BWW Interview: Megan Loomis of WOODY SEZ: THE LIFE & MUSIC OF WOODY GUTHRIE On Guthrie's Influence and Cherishing the Art of Storytelling
As part of their 2017 summer season, Irish Repertory Theatre, is presenting the music, life, and legacy of folk icon, Woody Guthrie in the musical, Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie. Actress and musician, Megan Loomis, has starred in this production in Guthrie's home state of Oklahoma, as well as internationally in Scotland and Vienna, and is excited to bring Guthrie's influence to New York City this summer!
BroadwayWorld had an enlightening conversation with Loomis about Guthrie's impact on American music, as well as around the world; performing Woody Sez in different cities; and cherishing the art of storytelling in this fast-paced technological age.
You've been involved with the production for quite some time - how does it feel to bring Woody Sez to NYC?
It's really wonderful to bring Woody Sez to NYC! It's been a remarkable adventure and keeps on coming! It's also surprises me how much this show affects people and how willing they are to share that with us after the show. Woody Guthrie actually spent a good amount of time in New York and I think people have a kind of ownership of him in a way, so it's wonderful to bring him home to NYC. The journey of the show is so fun because he's such a wordsmith and paints such beautiful pictures with his poetry. You could be sitting in a theater in Chelsea that's state-of-the-art and his words can take you across the country to a different decade, a different century, a different circumstance. That's the magic of theater - how you can be transported from New York to The Dust Bowl of Oklahoma to the vineyards of California - - it's so amazing to me!
Was it a similar reaction in other places you've performed like Oklahoma and Scotland?
Oklahoma felt like another kind of homecoming, so that was very interesting. It's the prairie - big open sky and flat land - which he writes about time and again. In Scotland, something about the way he writes really spoke to the people and they have a great love for their land and I think "Pastures of Plenty" always got such a big reaction because of the importance of ownership of the land. It was fascinating to see them take a song that was written about land thousands of miles away, and have it speak to them about their own land. Even though Guthrie wrote about America, "This Land Is Your Land' can really be about wherever your home is.
Music is such a unifier across the board. When we performed in Vienna, we did the show in English and there was a slight language barrier. There were times when you slowed things down a bit for translation or elongated it, but the minute where we just played music, we didn't have to slow anything down. Music is music, and people can understand it no matter what language you speak and it essentially is its own language. To me, it has been such an amazing experience to have no matter where you go on the planet.
Can you describe what it is about Guthrie that has resonated with you on your own journey?
He just has such a way with words and was such a beautiful poet. I think that he was an incredible listener and wanted to take the things that people said that affected him and make them accessible to larger audiences. To me, that's a real gift. In my own journey as an artist, you want to think your own experience is affecting someone or that they can see themselves in your experience - - it's all about connection. That's why I do what I do - to connect with other artists and audiences.
He has this incredible talent of connecting with people and spent his life translating that into poetry and music in order to effect change and teach others how to emphasize. There were a few key people who were essential in keeping his music alive - Pete Seeger continued his teachings and Mr. Leventhal was making sure the songs were being placed into songbooks. Also, you had Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. who were huge admirers of Woody's, so I think that it's amazing that his music impacted so many icons.
While we have this information superhighway in this day and age, Guthrie had to move his own body from city to city to get on the radio stations. He just kept at it and being before syndication, it took so much longer, and I am constantly amazed that he was able to do this as one man.
I read that the cast of four plays 20 different instruments in the show. Tell me about how that sound is made.
Yes! I'll rattle off a bunch. Each of us have a guitar, and I also play the fiddle, the mandolin, and the Appalachian Dulcimer. We also have a bass, an autoharp, a banjo, a viola, a bunch of harmonicas, another fiddle, and a few others- if we got to bring the kitchen sink on stage, we'd play it!
The acoustics in the newly renovated theater are so speculator - we're not amplified at all. It's so fun to work on controlling it yourself -- it feels a bit more organic and earthy that way.
How do you think Guthrie's music and legacy will continue to inspire current and future generations?
I love this way of storytelling, where music is so integral and we work really well as an ensemble to catch each other. I keep coming back to this project because I love it so much and it's so beautiful. It's one of those pieces that every time you do it, some of the reactions from certain songs are pretty standard, but it's amazing how that reaction can ebb and flow depending on what's going on in the news on any given day. I've been involved since 2009 and we've seen a few different elections. It's remarkable when audiences see it differently, because then I sometimes see it differently. That's a testament to Guthrie as an artist -- that he was writing this music decades ago and that it is still extremely meaningful and moving today. It may mean something different now - but it still speaks to different situations going on in the world and that's such a great piece of art!
Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie has been extended until August 20th on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage at Irish Repertory Theatre For tickets and more information, visit: https://irishrep.org
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg