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Tony Nominee Michael Mayer (with Kimberly Grigsby)

Our interview with Michael Mayer and Kimberly Grigsby is part three of a six part series, "Going Geeky on Spring Awakening" being presented in conjuction with and the podcast, Broadway Bullet. At the conclusion of the series, we are giving away 10 pairs of tickets to "Spring Awakening" including a meet-and-greet with the cast and creatives afterwards. CLICK HERE for more information on the contest.

You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 18. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

Part four of our series (Interview Subject TBA) will be posted Thursday, Dec. 21st!


Broadway Bullet Interview with Michael Mayer (Director) and Kimberly Grigsby (Musical Director).

BB: For part three of our series "Going Geeky On Spring Awakening" we have director Michael Mayer and musical director Kimberly Grigsby in the studio with us. How are you doing just three days before opening?

MICHAEL: You know, we're still standing.


BB: So Michael, let's start of first with what drew you to the project of "Spring Awakening"?

MICHAEL: I always loved the play, ever since I was in college and I first read it. And Stephen Sater, the playwright, and soon to be lyricist… but at the time he was just a playwright who I had known… called me up and said, "I have this idea for a musical of 'Spring Awakening' and I want Duncan Sheik to write the songs with me" and I said, "Oh, that sounds great." Because I love Duncan's songs and Stephen had a great idea and I had loved working with him on the stuff we had done together years prior and we met. That was almost eight years ago, almost exactly eight years ago and so it just went through lots of different phases of development and about a year and a half ago… When did we do the concert?

KIMBERLY: Well, it will be two years ago in February.

MICHAEL: Yea, so almost two years ago we, Kim and I and producer, Tom Hulce and Duncan and Stephen and a group of fantastically talented kids did a presentation of the show at Lincoln Center.

KIMBERLY: Songbook Series.

MICHAEL: Yes, for the American Songbook Series and that generated this actual production. So that, that's what started it.

BB: And Kimberly, how did you get roped into this?

KIMBERLY: Well I only came on board for that concert. I had worked with Michael on "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" so we had that experience together and Duncan and I had worked together on "Twelfth Night" Shakespeare In The Park, with Jimmy Smits and Julia Stiles. And so we had worked together on that, so I had had my experience with them which I love working with them but this is, if you want to talk about geeky, the way that I got involved with this, they were planning this concert but Duncan didn't call me and Michael Mayer didn't call me. I came home one night and on my machine it said, "Kimberly Grigsby, this is Tom Hulce calling about 'Spring Awakening'". I grew up as a pianist, you know studying to be a classical pianist, Amadeus was calling me to be involved or something and I kept rewinding. I'm like, "Tom Hulce? Really? Is it the actor Tom Hulce?" It was a 301 number; it was an LA number so I'm like, "Okay". So I call him up and I was in love with him so I said, "Absolutely anything for you Tom Hulce" so that's how I got involved. But I loved it, he dropped off the material, I listened. I mean, the music and the lyrics perfectly give you something to hang onto as a teenager, what you're going through. So I immediately thought this is going to be for a generation of people who don't normally come to the theatre but also just something that you would put on and listen to and relate to and be able to work things out through. And the experience of doing a concert, watching these actual kids, not people that are older but actual kids singing it and the energy that was coming from that and the honesty of that, it was so powerful and energizing. So it was not hard to say yes and clear the plate.

MICHAEL: Okay, full disclosure over here. We had had a very difficult time getting the show into production through the whole period of working on it. Because people would read the script, which was a 19th century play, they would hear these songs on a CD, which were contemporary songs, they had no idea how it went together. When we were finally putting the concert together I, frankly, was really tired of getting rejected by people. And Duncan and I had decided that the best way to get Kim would be if Tom called her because, you know, we thought, "He's a movie star." So we had Tom call Kim, we had Tom call Brian Ronan the sound designer, we had Tom call Lincoln Center. At that point we just realized that the material itself, until you are in the room experiencing it, was impossible to explain. And it wasn't like we hadn't gone through musical directors and sound designers or anything, it was literally theaters. We sent it to so many different theatre companies to see if they would put it on and at this point we thought this is our last chance, really, to get a real viewing and to have people have an opportunity to experience the show. So Tom was in charge of organizing that.

