, the songs are just simply fun to listen to, and they are very, very, very catchy. Maybe it's not appropriate for me to use this word, but I think they are very jazzy. The harmonies are very taut and, I would say, complicated. They build very nicely, and they are very intriguing to listen to, musically. They get stuck in your head, but they're not simple songs.
Jacob Tischler: That was definitely a goal of mine. When we're addressing something with this much gravity behind it, we need to address it on a complex level. So, I wanted to bring complexity to my musical styling as well. It is very easy to do a parody of Grindr and make things very surface level and have farce packed into this, but we definitely did not want to address it as just "this is a silly thing." We want to address it as "this is a thing that people are heavily invested in and that people are really deeply affected by." So, that's going to be reflected in the composition as well. There is a lot of, as Justin was saying, jazz influence, a lot of heavy duty vocal arrangements for the characters, and maybe, if we play our cards right, people getting the songs stuck in their heads will act as a nice little metaphor for how people interact with the application.
The plot centers around Jesse, who is using Grindr to discover his true self. In our digital age, how important do you think Grindr and similar apps are to coming out process?
Justin Petersen: As someone who is younger and grew up with these apps, iPhones, and as a gay man, for me, it was a very important part of coming out. In high school, a lot of people are not ready to be vocal about it. Even in the GLEE culture where it is very popular to be gay, it is still difficult to find people who are willing to be open and out to each other. For me and for a lot of other people in the high school and college age range, we use Grindr to find other people in the area. Very early on, it's not about so much about sex or finding the right relationship at all. It's about finding friends, and legitimately finding friends and people to share experiences with. I know, for me, Grindr was a first step in that process. It was very beneficial and influential for me. I've had almost only positive experiences with Grindr, surprisingly, even though it has all these more addictive aspects too.
You're in rehearsals now. What has been the most rewarding part of this process up this point?
Justin Petersen: I think the sense of play that's been in the room has been really exhilarating. That sounds so cliché. I'm a student right now, so I've been working with a lot of different people at a lot of different times and jumping around everywhere, but being in room with a director and actors who are actually working as collaborators just to find what feels best, what's most impactful, and what's the most fun for the audience really is great to watch. Everyone is always smiling. Everyone is very supportive. It's a happy environment, and everyone wants to be there. Then, it's a fun project and material.
Jacob Tischler: I let Justin speak first because the way that we found Justin is actually very roundabout. He contacted us through Twitter, asking if he could join us, help out, and he has proved his worth ten times over since he has been there. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this project, for me, is watching him come onto this project with absolutely no idea of what its potential is and who's behind it. He came into completely blind to everything beforehand besides a conversation he had with me. Watching his enthusiasm grow on the very first day of rehearsal when we were practicing music was a huge, momentous occasion for me.
For everyone, this is a learning process, right now. My role in the room as composer and lyricist is consistently shifting. With our choreography we are consistently learning what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. We are walking a really nice line, and I think the thing we have to look forward to, that I'm currently enjoying, is the shaping of what the flavor of the musical is actually going to be. Finding that complex nature, finding that balance, and refining it until we find the true voice of this show has been a remarkable challenge and it is definitely rewarding once those moments come through in the rehearsal room.
Grindr is known as a gay hook-up app, but what other audiences do you expect will be interested in GRINDR: THE MUSICAL?
Justin Petersen: I've actually been namedropping GRINDR: THE MUSICAL around to a lot of different friend circles, professionally and just socially, and I'm finding that a lot of younger women in musical theatre and particularly people that are theatre period are more than interested in it. Grindr just has such a large name. It's not just for people who are in the gay hook up scene. I think any young people that are in theatre seem to have an attachment to it and have been excited to see it.
Jacob Tischler: Additionally, going back to one of your earlier questions about how Grindr helps in the coming out process, Grindr is incredibly exclusive simply by the nature of what its function is. A lot of people have heard of it, but not everybody can actually use it. We're kind of using that to our advantage. We are offering a glimpse, hopefully an entertaining and theatrical glimpse, into what that world actually looks like.
That's awesome. I recently saw the movie Neighbors. It's mentioned in there, and that surprised me. A character says that he is using it and that eventually he'll find a chick on it. I never realized that Grindr had become such a part of the mainstream consciousness.
Jacob Tischler: Yeah. Well, Tinder and Grindr were not at the birth of the dating app, but, right now, for some reason, they have really taken hold. Grindr is becoming a multi-billion dollar industry, I think, right now. Tinder is finding ways to maximize on its monetary output. It's finding ways to actually create revenue for itself. I think that's actually where the future in this lies. It's the easiest way to connect with people. It's the easiest way to obtain what you want with as little effort as possible.
What do you hope audiences take away from GRINDR: THE MUSICAL?
Jacob Tischler: I'm on Tinder, and if I were seeing this for the first time, I would want to be reminded that I'm in charge and not the application. I think that this definitely puts a good spin on whose actually controlling who, the application or the user. That's what I would like. I would like to be satisfied by the music, obviously, because [Laughs] that's important to me. I also definitely want to reflect on where my energy's going in terms of meeting people and in terms of how I indulge myself.
