Kate Atkinson and Karen Harris' PART OF THE PLAN Set to Debut at Nashville's Tennessee Performing Arts Center
Though it may not have started out that way - and it was never a part of their plan - Kate Atkinson and Karen Harris, the two women who are responsible for bringing the new musical Part of the Plan to life onstage, may be proof positive that women, indeed, are getting the job done.
Seven years ago, when they first set out on this creative journey that realizes a longed-for dream on Thursday night when preview audiences are given a first look at their show, Atkinson and Harris surrounded themselves with some of the best collaborators in the business, assembling a team of like-minded individuals determined to bring to life a new musical both inspired by and utilizing the music of American troubadour Dan Fogelberg to tell a story that evokes the milieu - fraught with cataclysmic social change and much-needed upheaval of the political status quo - of the turbulent 1960s and '70s.
When Sunday's gala opening night takes place on the red carpet outside of Nashville's Tennessee Performing Arts Center and on the stage of the James K. Polk Theatre, the 1,075-seat theater in which their dreams will become reality, Atkinson and Harris will be surrounded by thousands of supporters, family and friends and a coterie of strong, independent women who have shared their vision along the way, including Jean Fogelberg, the widow of the singer-songwriter who gave them her permission and, perhaps more importantly, her blessing to craft a new musical out of whole cloth and setting it to a score of her husband's most beloved songs; Lynne Taylor-Corbett, the director of Part of the Plan and the Tony Award-nominated director of Broadway's Swing! and a myriad of other top-drawer theatrical projects; Kathleen O'Brien, president and CEO of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center who, as a lifelong fan of Dan Fogelberg's music and an aficionado of original musical theater, came on board as an essential team member, ensuring TPAC's involvement as part of the team of producers; and Christi Dortch, TPAC's executive vice president of programming and sales, whose expertise in her field has provided priceless guidance to the duo of capable and experienced entrepreneurs and self-starters who found themselves fledglings in the daunting and challenging field of new theatrical producers bent on bringing a new show to life for the most exacting of audiences, other writers and producers and critics.
"We never planned it this way," says Atkinson, "to have this group of strong women together, it's just worked out this way. In the beginning, we were intent on bringing the best people together on this show and we couldn't be happier with the team we've assembled."
"I don't think either of us consciously set out to create an all-female team, it just happened that we approached a woman, Jean Fogelberg, to ask her for the rights to Dan Fogelberg's music, then Lynne Taylor-Corbett joined us to direct the show," she says. "We didn't know where we would land, but we love Nashville and had met Jean here to pitch our idea, and this is Music City, after all, and when we met Kathleen O'Brien, we found she was a big Dan Fogelberg fan and it just so happens that her strong right-hand vice president is a woman, Christi Dortch, and we have two female publicists and other members of the team who are women, but there are great men on the team, as well."
Harris concurs: "When I was coming up in the business, I don't remember anyone ever telling me - or that I ever said it to myself - that as women, the job was going to be more difficult. The work on Part of the Plan is all about the music and the story, it's not just 'write,' but then 'rewrite.' "
The mission of the production - and the story and themes of Part of the Plan - seem a beautiful symbiosis of creative people working together to create art and from its earliest beginnings, the show has evolved. Now, with opening night mere hours away, Atkinson and Harris' enthusiasm can barely be contained.
"Oh my God, it's going extremely well," Atkinson exclaims. "We couldn't be happier with the way things are going - rehearsals have been wonderful and we are so delighted to hear our actors performing the music and doing their scene work. Now that they've moved into the Polk Theatre where the show will be performed and to be able to see our extraordinary sets and costumes and to see all the movement...it's even more exciting than we could have imagined as we move closer and closer to opening night!"
Harris concurs, anticipation evident in her voice: "We have brilliant sets, gorgeous lighting and wonderful sound and as you watch it evolve, it's just amazing. Seeing the wonderful work our director Lynne Taylor-Corbett is doing is just wonderful and to see our actors performing the script is and picking up on things as they happen around them is stunning."
Longtime friends and artistic collaborators, Atkinson and Harris both consider themselves devotees of live theater, in general, and musical theater, in particular. Both women grew up seeing the latest shows on Broadway and nurturing their own creative journey along the way.