BB: Well, I have one question in particular, I'm sure you'll have other moments you want to bring up, but there's one moment in the show that I really had a question about. Most of the scenes are played very straightforward. The actors talk and relate directly to each other in the scene, and then the songs are done kind of a concert scenario with the microphones. Except for one scene between "I Don't Do Sadness" and "Blue Wind". The scene itself is done on the mics, and I was wondering what your reasoning was for taking that scene specifically in such a different way?

MICHAEL: It's a complicated, and here's a really geeky, answer. There are lots of reasons for it, but I would say there are three main reasons. One is the stupid, obvious reason which is I knew I wanted them to be singing at those mics for their songs and getting them from the scene to those mics was a complicated, near impossible thing to do without it being really awkward. That was one thing but number two, the second reason is that in the play itself, I mean the source material, we find out at the very end of the play that the masked man, which doesn't exist anymore, says to Moritz in the graveyard, "I came to you once before and I tried to stop you from killing yourself". Scholars have agreed over the decades that what that refers to is that he sort of, as a shape shifter, had come in the form of Ilsa. So it wasn't really Ilsa, it was the masked man in disguise as Ilsa. So that means that the actual scene between Moritz and Ilsa as originally written by Frank Wendekind a hundred and some odd years ago wasn't a real scene and that they never really connect. Which they don't, right? So she says, "Come with me" and he says, "I can't" they're really in their own world. And the third reason is that it was an homage to Elizabeth LeCompte, the director and artistic director of the Wooster Group and I've just always been a fan of theirs and I just thought, you know, I really believe in the theory of the avant-garde which is that the avant-garde is there for the practitioners. It's not there for the general public and so people like me who are not such brilliant artists but the ones who have more traffic in the commercial world and real people, we go to see the work that is done by the true masters and the true innovators like Richard Foreman and Elizabeth LeCompte and Peter Brook and people like that, and we take from them and we sort of make it accessible. Anyway, so that's why. Those are the three reasons.

BB: I had a question for you Kimberly as the musical director. First off, do you have any input as to some of the orchestration and the band as well?

KIMBERLY: Hell yea. Yea.

BB: Because one thing I particularly liked in terms of you talking about they saw the scenes as 1891 and the music modern, one choice that seemed to be made a lot in the instrumentation I really liked is almost a dulcimer-like guitar sound near the beginning of the songs. And the cello I think really helped move these songs into something that sounded contemporary but just that slight bridge moving into the talking into the songs.

KIMBERLY: Yea, right. Well, that's all Duncan. When we did the concert we didn't have any string instruments, it was just his band. Two guitars, Duncan playing guitar and Jerry playing guitar and bass and I was on piano. No harmonium at that point. And the drums. And when we were doing it for the Atlantic he said, "I want to add cello and I want to add acoustic bass in addition to electric bass." And there was some resistance by some people, thinking this is going to be a rock score and that could make it not be.

MICHAEL: Me. Kim said, "No, it could be cool."

KIMBERLY: Yea. I said if you actually listen to what's going on people would be using acoustic instruments and we're moving away from it. We use computer, there are computer tracks but they are actual computer sounds that an acoustic instrument could not make. Save the harpsichord because we couldn't fit a harpsichord, the harpsichord is on the track but I agree. I love the idea that you've got the cello and it's not an electric cello, he's just miked, cello, violin, viola playing with an electric bass and with electric guitar. And then you have a harpsichord with an electric guitar, I mean I love that combination of instruments. And then my pump organ, the harmonium tied it all together. But Duncan, the orchestration was all Duncan's.

MICHAEL: But Kim really participated in, once those orchestrations and it's hard to call them orchestrations.

KIMBERLY: Arrangements.

MICHAEL: Arrangements. Once they existed Kim was really instrumental, so to speak, in helping Duncan really achieve what his vision was, the way he heard it. Because she's in it now, it's the first time Duncan has been outside the band. That's also a really cool thing about this production is Duncan as the composer, finally is outside of the experience of playing so he can be out there. Kim now is in it, so she's got a different relationship to the music and so it's been really a great collaboration to watch them because he can say, "Well, what I want is this" and Kim can say, "The way to do that is this", not to speak for you.

KIMBERLY: Yea, but that's fun. I mean, that's what's fun about putting up a show is the collaboration. Michael also is a fantastic musician, instinctive musician and so he'll say, "I just don't like that thing" and his words are not musical so I have to interpret what he actually means.

