February 2011.By National Alliance for Musical Theatre.
An interview with Peter Rothstein, Artistic Director of Theatre Latté Da in Minneapolis, MN about their upcoming production of Steerage Song by Rothstein and Dan Chouinard, recipient of one of NAMT's National Fund for New Musicals Early Collaboration Grants.
Packed into the steerage of steamships, they left their homelands with few possessions but a wealth of hope, promise and music, SteerageSong is a musical kaleidoscope of the Ellis Island-era immigrant experience told in words and melodies of those who made the epic journey.
Tell us about the genesis of Steerage Song A few years ago, I created a work in collaboration with Minnesota Public Radio called All Is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914, which wove together historic songs and a wide range of found texts to create a musical docudrama. I wanted to explore a similar use of that form while addressing a major issue of debate in this country.
What drew you to using vintage songs rather than creating new songs to tell the story? There is a wealth of songs that offer profound first-hand insights into the immigrant experience. Co-creator Dan Chouinard and I have been gathering songs throughout Europe and the States for the past three years. The work currently includes songs from 25 different countries and 15 different languages. There is a musical progression in the work beginning with isolated, ethnic musical styles, then a fusion of those sounds, and ending with the birth of Tin Pan Alley.
You recently had a chance to work further on the show. What changed during that development time? With support from the National Fund for New Musicals, we were able to do a weeklong workshop of the piece, which culminated in a public reading. The response was very positive and the feedback insightful as we move to the next phase of development.
What are the plans for Steerage Song? Theater Latté Da will premiere the work in collaboration with Minnesota Public Radio in June 2011 at the Fitzgerald Theater in St Paul (home to “A Prairie Home Companion”). The work will subsequently be broadcast through National Public Radio. This will hopefully be the first of many productions.
Why do you think Steerage Song is right for your audience and community at this time? Immigration is a divisive issue in this country. Over the past century the languages, skin colors and modes of transportation have changed, but much of the immigrant experience remains the same. Through looking back at the experience of our ancestors, I believe we alter the way we look at the immigrants of today.
For more information about Theatre Latte Da and Steerage Song, visit latteda.org