BWW Interview: Jennifer Schwed, Doug Bradshaw, And Charlie Barnett of 19: THE MUSICAL at National Museum Of Women In The Arts
19: The Musical is the brainchild of Through the 4th Wall co-founders, Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw. Both DC natives, Schwed and Bradshaw conceived the idea of a musical about the passage of the 19th Amendment in 2016, and, along with Composer Charlie Barnett, have been overseeing workshops and concert performances for the last two years. Now, the team is preparing for the premiere of the full production, to be staged at the National Museum of Women in the Arts November 25-27.
(Author's Note: This interview was held on November 8, 2019, following the announcement that Michael Bloomberg was joining the Democratic Primary and ahead of the first public impeachment hearings. Some of the political discussion about these events has been edited down, but some has been left in for context.)
Rachael Goldberg (RG): How have you all been? It's been almost a year since we last spoke.
Jennifer Schwed (JS): Correct.
Doug Bradshaw (DB): It's been crazy.
JS: It has.
DB: It's been a three-year sprint, and the last two years have been completely insane.
JS: In a good way. In a very good way.
RG: That's good to hear!
DB: Phase one - I was just saying to someone in a very Churchillian way: this is not the end. It's not even the beginning of the end. It's the end of the beginning. So this is it - getting a fully-staged show up, getting three performances of a full show - that's phase one. So that's huge for us.
RG: That's great though. So, for the purposes of catching up readers, what stage is the show currently in? Where in production are things? I know three full productions is the end of phase one, but have we done all three? I've been following on social media a bit, but I've been traveling, so I'm behind on everything.
JS: The actual premiere - or, as we like to say, the world premiere - is November 25th, 26th, and 27th. So those three dates are at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and they will be the first time we are ever performing the entire show: the full two acts, dialogue, dancing, singing, the full works - we're doing it. We haven't yet. Over the last two years, what we've been doing is workshopping the show where we do 45 minutes here, an hour there, a showcase with a few songs, but now the audience gets to see the entire production as it was always intended to be. So we are very excited to have arrived at whatever Doug's Churchill quote says - I agree.
DB: Yeah, over 30 public workshop performances around DC, Maryland, Virginia, and two in Pennsylvania. So that's what we've been doing the last two years - almost to the date. Two years of public performances.
RG: So, what's the next step, after you get these three productions out there? Where do you go from there?
Charlie Barnett (CB): Oh, I'm so hoping you've all thought this through - this is the obvious question, isn't it?
JS: It is. Doug always has a good answer for this one. So, I yield to Doug on this.
CB: Okay, lay it out, Churchill.
DB: Where's my cigar? Well, first off, we'll begin by fighting them in the streets, and in the - another Churchillian thing. All right, our goal is we've been entertaining invites from around the country from towns, theaters, counties, universities, to come and perform there.
JS: I want to interrupt you really quickly. The reason we're in such demand around the country is -
DB: Is Charlie! (laughter) The reason is Charlie.
JS: Everything is about Charlie at the end of the day. So, the reason is that 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, so we're getting all of these requests from around the country to come and perform the show to celebrate that anniversary.
DB: Yeah. And, so, we're evaluating a bunch of those, some of which are very interesting and exciting opportunities. And we are also preparing to go to New York for an industry reading, where we will perform a super-stripped down reading in front of industry, such as investors, producers, directors. So we're looking to do that in the late spring of 2020.
RG: That's great. So, is the intention to move the show up to New York for 2020, or are you considering other avenues?
DB: We're looking at a lot of different avenues.
JS: We are. We're considering a lot of options. We have requests to license the show as well, and I think I can speak for the three of us when I say we're not sure we want to license it quite yet, but, with regards to New York, we'd love for it to be in New York, we'd love to get a run anywhere. But the intention of taking it to New York for an industry reading is to find the support to get the show a run, whether it's in New York or another state. That's what it's intended for.
RG: Great. For readers who are a little less familiar, can you explain the process at this point as far as the industry and the out of town performances?
