Five Questions with Greta Gertler Gold and Ally Collier
Culturebot recently caught up with TRIPLIGHT’s Greta Gertler Gold (music and lyrics) and Allie Collier (book and lyrics). TRIPLIGHT runs from May 30th-June 4th at Joe’s Pub.
1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
Ally Collier: I was born in Melbourne and my parents shipped me around the world for the first five years of my life. I then spent most of my childhood in Australia and moved to New York in my late 20s and lived here for 11 years. Since 2016, I have been skipping back and forth between the US and Australia to work on shows.
Greta Gertler Gold: I was born in Boston, MA to Australian parents (living there whilst my father studied psychiatry for 4 years) and thus have dual citizenship. I’ve been living in NYC for 20 years. Before that, I grew up in Sydney, Australia from age 1 until my late-20s. Most recently, my home in Sunset Park of 9 years burned down in a huge fire and so now I live in Windsor Terrace with my husband and two children. Check your smoke detectors, friends!
2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
AC: The first show I ever saw was Les Mis (don’t judge). Although my playwriting is more absurd and experimental and funny and weird (see: MFA at Brooklyn College with Mac Wellman!), the unabashed theatricality of it stayed with me and has led to me writing a musical – so basically I have fulfilled my life’s dream, without the rotating stage. But Greta and I still joke/dream about having the actors on a rotating album on stage – at least for the Broadway version of Triplight.
GGG: Stew’s show Passing Strange, which I first saw on Broadway in 2008. I’d been writing songs for many years and characters had been gradually creeping into them. I’d never seen a show quite as honest, funny, beautiful, poignant and rocking as Passing Strange, and coming from the perspective of a singer-songwriter who had traveled the world to find himself/ his musical identity. Shortly after seeing it, I spied Stew in the distance after a show at Joe’s Pub and foisted my album Edible Restaurant onto him. Amazingly, he listened to it and then got in touch and encouraged me to work towards writing a musical. Soon after, I met Ally and we began working on Triplight. And guess who may or may not be one of our surprise special guests on one night of our upcoming run… ? 🙂 I have recently also realized how many musicals I loved/ listened to as a child, and/ or songs from musicals that trickled down into the popular culture of my childhood… The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, Starstruck (Australian musical film of the 1980s), Fame, Fiddler on the Roof… I am really loving exploring them all now with my 3 year old daughter.
3: What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
AC: As a writer, I wish I knew the names of all the birds and the trees and the plants – that kind of access to language is important. Also, the ability to remember things clearly – although that’s probably why I obsessively write stuff down and live surrounded by a million journals.
GGG: I wish I could very quickly notate music on Sibelius or another kind of software. I wish I could play a string instrument (preferably cello or viola) as I think it would be a peak experience to play in a string ensemble.. And I wish I could bake bread and pastries. I’m very much into eating a lot of carbohydrates right now for short energy fixes, because I’m nursing a baby, have a toddler, and don’t get any sleep! Plus, providing good, freshly baked bread to family and friends would be pretty amazing. All I can offer are fat-free melodies.
4: How was indie music in the ’90’s different than indie music today? Do you even still listen to “indie”? What is indie?!!
AC: I’m going to leave this question to Greta!
GGG: Thanks Ally… um, I have no idea what indie music today is like… I think the whole music industry has basically collapsed, hasn’t it? Or at least the parameters have shifted completely. In the 90s in Australia, “indie” music was very much connected to authentic musical expression, rather than the commercial/ corporate pop music that was proliferated over the radio airwaves and then the internet etc. There were large labels that didn’t take risks, aesthetically or culturally, and seemed to reflect a more confined, corporate, shallow culture. But the small labels and “indie” artists who did it themselves, and found ways to build careers outside the corporate world, built their own, genuine connections with audiences… so it felt more two-way/ reciprocal/ real, musically.
5: When Laura (a Triplight producer) reached out to me, she mentioned that Greta has been bringing her three-month old to the rehearsal room, and that Ally is currently pregnant. Within that context, how has parenthood/future parenthood affected your approach to this musical?
