Gordon Leary and Julia Meinwald’s new musical Pregnancy Pact has come to New York, taking the stage at 54 Below this Friday, May 23, at 8:30pm. Based on the news story of a teen pregnancy pact, the show was nurtured in the Dramatists Guild Fellows Program before premiering at the Weston Playhouse in Vermont in 2012. Gordon and Julia talk to the Dramatists Guild Fund about the concert, the cast, and writing Pregnancy Pact.
When did you start writing Pregnancy Pact?
Gordon Leary: We wrote the first draft of the show during our year in the Fellows program (2009-2010).
Julia Meinwald: And we had the first table read on Mother’s Day 2010.
What interested you about this story and why did you decide to turn it into a musical?
Gordon Leary: We began writing the show not long after the original reporting on the alleged (and debunked) story in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Even after it was clear that a pact never happened, there was something about the story that stayed in the collective consciousness. And even though it didn’t happen in real life, we were drawn to understanding how people thought it could. Given the high emotions of the story, we knew that it could sing, especially in a voice that’s influenced by the kind of music these girls might be listening to.
Did you have anything written before the fellows program or did you come in with just the idea?
Gordon Leary: We came in with three songs, two of which are still in the show. But we used our time in the Fellows program to find the story.
After the fellows program, how did you continue to work on the piece?
Gordon Leary: Soon after the program ended, we won the 2011 Weston Playhouse New Musical Award and got to go up to Vermont to work on the show for a week. A few months later we were selected for the 2011 Yale Institute for Music Theatre and we spent two weeks in New Haven workshopping the show and doing a lot of writing and rewriting with a full cast.
Can you share an experience you had in the fellows program that had an impact on the piece?
Gordon Leary: What was interesting was that we knew the general shape of the piece but as we presented material so frequently we were able to really discover the story as the year progressed thanks to the feedback we were getting in the group.
Julia Meinwald: The thing I always think about is being so nervous to present to Tom Kitt and playing him Hummingbird Heart, which I thought was the purest musical expression of joy, and his comment being “It’s so interesting how you chose to make the singer sound so anxious about the pregnancy!” We got good feedback about the moment in the show where the girls form the pact. We originally brought in a song called “I Promise” and got good feedback from the group about how that moment needed to be expanded.
Gordon Leary: The show can be conversation starter, and the feedback we got from our peers in the group as well as our mentors and guests brought up equal parts craft feedback and emotional feedback. We knew going into the project that it would be challenging and we were really happy that the group engaged us on so many levels.
How have you put together a concert version of the show? Is it all the songs from the show?
Gordon Leary: It is almost the complete score. We left out one of the longer musical sequences in the interest of time. But it is the first time a few of these songs will be heard in New York, which we’re excited about.
Are there any visuals involved as there were in the previous Ars Nova concert?
Gordon Leary: There are! We wanted to make sure the story was told, so we have a few interludes of text messages to give the audience a taste of the book.
Have you worked on the show or changed anything since the Weston production?
Gordon Leary: Things have been pretty set since our production in Weston. The big thing is that we’ve recorded some new demos based on those changes.
Who’s in your cast? Are these people who have worked on the show before?
Gordon Leary: We have a really nice mix of performers from all of our developmental steps, along with a few people new to the material.
Who are the new people and what about them made them right for the piece?
Gordon Leary: Allison Posner is a singer we’ve both worked with on other projects but we’ve never had the chance to bring her into this piece. Like all of the girls in the piece, she has a killer voice. It’s the kind of unique, personal sound we love to find. And we’re also working with Rory O’Malley for the first time. I’m really excited for the material he’s singing. He’s obviously so hilariously funny on stage, but he’s also such a genuinely nice guy and it’s fun to have him singing such sweet songs.
Is this your first time presenting at 54 Below?
Gordon Leary: It is! This is the first time we’ve had our own evening there, after a few songs being performed in other concerts.
What is exciting about presenting there and having Pregnancy Pact in that venue?
Gordon Leary: Well, we are excited about the show being heard again after a few years away from New York. But we also both love everything about 54 Below—the atmosphere, the menu, the staff—and we’re excited to be joining the ranks of the amazing people who’ve performed there.
Interview by Shoshana Greenberg