JS: Doug, do you want to speak to this because you've had much more -
DB: Sure, but can you rephrase the question to give me a little bit more direction? The process is huge -
CB: Because there is no quid pro quo!
RG: So, I guess, as a rephrase, can you walk us through the steps of the different avenues you're looking into? You mentioned the out-of-town tours, you mentioned the industry tryouts - what is the process for these, and what do they accumulate in, eventually? What is the goal of doing these things?
DB: First what we're going to do, in terms of entertaining these offers, is we need to figure out exactly what they want, how many shows, where it is, and kind of the practical side of getting our group there, getting our people there, for how long, etc, and seeing if that makes sense. In terms of, as Jen mentioned, the licensing, we have to decide when and how to do that. But, if that would happen, basically a theater company in some other place would license it, and we then would want to have probably, potentially some type of involvement in okaying certain things because there are certain parts of the program we are very passionate about and feel are super important, so we would probably be involved in some way. But these are all the things that would be negotiated in that. In terms of an industry reading, our goal is to get in front of decision makers, either with theaters or people who work at theaters or who are actual investors. And hopefully when they see this - the goal is, when they see this, they say, "This is something I want to be involved with," and then a variety of discussions happen.
JS: So it's ultimately to get the show a run, and an extended run, hopefully. And we would love for that to be a show that's not - we talk about, "Oh we'd love for it to go to New York," but we want everyone - especially young women, old women, all women - to experience this show. So that's why we also entertain a lot of these different options, because exposure to the story is paramount to doing this. So we are looking for any kind of assist in getting this on a stage, giving it a run, and getting it seen by as many people as we can.
CB: I think part of what Jen is saying is maybe the quickest way to have all women in this country see this show is to start in New York because that is the springboard for any out-of-town run. Any runs that take place outside of New York - they start there.
CB: I don't think there's any question. We have to be looking at that as the launch pad for all the next steps, if that's possible. Is that accurate Jen?
JS: Yes, I think that's a really accurate clarification on what I was saying - we need a springboard.
CB: It's not always that - I mean, you can take a show to La Jolla, and feel the same propulsion come from that. But we don't live in California, we live four hours from New York, and that is easily in our sights. And it is a daunting, very good idea.
DB: I love that.
RG: That's a good way to put it. I've been curious: what changes has the production been through - besides being refined into a full performance - since last January? Not an itemized list, just sort of an overview.
DB: Before we even go with that frame: we've had a lot of changes from the first show, which was November 2nd and 3rd, 2017. It was an hour and a half long, and it had six songs. Now it's about two hours, two full acts, and there are 40-something songs in it.
RG: Oh wow.
DB: So the show has dramatically grown, shrank, morphed, matured, and hopefully gotten really really good.
JS: Right. And there is a lot more movement in it - it's much more choreographed than it was when we started out initially. It's matured from a toddler show to an adult show. Or at least like late teens.
DB: We're definitely in our adolescence.
JS: No, we're 18. We're definitely 18. I don't know if we're old enough to drink, but we are 18.
RG: So, old enough to vote?
DB: We're old enough to make a lot of bad decisions.
RG: I mean, you would hope a show about voting hits voting age.
JS: Very fitting, thank you. Yes, it is old enough to vote. And make bad decisions.
RG: Hopefully not at the same time.
DB: What's interesting is that we have so many great songs that are on the cutting room floor. We had to make some really hard decisions over about fifty pages of story and about ten songs - ten really great songs that we either felt ended up being redundant, didn't push the story ahead fast enough, or we just had to cut off an arm because the show was just too long. So there's a lot of good stuff that's on the cutting room floor. But hopefully, that means it's tight and really good.
CB: It'll be in the outtakes reel.
RG: Is there anything you're going to save for the outtakes or the bonus track on the album?
JS: 100%. At least five songs come to mind immediately that will be bonus tracks that did not make it in.