The genesis of the idea to do a musical that draws from the expansive catalog of music written by Dan Fogelberg, whose earliest career achievements came while he lived, worked and wrote in his Kingston Spring, Tennessee, home just outside of Nashville, was Kate Atkinson's - unsurprising given her notoriety in the field of independent film - a woman always coming up with an idea, either for a new film treatment or, as is now evident, a new musical.
"I come from the world of independent film and Karen comes from the world of television," Atkinson explains. "We've both producEd Smaller projects before, but from a money standpoint, doing a new musical is very different."
"Producing a musical is very different from TV or film," Harris agrees. "There's a whole different level of support needed to bring a musical to life."
"Kate is essentially fearless," Harris suggests. "She has reminded me throughout the process that when collaborating with her, anything is possible - and that's been a very refreshing and a substantial support in our partnership."
Atkinson says, "Karen and I were successful in our own careers, but we've never done theater before, although we are both avid Broadway-goers. I would take the train in New York and see all the news shows because I love Broadway - and Karen has Broadway music on her Sirius Channels, so it's clear she loves it just as much."
"I have a dear friend," Harris recalls, "who has had numerous projects in development for years and he told me that with all of his experience, 'Broadway is a completely different animal.' And he was right: Every morning I wake up, I experience something that proves just how different the process is to bring a new musical to life."
As interest in Part of the Plan has grown - the social media buzz has been strong for the show, which has precipitated a lot of traditional press coverage for the project - Atkinson and Harris have watched their team grow as well, bringing to life a production packed with tremendous talent onstage and offstage, as well as imaginative sleights of hand and technical wizardry which are essential components for a new musical to take hold of enough people's imaginations to spark a hit at the box office.
"We've been very fortunate," Harris muses. "We've been on our own long enough and now we have a whole team together to make it happen."
The time has come - as they expect it to be borne out with the 19-performance "developmental" run in Nashville - for more producers to join their team.
"While Karen and I have been carrying this from a producers' standpoint," says Atkinson. "We're ready to bring in a Broadway lead producer to help us take it to the next phase of production."
Industry interest in Part of the Plan continues at an awe-inspiring pace, as the buzz reaches a fevered pitch with opening night just within reach.
"It's very encouraging to get word from producers in New York that they are coming to Nashville to see the show," Atkinison continues. "Social media has helped, of course, and now we look forward to collaborating with a Broadway producer to take us into the next phase of development."
As Part of the Plan evolved from the genesis of an idea to a living, breathing, organic production, Atkinson admits she was inspired in the early going when she sat in the audience of the Tony Award-winning musical Once on Broadway: "That show really inspired me because I saw where people were starting to break the molds of what might have been considered the model of creating a Broadway musical. A lot of people will try to keep you in a box with 'that's not the way we do things,' but maybe you want to do something different."
The show's themes - personal and intimate at first blush - are much bigger and clearly far more universal as the story is told of a boy who finds out he is adopted and sets out to find out who he is, just as much as it is about his mother, a daughter of privilege who was forced to give him up because of the morals and public attitudes of her time.
"One of the themes of the show is that everything happens for a reason, it's all a part of a bigger plan. But I also feel that's how we all go through life," Atkinson suggests.
It's Harris' hope that Part of the Plan will resonate with audiences today, who will see the show's themes playing out in real time in their own lives: "We are all a part of humankind and today we are learning how to better live with one another, we are all a part of the same universe and we need to be reminded of that."
In fact, Atkinson says, "Things may go differently than we had planned or thought they would, but the big things that are supposed to happen will happen anyway - it's just a part of the plan."
About the pair of writers and producers of Part of the Plan
Kate Atkinson (Book writer & Producer) Longtime Dan Fogelberg fan and independent filmmaker and producer, Kate Atkinson conceived the idea of setting Dan's music to an original story, acquired the exclusive stage rights to Dan's catalog, and assembled Part of the Plan's core team, which includes two Grammy-winners of Paul McCartney and Ray Charles fame as the musical's arrangers and her writing/producing partner Karen Harris. Kate & Karen's K-Squared Entertainment is lead producing Part of the Plan's world premiere at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC). Prior to this original new musical, Kate created, developed, and produced award-winning documentaries, narrative films and live stage productions. Afte rPart of the Plan's two-and-a-half week run in Nashville, Kate will produce another world premiere in Los Angeles - a live concert of Grammy winner Victor Vanacore's neo-classical arias set to the poetry of Pope John Paul II, to which she secured the rights from the Vatican. An entrepreneur at her core, Kate also has built a successful education company, having taught and mentored hundreds of students over the past 20 years. Holding an MBA from Northwestern University's J.L. Kellogg School of Management in Marketing, Finance and International Business, as well as undergraduate degrees in Mathematics and Education, Kate is an active member of Women In Film, The Hollywood Film Society and the Screen Actors Guild.
