30 Days of NYMF Day 19: Common Grounds

A Conversation Between Common Grounds Director Igor Goldin and Bookwriter Sammy Buck

IGOR: So, Sammy, how did Common Grounds come about and how did you get involved? 

SAMMY: Good question, Igor. In May, I got an email from Kris Stewart asking me if I want to have a show in NYMF this year, I said, "Of course.  I have the all throat-singing musical version of Driving Miss Daisy."  He actually was asking if I'd like to work on a show that NYMF is commissioning. "But what about my musical of the Hilary Swank movie Boys Don't Cry But They Sure Can Sing?" "No." He explained the project as a collaboration between NYMF alums (I wrote the '04 hit "Like You Like It," which is big in Europe, Santa Barbara, CA, and my nephews' iTunes) and some choreographer alums from DanceBreak whom co-producer Melinda Atwood pulled together. I thought, "I'm a klutz. I know nothing about dance except for my white-man-overbite at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs."  Not one to back down from a challenge, I say "Let me get back to you." I do, and then submit five brilliant ideas, all of which are stellar, and half of one became the germ of Common Grounds. I met with composer Doug Katsaros (Orphan Train) and Kris, and then the choreographers, who each gave amazing input on my basic outline (Stuff happens at a Starbucks-esque coffeehouse, characters intersect). 

IGOR: How did you come up with this Crash-type structure? 

SAMMY: Because the directive of the story was to pass the baton among five choreographers, I thought the show should have interlocking storylines. I also wanted to show how small actions, whether it is holding the door for someone or not giving up your seat on the subway, could have drastic repercussions for people you pass by and never know. I guess I am totally incapable of writing something that would actually be easy to do. But that's what I was doing during my July 4th weekend while I was in Houston avoiding my family: writing the outline. What were you doing while I was toiling away?  

IGOR: Funny you should ask. Kris Stewart and I were e-mailing each other about this NYMF-commissioned dance musical. He told me that you were involved, as well as Doug and he wanted me to direct (I directed last year's Yank!) and I thought, "A 'dance musical?' That shouldn't be too much of a commitment for a director since it's really the choreographers' and composer's milieu."

SAMMY: [Insert ominous laughter here]

IGOR: I read your plot summary and loved the structure and thought, "a story-driven original musical told only though dance with 5 choreographers and 12 dancers and not a note of music yet written and not a step of dance yet choreographed and the story is still in flux and we open on September 20th. . . I'm in!" Oy! 

SAMMY: I know what you mean. The whole show has come together quickly, but the dances are gorgeous, and I know I have stretched myself as a writer (writing without words, except for two interludes where Ron de Jesus choreographs the dancers to monologues I wrote.) 

IGOR: That's a beautiful moment. All our choreographers — Rhonda Miller, Lisa Stevens, Ron De Jesus, Ray Leeper and Tiger Martina — do beautiful and varied work. And their individual collaborations with Doug on his terrific score have been exciting. For me the challenge has been when to advance the story and when to let the choreographers explore a moment. It's a balancing act. We don't want a bunch of dancers just physically acting out plot points, but we don't want the entire piece to be so conceptual that we leave the audience wondering what's going on either. It's not a dance concert; it's a dance musical. 

SAMMY: If the story doesn't work, it's the bookwriter's fault. Um, wait, that's me…  No matter what, it's going to have phenomenal dancing and music, and will be a fascinating evening of theatre.

Visit www.nymf.org for tickets and more information.

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