MICHAEL: Right, we've worked together for so many years now that she can sort of translate for me instantly, which helps so Duncan doesn't have to roll his eyes and lie down on the floor and cry.

KIMBERLY: So that's good. We're very proud of it.

BB: Now I couldn't help but notice that you have a broken foot. Is that directly from this ordeal at all?

MICHAEL: No. You know, this could be one of the geeky questions. Actually it could be the third one if you want. I was in Provincetown over Labor Day and it was raining and I walked on some rocks, fell, twisted my ankle really badly. I thought it was sprained and I just kept waiting for it to get better and what happened was two of the kids in the show, Skylar Astin and Lauren Pritchard, both hurt their ankles during the summer run at the Atlantic. And their ankles were still bugging them one day in rehearsal the stage manager was making appointments for them to go an have a follow-up with the orthopedist, and I said, "You know, my ankle still hurts. It's been two months, it's not getting better it's actually getting worse." She said, "I'm going to make an appointment for you." So the three of us went up there and they were fine, healing properly and the guy said, "You've got a broken navicular" whatever that is. Anyway, so he said, "How could you be walking on this for two months? You must have a very high pain threshold" and I said, "Honey, I'm a director of musicals. You know I have a high pain threshold." Anyway, so it's on the mend I think.

BB: Alright, well we will now do our official geeky questions for the contest. So this is geeky question number 5 in the whole series: There is an image on stage of a snake. What kind of snake is it?

MICHAEL: It is my current favorite snake. I'm a real snake guy. I love snakes. This is a **** (Answer on
Broadway Bullet Podcast Vol. 18), It's extremely venomous, probably fifteen more times potent than the venom of a cobra.

BB: Why did you put this snake on the stage?

MICHAEL: You know, it's almost too humiliating even for this geeky time. I like to have something to play with during tech because I get so nudgy and Heather, the stage manager, very, very wisely got me some silly putty and I started making snakes with the silly putty.

KIMBERLY: There are so many questions that just through the story you think about.

MICHAEL: And so I started making the silly putty into little snakes and I started making little cobras and then I thought I'll make it into a ***.

BB: You're going to have to let me know if you wind up with any stalkers from this episode who leave little snakes on your doorstep.

MICHAEL: I know, right?

KIMBERLY: Did you know about *** before you were making these?

MICHAEL: Oh yes, I know all about snakes.


MICHAEL: The *** was always one of my favorites because it's from the story Riki Tiki Tavi. The *** is the little snake that Riki Tiki kills first before he takes on Nag and Nagina, the two big cobras. Anyway, so it became sort of a running theme during tech about kraits and I said, "You know what? We need a *** on stage." Now we have one.

BB: Geeky question number six: Kimberly, you have a piano in your apartment. Who was the original owner?
KIMBERLY: Richard Rogers

MICHAEL: It's amazing to go over to her place and just hear her play Mozart or Chopin or anything on that piano.

KIMBERLY: It's a beautiful piano.

MICHAEL: Why do you have it?

KIMBERLY: Well, Adam Guettel is a very good friend of mine and this piano is his, I'm actually just babysitting it because he's in the middle of one apartment to another apartment. But I've had it for two years. He's taking a while to find his next New York apartment so he had two pianos in there and one went to his other house and this one he just didn't want to leave New York so I was very fortunate.

BB: It's a bit of a hassle moving pianos around New York.

KIMBERLY: So he was just like, "Y'now it fits there" and I love playing that piano.

MICHAEL: Oh my god, you're there and you're just having tea or eating one of Kim's delicious cookies that she bakes and just chatting and your eye just sort of drifts over and you say, "That man sat there and composed 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered' or 'Bali Hai'" I mean, it's amazing.

KIMBERLY: It's a beautiful piano, I mean I'm very, very lucky but it'll have to go back to Adam soon I'm sure.

MICHAEL: You never know? Maybe he'll never find the right apartment.

BB: Well I definitely thank you guys for taking the time and coming down here to chat with our listeners at Broadway Bullet, especially so soon before you open. I know tensions must be running high.

MICHAEL: It's a great distraction actually. We could keep going all day.


MICHAEL: We'd be very happy to just stay here, so if you don't mind. And it's cold out. It's nice and warm in here. Thanks.

KIMBERLY: Thank you.
### You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on
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