DB: We actually just got approached by a guy that I know who's a filmmaker, and he asked about potentially doing a documentary on the show. And a documentary is something that we have talked about from the very beginning, kind of playfully, because there were so many funny things going on, or so many great songs or great scenes that we had to cut. And we were always like, "It'll be in the documentary," and now it'll be in the documentary. I don't know if this doc will actually happen, but we've been approached about it, so we'll see.
RG: Add a Christmas tree, and you can get it on Netflix. It's that season.
DB: Do you think we can get a Hallmark Channel show, Jen?
JS: You throw in "Love" in the title and a few snowflakes, and I think yes.
RG: So what's in the immediate future? I know you have the three performances, but what are you looking to do right after that, or in the lead-up to them?
JS: Well, right after, take a really, really long nap. Probably a week or two. Leading up to it, right now, we're rehearsing now five days a week, and when we're not rehearsing, we are ramping up - there's so much. Because we're a tiny, tiny, tiny team of people - we don't have an extended group of people working for us, it's us. So we are doing everything from composing our invite list, figuring out our after party, what are we going to film, who are we going to hire to take photos for us, dealing with social media -
DB: Writing the show program -
JS: Oh, writing the show program, right. And we're still refining bits of the script, even now. We're three weeks out, and we're still refining the script. So, the lead-up is just a sleepless, 24-hour charge towards the finish line.
RG: Do you still have the same cast you've previously been working with?
JS: We still have the majority. One got a role in another show, so she won't be in this version, and one of our leads was also cast in something else. So I think, of our main group, only two have changed, and both were conflicts, really. Pretty much, it's been the same group of people for two years, and it's grown. We started with a handful of people, I think eight or nine people, and now we're up to 21. So the core has stayed the same, but it's really grown.
DB: We just added about ten dancers.
RG: Oh wow, that's great. But you've said that a lot of them worked as lawyers or doctors or teachers, kind of during the day and then did this at night. Have they been able to keep up with this schedule, or has that been impacting things?
JS: Yep. Same day jobs, same conflicts, and they're still committed to making this happen. This cast is so - to stick with us for over two years, putting this together is amazing. These people are phenomenal. They still have the same exact daytime work and still manage to make it there for us.
CB: It's amazing really, isn't it? With everything everyone has to do - these are people with real jobs, I mean - there's a professor of law at AU, who has two children she's dealing with and - how does she do that? I don't ask.
JS: Well, that's the key - we don't ask how the magic happens, we just show up for it.
CB: We just keep pushing them. We relentlessly push them.
JS: But we do bribe them with cupcakes sometimes.
RG: That definitely helps. It sounds like it's a "full-steam-ahead, we're barreling through this" kind of phase.
JS: I just want to mention one thing, because Doug and I were talking about this yesterday, and it came up because we've been preparing to talk about the show: what makes the show unique, and why should people come to see it. Doug and I were standing right in the middle of DC, and we were talking about the show, and what's so important about it is it's celebrating the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote, but we still don't truly have that right guaranteed. And the fight continues. And it feels relevant - the issue feels almost circular, like "here we go again, it's happening all over again." Like, I'm standing in the spot where these women marched over 100 years ago and 1 million women poured out into the streets two and a half years ago to do the same thing. And I think the relevance of it is just really stunning as this anniversary - you look at it as a victory, but it's a victory with a question mark because so much still has to happen. So it's really moving for me, definitely for me as a woman, to realize this project can make it happen, and to stage it during this anniversary is just phenomenal.
CB: And the relevance - a lot of people are talking about the blue wave in Virginia, and the second sentence that comes out of everybody that I know's mouth in Virginia is, "Maybe, now, we can pass the ERA." That's the second thing that comes out of their mouth. And the fact that it hasn't passed is kind of an atrocious thought. But it just makes it so much more present for me. This is the same fight - this is our fight - and it's going on right now, today.
JS: Exactly. That is true.
RG: It's funny, because on election night, that's exactly what my friends and I all messaged each other saying. I'm in Virginia - we also have our first female speaker of the state house.
