Lara: Last week I sat down with Lyn Koenning, Music Director on the set of our latest musical collaboration, The Spitfire Grill, to talk about her process and what's been unique about working on this show.
Lyn is one of my all-time favorite collaborators. Last year we worked together on Indecent and Big Fish. She really understands how to work with actors and musicians to tell the story of the show. It's been incredibly rewarding to see how she approaches each part of the production process.
Lyn, thank you so much for taking the time to give folks a behind the scenes look at your work. I'd love to start with an overview of your process. What are you doing before we step into the rehearsal room?
Lyn: I typically start by listening to any source recordings of the music and doing a deep dive into the original and any subsequent productions, particularly focusing on the composer, lyricist, librettist, orchestrator and original cast.
I get a copy of the piano/vocal score as early as possible and spend some time playing through the show to get a feel for how the music is constructed and, simultaneous with this, I study the vocals to get a sense of the scope of all the roles and to analyze the ensemble harmonies.
Soon after, I’ll reach out to musicians and put together a band or orchestra, work on a cohesive music rehearsal schedule for the actors, and, since I’m usually conducting from the piano, I also spend time practicing my own part!
Lyn: Oh, fun question! My relationship with the show evolves like a new friendship where first we’re just getting to know each other (and possibly a bit skeptical of each other!), then we realize we actually fit each other like a glove and want to spend more time together, and then, finally, we realize we’re not going to be able to see each other any more and there’s a bittersweet aspect to it all ending.
Lara: And then we start planning the next show!
Lara: The show we're working on right now, The Spitfire Grill, definitely has a folk-inspired feel, but I think it touches on other genres. How do you describe the music?
Lyn: It’s a mixture of country, bluegrass, and pop ballads using folk instruments (cello, violin, mandolin, guitar, accordion, keyboards) and arrangements that evoke an Americana sound.
Lara: I think our band is pretty amazing. Tell us about the other musicians playing with you.
Lyn: Spitfire Grill has four musicians besides me, and three of us - John Holguin, violin, Isabel Tweraser, cello, and Malcolm Pinkston, guitar/mandolin, have worked together twice before in this same kind of small configuration (most recently in Big Fish at AP and, before that, in The Last Five Years at TexARTS). Ethan Lao, whom I met last summer when we were both working on the development of a new musical, joins us on keyboard/accordion. All four are very talented, collaborative musicians as well as delightful people to hang out with in the green room before the show starts and during intermission!
Lara: What did you find the most challenging about working on this show?
Lyn: The most challenging aspect is that with such a small band and cast, everyone is exposed and needs to be 100% focused and on point throughout the show.
Lara: Oh! I feel that. This is such an intimate musical. We have seven actors and five musicians creating the world each night. We don't have huge dance numbers, but we have some huge emotional moments and everything has to come together for those to land with the audience. Lara: Speaking of the audience, what do you think might surprise them about the material or the music?
Lyn: There is a simplicity to the music, with some gentle and heartbreaking songs but also toe-tapping and really humorous ones, that invite the audience to go on the journey with us.
Also, there’s a ton of underscoring (music that is happening under actors’ dialogue and scenes) that has to be timed out to literally seconds, but we try to make it seamless for the audience.
Lara: We spent a lot of time in rehearsal working to get that timing just right! Is there anything you want to add about working with Austin Playhouse?
Lyn: I love the thought and care that AP puts into crafting its programming each season and the collaborative spirit of everyone involved — the result is a win-win for both the Playhouse and its audiences. I feel very blessed to be a part of the Austin Playhouse Artistic Company.
Lara: And we are very, very grateful to have you here! Thank you so much for taking some time to talk about your process and The Spitfire Grill. I'd love to end with finding out what your favorite thing is about working as a Music Director?
Lyn: Creating memorable, one-of-a-kind theatre experiences for audiences and, in the process, meeting and working with truly talented and dedicated people, from actors and musicians to concessions and box office managers to stage managers and directors and designers...it’s a beautiful, rich experience, and I’ve made some dear friends along the way.
Lara: Thank you so much, Lyn! And have a great final two weeks of the run!
The Spitfire Grill runs through February 18th. Tickets and info here.
Lyn will be teaching Voice: The Anatomy of a Great Musical Theatre Audition
on March 2nd from 2pm - 4pm as part of our "Book-It Bootcamp" series. More info here.