AC: I think it’s quite a radical act to bring a baby into a rehearsal room and there should be this kind of access for women to integrate parenting into their working lives, rather than having to silo the two roles. My baby is still a fetus but he likes to kick to the beat when the actors are rocking out. Future parenthood is kind of a mystery but it’s already riddled with a series of guilt-tinged questions: am I working too hard?! Should I be at home sleeping for the health of my unborn child?! Is my baby swimming in a pool of cortisol (i.e. stress) while I try to rewrite/fundraise/promote and help produce a giant, ambitious musical?! But a friend said to me, it’ll be a great story to tell him when he grows up: “your mom worked on an Off Broadway musical while she was pregnant with you” and I think it is important to model our life as artists to our children.
GGG: This is a topic very much in my mind these days. I recently wrote a long post on the “Theater Moms” facebook page, which seems to speak to a wider question so I thought I’d share some excerpts of that here.
Typed on a phone on the subway with Baby Eben strapped to me: “Reporting from the trenches. I’ve been bringing my 5 month old son to all rehearsals for my first NYC production of a musical that I’ve composed and co-written lyrics for. We workshopped this show earlier this year at NYU/Playwrights Horizons Theater School, when Eben was 8 weeks old. I had had a scheduled C-section, so it was pretty difficult, physically, but a lot of fun and very exciting. It’s been incredibly intense, amazing and exhausting bringing him with me every day for the past two weeks, and we have one more week and tech and then the shows to go… I can’t seem to figure out how to find enough good childcare, we have no family in town, plus I’ve been nursing and can’t figure out how/when to pump enough to leave him for several hours. Including him in my work life seems like the best/ easiest thing to do right now.
I feel that I have learned so much from this experience, and that I should share it here: from transporting him and baby gear as well as script etc, for the long days, to how to get home on my own with him at 11pm, to figuring out which subway stations have elevators that probably work, to coping with nursing and changing poopy diapers on the floor of the rehearsal studio, whilst simultaneously calling out chord and lyrical changes, and trying to feel like everyone can hear me and then take me seriously while I’m covered in spit up. And to dealing with how to give enough attention to my 3.5 year old daughter in the few hours I’ve been getting to see her the past couple of weeks, let alone my husband, who has been reducing his work hours so that he can look after her more outside the hours of her daycare/ preschool, and has been generally incredibly supportive but we are both exhausted. I am constantly with a baby and then baby plus toddler, considering their basic needs, and it’s hard for me to keep up with what’s happening in the rehearsal room and the days upon days of work without a break… The rest of our creative team (many youngsters, no parents amongst them, although my collaborator Ally Collier is pregnant (yay!) can all go home at the end of the day and continue to work on/think about the show. And so I can feel left out of the loops sometimes. But at least I’m THERE in the room with everyone, and I do gain a lot of courage and strength from knowing that my collaborators all want to make this possible for me and for other women/ parents. Waves of yearning to have all my time to myself – faint memories of what my life used to be life as a childfree creative person up to the age of 44, roaming this beautiful city for hours alone, writing songs when the inspiration struck me, not being forced into tiny blips of writing time during baby naps etc. – well up in me, and I quickly have to squash them down into the day in and out demands of parenting two small children. But then they/ this also gives me so much energy and inspiration to keep going.
The other morning, Lila woke up and her first question was “Mama, how do you start to write a musical?” which, I admit, made me feel proud. I realize this intensity of workload/rehearsals is necessary for making a musical, and it’s confronting for me on many levels. But then I see Eben’s baby smiles lighting up everyones’ faces, and he seems genuinely happy and enthralled throughout this whole experience, barely crying and I’m ecstatic about the show and how it’s going, and I love this creative team and cast. I feel so grateful I can be there with him, working. But I’m EXHAUSTED. I’m just trying to get through to the end of this very short run and somehow get some kind of life/work balance back. But then, ten days later, we all fly to Australia and I will be MD and performer in another musical I wrote called THE RED TREE at the Sydney Opera House and then Melbourne Arts Center.
Perhaps I should have said “no” to both of these projects once I found out I was pregnant last year, but this is all very unusual in the context of my career, and I’ve been working towards this for years. And also working towards being a mother for years. On top of all this, our home in Sunset Park burned down on April 3 – we lost our cat, our home, our grand piano and all instruments. I have barely been able to keep up with all the logistical needs of keeping our family and these musicals afloat. We’ve had so much support and love and we feel so lucky to be here. Anyway, this is a hard but fascinating and creatively and emotionally rewarding phase. I hope to get some kind of vacation at the end of it. And please come see Triplight. Thank you.”