JS: Yep, yep - it was an inspiring election. That was a very, very happy day - for the whole country. That felt like a happy day forward. And it did feel like, especially in Virginia, one step closer to fair voting rights and the end of gerrymandering. So that felt like a tremendous celebration.
DB: 100 years on, and we're still fighting voter suppression. It's shocking.
RG: It really is - and I think that's why this is so relevant. It's something we think of as being far in the past, and it's really not, and it's something that's still very relevant today.
JS: That is true.
DB: I think Alice Paul would be very happy to know that her ERA could finally pass, so close to where she marched.
CB: Do you think she would be happy?
JS: "Happy" may be an overstatement.
DB: All things relative, there might have been a bit of a smile, a smirk, and then she'd say there's still so much more to do.
JS: More to do, yep.
RG: Is there something in between exasperation and happiness?
DB: I think that would be Alice Paul. That would be her general state, I guess.
RG: Hopefully, just remembering where we were will help motivate people too.
JS: We certainly hope to accomplish that with our show, of reminding people of the value of the vote and your voice. Your vote is your voice, and that is crucial to be a part of shaping this country and what you want it to look like.
DB: That's also what makes this story - it may be specifically poignant in 2020, but it's really a timeless story. This is the history, and it may have a special significance on a 100th anniversary, but this is this country's history, and it's present and it will be for the foreseeable future, so we feel that this show has a very long life ahead of it.
RG: It's all exciting, interesting, and relevant, especially going out of this election and into the chaos of the 2020 election cycle.
CB: Do we need another billionaire white man to jump into the race?
RG: Well, we already scared one out. . ..
CB: I couldn't believe that this morning.
RG: We do have a number of women running.
JS: A number of great women!
RG: Although, there is an inherent sexism in someone joining the race because they didn't think there was a strong enough candidate.
CB: That specifically was the conversation that Jen and I had just yesterday.
JS: Yep, it sort of says, "You ladies can't get the job done," doesn't it?
RG: That seems to be the implication.
DB: That said, we'd like to publicly offer any of those female candidates comp tickets for them and a guest to any of our three shows.
RG: I think that would be amazing!
CB: Oh yeah, please. Get Liz Warren to come, and my year is made!
JS: That would be phenomenal.
RG: You should send something to her office.
DB: For the record, I'm totally down with also flying Stacy Abrams up.
RG: I feel like she would enjoy it.
JS: She would love it.
DB: That's her wheelhouse.
RG: Well, her organization is focused on voter engagement and combating voter suppression. They're in the middle of a massive fundraiser right now so they can launch a 50-state initiative, so this is very much in her wheelhouse.
DB: For the record, I'd also invite her to Thanksgiving dinner if she comes up for the show.
RG: Bribe her with the dinner to get her to the show, maybe?
DB: By hook or by crook, we'll make it happen.
RG: I think it's interesting to have this kind of conversation when there are so many measures - Stacy Abrams', but also Michelle Obama has a campaign for voter engagement, and Eric Holder, of course. And a number of prominent politicians have really made voting their main issue right now, and access to it. So maybe, joining the conversation right now from a different angle to remind people why it's important is - useful? Helpful?
JS: That is a good idea - we should try to track down the connections to get these people here to see the show. It would be nice.
DB: We've been trying to get the Obamas and the Clintons, but we don't have a lot of contacts. We'll see what we can do - maybe they'll read your article.
RG: Well, we can try!
CB: Of course they will!
RG: I'm excited to see it. It sounds like things are going very well, which is nice to hear.
JS: It is, it is going well. And thank you for taking the time to speak with us again.
RG: Of course! I always enjoy talking to you.
CB: Alright, I'm going to be the first to go because I have to go answer some emails from Jennifer Schwed.
DB: Do not be slow in answering those - she's tough!
19: The Musical will premiere at the National Museum of Women in the Arts November 25-27. More information on the show and tickets can be found at https://www.19themusical.com/.
Read more about 19: The Musical in BroadwayWorld's interview with show creators Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw, and our review of the January 18th concert performance.