Karen Harris (Book writer & Producer) A multi-Emmy and Writers Guild of America award winner, Karen has spent over three decades in primetime and daytime dramatic television, syndicated and children's programming, variety TV and on-line series. She has worked for the major networks and studios as a showrunner, script writer, executive producer and creator of scripted shows. Karen followed her long-time passion into theatre, serving with two non-profit theatre companies as a producer and dramaturge. She is thrilled to be partnered with Kate Atkinson in K-Squared Entertainment, and to present their musical Part of the Plan as the company's first production. A two-time Board Member of the WGAW, Karen's also an active member of the Writers Guild of Canada, and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
About Part of the Plan
Part of the Plan - a new musical featuring 20 iconic songs from the catalogue of acclaimed singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg - celebrates its world premiere and its possible trek toward Broadway with a 19-performance run at Nashville's Tennessee Performing Arts Center. The production opens Thursday, September 8 and continues through September 24 at TPAC's James K. Polk Theatre, with a gala red carpet event heralding the show's official opening night on Sunday, September 10.
Directed and choreographed by Tony Award-nominee Lynne Taylor-Corbett (Swing!), with book by Kate Atkinson and Karen Harris, Part of the Plan interweaves Fogelberg's music, arranged by Grammy Award Winners Victor Vanacore (Ray Charles) and Laurence Juber (Paul McCartney), including "Leader of the Band," "Longer" and "Same Old Lang Syne."
Produced by K-Squared Entertainment in association with the Nashville-based nonprofit Tennessee Performing Arts Center, this show marks TPAC's first original production. Directed by Tony-nominated Lynne Taylor-Corbett, with book by Kate Atkinson & Karen Harris, this developmental production follows the lives of an adopted boy and the teenaged girl of privilege who was forced to give him up Part of the Plan takes audiences through the post-World War II boom times, the social and sexual revolution of the 1960s, and the political upheaval of the 1970s, while exploring the theme that everything in life happens for a reason.
Part of the Plan introduces the music of American troubadour Fogelberg, who lived and worked - and wrote some of his best-known songs - in Nashville during his career, to a new generation of fans, while evoking memories for his legion of die-hard fans who long to hear his music in all forms.
In 2016, a staged reading of Part of the Plan was held on the stage of TPAC's Polk Theatre, with an invited audience of TPAC subscribers, theater supporters and journalists.
Taylor-Corbett's cast features a mix of talented performers from New York, Los Angeles and Nashville, led by Broadway's Harley Jay (Rent), Kate Morgan Chadwick (Bed) and Nashville's own J.T. Hodges (Academy of Country Music nominated artist), along with Jayme Lake (I Love Lucy: Live on Stage) and Daniel David Stewart (Deaf West's Spring Awakening). Joining them in the ensemble to bring this new story to life will be: Katy Blake, Chris Roberts, Erica Aubrey, Benjamin D. Hale, Euriamis Losada, Darian Peer, Melinda Porto, Joshua Payne, Wyatt Rogers, Curt Bonnem, Kirsten Towers-Rowles, Megan Murphy Chambers, Miles DeMaria and Cameron Gilliam.
Part of the Plan features scenic design by Jason Sherwood (The View UpStairs, Drama Desk nominee), costume design by Loren Shaw (The Mysteries, Drama Desk nominee), lighting design by Jason Kantrowitz (Dames at Sea), sound design by Josh Leibert (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and musical direction by Nashville's own Stephen Kummer.
Tickets are now on www.TPAC.org, by phone at (615) 782- 4040 and at the TPAC Box Office, 505 Deaderick Street, in downtown Nashville. For groups of 10 or more, call (615) 782-4060.
For more information, visit www.danfogelbergmusical.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.