Justin Petersen: It is a very select group of people that use the app, but there are a lot of people that are interested in it. I think, we also, to some extent, want to objectively look at the pros and cons of Grindr. I think, from what we have so far, that the show does a good job giving it the benefit of the doubt. It has had a lot of negative stereotypes applied to it.
Jacob Tischler: A lot of negative headlines recently.
Justin Petersen: Yeah.
Jacob Tischler: We've had rapings, killings, and it's being banned from the UK Parliament. This has all been in the last two months. So our goal, which is exactly what Justin said, is to present an objective look at this application in hopes that we can dig deeper into what this presence actually is. It definitely can be used for good, as Justin told us already. It definitely can, in the wrong hands, be very, very destructive. So, we're very interested in finding how people walk that line.
What plans do you have for GRINDR: THE MUSICAL after its 2014 West Village Musical Theatre Festival run?
Jacob Tischler: After the 2014 West Village Musical Theater Festival run our hopes are to improve it and expand it into a full-length musical. It's going to be very interesting gauging people's reactions. I think that this is going to be a very clear indicator of where the production should go.
The really lovely thing about this production right now is that there's a ton of positive responses as soon as we say, "Oh, we're creating GRINDR: THE MUSICAL." Everyone goes, "Oh my God, I want to see that." That alone is indicator enough that we should do this. It's just a matter of finding where the appropriate place to do that would be.
The West Village Musical Theatre Festival is quite literally the perfect place to use as a testing ground for this very early endeavor. We'll have a bunch of real audience members as well as a large mix of families and friends who will be supporting us. We'll be able to get a ton of feedback. We'll be able to get a little bit of press time. Industry people are going to be there. We'll be collaborating alongside multiple up and coming theatre artists, members of the BMI workshop, and independent musical theatre composers and writers. Basically, what we're going to do is just receive a lot of opinions on the piece, we'll gauge reactions based on the performances themselves, and we'll see where we have to go from there. But, I definitely believe that this project has a future.
Before we start wrapping things up, tell me a little bit about the pedigree of the team behind GRINDR: THE MUSICAL.
Jacob Tischler: Our director Benjamin Viertel is a directing major from Carnegie Mellon University and graduated in 2013. In fact, the three creative heads on this piece are all Carnegie Mellon graduates who are currently roommates in New York City. Bryce Cutler, our scenic designer, is a set design major and media specialist, and he graduated in 2013. I am an acting major from Carangie Mellon and graduated in 2013.
Justin Petersen is at NYU and graduating in 2017. We've got a youngster onboard, and he's done some incredible work on our social campaign. Our Music Director is David Carl, who's also a member of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. Our choreographer is Rachael Singer, who graduated from Florida State University. Also, the cast is all non-Carnegie Mellon people, which we are frankly thrilled about. It's really nice to work with people outside of our institution and get some new brains in on this developmental process.
This in indulgent, but I think it should be fair to mention that we participated in the West Village Musical Theatre Festival two years ago with a show called SECONDHAND SHAKESPEARE. It had the same creative team. Bryce was our set designer. I was the composer, lyricist, and book writer. Ben was the director. SECONDHAND SHAKESPEARE took home three awards for Best Lyrics, Best Script, and Best Director that year. We are very excited to be returning to the West Village Musical Theatre Festival, especially at The Player's Theatre, which is where my first original musical, INEXPERIENCED LOVE, premiered during the New York City Fringe Festival in 2012. That also had the same creative team on board.
Lastly, this is the first endeavor for the newly formed theatre company The Fantasy Factory, which is producing innovative theater in the contemporary age.
What advice do you offer to others hoping to get their own shows mounted on stage?
Jacob Tischler: The advice that I have to offer to others is that being a millennial right now sucks, and you have no time to do anything. The only way that you have time to do anything is if you are being paid. We are not being paid at all [Laughs] for this experience. The only reason why I'm mentioning this is because, even if it seems like a ridiculous amount of work in addition to your already hectic workload, the only way to do something is to actually do it. That doesn't sound like an impressive bit of advice. It's not going to change the world at all, but the amount of courage that it takes to actually do one of these things and to actually put yourself out there is a lot. If you can actually put yourself in the right position to do something like this, the experience will be rewarding no matter what. Even if it is the worst experience possible, you will still obtain so much information about your function in the theatrical world and your role as an artist. Basically, just shut up and do it. That's my advice. [Laughs]
GRINDR: THE MUSICAL plays The Player's Theater, 115 Macdougal Street, New York City, 10012 during The West Village Musical Theater Festival on June 19 at 7:00 p.m., June 22 at 2:00 p.m., June 27 at 8:00 p.m., and June 28 at 6:00 p.m. For more information, please visit http://www.grindrmusical.com, and be sure to follow GRINDR: THE MUSICAL on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Photos courtesy of GRINDR: THE MUSICAL.
The cast of GRINDR: THE MUSICAL in rehearsal.
The cast of GRINDR: THE MUSICAL in rehearsal.
L to R: Taylor Shubert, Brandon Timmons & Cody C. Goodrich.
L to R: Brandon Grimes & Iñaki Agustín.
L to R: Taylor Shubert & Cody C. Goodrich.