BWW Previews: LOCAL PLAYWRIGHT GRETCHEN SUAREZ-PENA TO DEBUT STEAMPUNK MUSICAL TABLE READ at Just Write
Gretchen Suarez-Pena is a name that should be very familiar in the theatre circuit. She won Tampa Bay Theatre Festival's "Best New Play" for Conversations in the Car in 2018, had her show Conversations in Bed at Powerstories Theatre and C'est La Vie during the Shevolution Festival at Powerstories, to name but a few entries on her lengthy writing resume.
One never knows when or how inspiration may strike.
"In 2006, while listening to the song, Helena by Nickel Creek, I envisioned a man with a top hat and in Victorian attire declaring his love to a girl that was sweet and coy, but not at all what she seemed. Her sweetness was her manipulative charm and he was leaving his current love to be with her, only to realize that he would later be left alone," said Gretchen.
Fast forward three years later and she began to pen a play to deal with the lack of resolution in a past relationship.
"It was a way to deal with unrequited love. A guy I had dated a long time ago had dumped me and I really felt like I had no closure from the situation, even though I was married to someone else. His memory became a bit of boogie man in my life. Writing the script became a way to deal with it. That original script was a short straight play, more or less what the first act of Melina is today. But I always knew I wanted it to be a musical. I put the script away for many years, I brought it back out in 2016 when I began writing again. This was also after I had discovered the genre of steampunk and the man in the top hat came back to me. In 2018, the story grew and expanded and I found that my original premise, still there, had grown. Time had passed, children and new loves were now part of the story and the classical ideas of manipulation, love, loss, power, and regret grew into a story. I like to call it Shakespeare meets Greek Tragedy meets a splash of Jules Verne."
The musical Melina is set in the fictional steampunk town of New Comen. Jacob is the highly esteemed heir to the "throne" who is in love with a lower-class girl named Mara. Mara is an aspiring vocalist that has gained the favor of the town despite her status. Their love is one of fairytales until Melina enters the scene. Melina sweetly wins Jacob's attention and he ends up falling for her and leaving Mara. Mara is heartbroken over losing her first love until she meets Jeremiah, an artistic manager who promises her the world. However, Melina's affection for Jacob begins to wane and she ends up leaving him the day Mara weds Jeremiah. Melina eventually returns having given birth to Jacob's daughter. Disgraced and hoping to restore his place at his noble family's estate, life takes unexpected twists as the fate of Jacob's daughter, a talented inventor, and Mara's son, a talented vocalist himself, become intertwined.
Having its preview in October, Gretchen is reaching out to the community via a Kickstarter fundraiser through October 25 for a demo recording to submit to festivals.
In October, Melina will have its first official Table Read at Just Write, Lakeland and have a five-song preview in Mount Dora at the Renningers Flea Market Industrial Steampunk Festival. On March 7, 2020, the musical is scheduled to have a full stage reading at the Carrollwood Cultural Center.
"Musical Theatre lovers who enjoy a different and new story should come to see this show. If you like Wicked, Jekyll, and Hyde, Phantom of the Opera or Hadestown, this is the kind of show for you. The steampunk aesthetic is prominent in this piece. It's a fantastical imaginary world with a robust score and anachronistic Victorian attire. People will be stepping into a new world," said Gretchen. "The theme of the story is regret. If things had not gone a certain way, could life be different or even better? But therein lies the rub, there will always be people who wallow in their choices (the pessimist), there will always be those who wish to see the world as how it could be (the idealist), and there will always be those that no matter how life goes, will take advantage of the circumstances, good or bad, and twist them for their own gain regardless of who it affects (the opportunist). In essence, I want this to be a piece people leave thinking and turning over in their minds the ideas of choices, traditions, truth, and love."
When asked what she wants her audience to be discussing after the show, Gretchen said that she expects a definite difference of opinions.
"I expect lots of arguing after the show. I've already heard lots of arguing from some of my cast and other friends who have read the script. They defend and/or argue about their favorite character and that impassioned dialogue is what I hope to spark. People have hard opinions about who's right, wrong, good or bad. It just goes to show how we bring our personal experiences to the interpretation of a story."
Patrons of the arts can support the demo via https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/melinamusical/melina-a-steampunk-musical-tragedy before October 25. Attend the Table Read on October 7 at 7 pm at Just Write, 310 East Lemon Street, Lakeland. Hear a five-song preview in Mount Dora at the Renningers Flea Market Industrial Steampunk Festival on October 19 and 20. To learn more, visit Facebook: Plays By Gretchen, Instagram or Twitter at playwright1987 or gretchensuarezpena.com