Photos: New Dramatists Composer-Librettist Studio

Folder Emily Gardner Xu Hall

I was one of five composers selected for the New Dramatists Composer-Librettist Studio this year. I wrote music in collaboration with five New Dramatists playwrights (librettists = book & lyrics) and created new music theatre for five performers (actor-singers).

The pieces varied in genre and style: some musical theatre, some art song and opera, some rock and pop.


The politics of this moment were very much present in our work and in discussion, as a number of protests and demonstrations occurred right in the middle of the programme, including the Women's March on Washington (and elsewhere including NYC). It's very clear that we must work through our current troubles in the form of art and keep creating work that responds to the issues that are surfacing from the depths of our nightmares.

In the above picture, I'm on the far left.

Each collaboration came in response to a different challenge, and each gestation process of each piece was incredibly different from the last. Then on top of that, most of us put ourselves up to our own personal challenges.

For one piece in which the collaboration began with musical material, which I brought to playwright Erin Courtney, I challenged myself to include the material with which I started. I guess now that I'm writing about it, that sounds kind of normal, but it isn't. It was very tricky! There were times I felt stuck with the material and hated myself for setting myself the challenge in the first place. In the end, I adapted pieces and it ended up working for the best that I used limited material, rather than continue to generate more. It gave the piece better structure.

New Dramatists playwrights are basically unicorns of our world and I don't really understand how my eyes were able to see them. Pretty sure we mortals cannot truly understand what a gift a good playwright is to the world. They are beautiful creative monsters and I can't believe how lucky I am to have gotten a chance to dream up dreams with them.

The staff at New Dramatists were unbelievably supportive during the whole process. Definitely had more coffee circulating my veins than blood thanks to the interns.

Performers were deliberately not given the material in advance, so that the composers and librettists would watch the performers' first encounter with their material. Any performer will tell you this is like their worst nightmare: sight-singing in front of the creators of the piece?! Then they would learn the material incredibly quickly, and it would always seem like a miracle. I'd just be staring at them, like, I know you didn't know this piece five minutes ago... so... how did you...

So much respect for them. Fearless!

This was one of the "visual maps" for the musical theatre scene and duet I wrote with Sam Chanse.

I promise that it makes total sense to me and Sam, if no one else...

Every other day, the performers would encounter a brand new piece that we had written in the previous day-point-five.

At the end of the programme, there was a performance of all the material. Can't wait to get hold of that recording!


Missing everyone from the programme quite badly now. What a life-changing experience, to make beautiful things with incredible artists.

Alright, back to it.