An Interview with Librettist/Lyricist Germaine ShamesReprinted with permission of Jaz Dorsey, dramaturg.
Thanks to Mahesh Steven Grossman, there is a fantastic new facebook page that I encourage every one to check out – Show Off Your New Musical. This is where I came across Arizona playwright and author, Germaine Shames, and learned of her intriguing new musical YOU, FASCINATING YOU, which was inspired by an Italian love song coming out of WWII.
I asked Germaine to tell us something about herself and her musical, written in collaboration with Italian composer Federico Ferrandina, and here is what she has to say, along with links to the show and more:
What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?
From earliest childhood, I have had an inner narrator whispering stories in my ear. Writing came as naturally as singing. I was born into a family of music-lovers. Broadway was within easy driving distance and whichever shows we did not see at a Sunday matinee, we’d catch later on the big screen at Radio City Music Hall.
At 16, I went off to an experimental university in the Swiss Alps intending to study creative writing with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and other luminaries who were expected to join the faculty. They never did, and on impulse I switched my major to Theatre.
Decades later, when I sat down to write my first musical, the imprint of my early exposure to classic Broadway shows, to dance, and to acting rose to the surface with stunning clarity. Creating musicals is the culmination of all I’ve learned and all I love.
What was your first “success” and how has your career unfolded from there?
Every play and musical I have shared publicly since returning to Theatre two years ago has been well received, and several works have already been voted into festivals.
But the one memory that still brings tears to my eyes took place many years ago while working for Hilton International Hotels. I created an audio-visual presentation to welcome new rank-and-file employees to the company. The presentation was first screened in Cartagena, Columbia. At its climax, every worker in the auditorium jumped to his or her feet and raced toward the stage with open arms. I found myself absorbed in a mass embrace.
By returning to Theatre, I hope to recapture those moments of deep connection and spontaneous outpouring. For me, it’s all about heart. Each time I have a play reading and watch my audience run the gamut of emotion in the space of two acts, I count that a success.
What inspired you to write YOU, FASCINATING YOU, what has the process been and where are you at now?
In 1944, at the height of the worst carnage the world has known, ballerina Margit Wolf put her seven-year old son Cesare out on the street with a pillow, a last morsel of bread, and his baptismal certificate. She was Jewish, and he Catholic.
It took fifty years for Cesare—by that time, an American citizen with a family of his own—to contribute a video-taped oral history to Yale University. He then sent the tape to me. It told the story of his mother, a persecuted artist, who banished from the stage by Mussolini, inspired a timeless love song only to fade from history without a trace. I sat riveted as if hearing the libretto of a classic ballet or opera and knew I would one day share this hidden epic with the world.
You, Fascinating You, the novel, was published in 2012 and went on to win the “Editor’s Choice” award from the Historical Novel Society. Book reviews highlighted the theatrical quality of Margit’s story. I knew my work was not yet done. You, Fascinating You, the musical, is in development and will have a concert-style premiere in early 2015, thanks to the collaboration of composer Federico Ferrandina, director Robert Encila, and producer Dave Goguen.
The musical combines elements of Cabaret and The Red Shoes. For updates, please visit our Facebook page.
What are your thoughts on Tucson as a theatre town?
Tucson, fondly referred to as the “Ol’ Pueblo,” has a far more vibrant cultural scene than is generally recognized. Small theatre companies abound. Because the cost of bringing a play or musical to the stage is relatively low, new works can easily get a start here.
That said, very few actors or directors are able to earn a proper livelihood, and we lose some of our best talent to LA and NYC.
On balance, there is a sincere love of art and much camaraderie and warmth within Tucson’s theatre community. As a playwright, I feel valued here but not limited. The world is my stage.—Nashville-based dramaturg, Jaz Dorsey, has made a mission of discovering Broadway-worthy musicals.
You, Fascinating You, the novel, may be purchased here or from any online or brick-and-mortar bookseller.