Georgia Stitt: Her Need to Tell. . . through Music

Georgia Picture

Her love of literature coupled with a flair for creating her own melodies as a child pianist coalesced into becoming the career choice for composer/lyricist Georgia Stitt.  “I have always been a musician.  When I was seven years-old, I remember trying to play Bach and then [wanting to] improve it.”  Her innate talent to invent variations on a theme became the natural course for Georgia’s professional pursuit as a musician; nevertheless, she did not even realize that it was something you could actually DO for a career. “It was ‘extra-curricular’.” And it wasn’t until college that music would be something she considered undertaking as a livelihood.  Her passion for all types of music and a fervent love of reading convinced Georgia musical theater was “all the things that I loved [coming] together. It was really a light bulb going off when I realized that you could tell stories with music, and the more you knew about musical structure and narrative structure the more they fed each other.”

And storyteller she is!  Her focus is not so much on what stories she likes to tell through music, but “what kind of story can I tell?”  The two current projects she’s working on illustrate the range of her fascination for interesting tales to tell; one, Snow Child, commissioned by Arena Stage to be directed by Molly Smith, is set in 1920s Alaska. The score is Bluegrass because “that is what the music of Alaska is and was – that’s what they would have had – banjos and mandolins, fiddles.” While her other piece is a WW II swing band and “there is no way that music for one of them could fit into the score of the other because that’s not who those people are; that’s not the world we’re creating.  The sound of the show is very specific to the world that you’re creating, the people you’re creating and that’s interesting to me.  That calls on all the skills I have as a classical musician and as a pop musician, as a listener of all kinds of music- understanding musically what the differences are in those worlds, but also character-wise.”

Like a playwright, Georgia begins with crafting a character.  “Who are these characters and what are they involved in, what are they trying to do?  And then, what do they sound like? What music do they sound like?” Snow Child has a husband and a wife from Pennsylvania who move to Alaska during the 1920s to homestead the land.  “They’re new to Alaska and they’re trying to find their way.  And then, their neighbors are people who have been in Alaska for a long time and so they have a much more laid-back vocabulary.  They don’t speak in such big wordy sentences.  It’s like when you write New Yorker characters and they talk more quickly than non-New Yorkers. There’s less space in their language and that sort of thing.  So we have a little more folk music for the characters from Alaska as opposed to these people who are finding their way into Alaska.  And part of the synthesis of the sound is, musically, you watch these characters find their way.  Whether you are aware of it as an audience member or not I can’t say, but I think you feel it – you feel the ‘otherness’ in the music just as much as you do in the language, the costumes, in the way that characters behave and all those things.  The music is telling as much of the story as all the other elements.”

When working with students, Georgia credits her experience as a Musical Director to process a breakdown of a song.  “I think a lot of what I know about writing is because I had to sit in a rehearsal room and explain something to an actor. ‘But why do I come in on beat 4? I want to come in on the downbeat?’ And I want to explain not just that you do, but why you do.  Why has the composer anticipated—is your character anticipating something? Is your character in a hurry?”  Those are conscious, literal decisions composers make.  “Are you back-phrasing because you are reluctant to get where you’re going? Is it because we’ve got 4 bar phrase-4 bar phrase-4 bar phrase and then we’ve got a 6 bar phrase? What are those 2 bars about? Why are they there?” And so as a Music Director I’m dissecting those things, and that made me start thinking about what a composer has to do to put those clues in there for actors to dissect.  A good actor– a good singing actor– knows to look for them.”

Oftentimes, Georgia will take away the music and have students translate the lyrics into a story, “put it in [their] own language.  Explain the journey of the song in [their] own words that don’t rhyme and don’t have meter so we can be clear what we want.”  Part of the job of a songwriter is to craft a song so that an actor can identify the highest climactic moment of the song.  “Songs are structured and the bridge is the middle point and that is usually where the meat of the song is.” A character must have a Need to Tell; she refers to this as “I Want” songs where early on in the show especially a lead character will say ‘I want this and I can’t have it.’ And then the whole show is about how do I get that thing?  And it’s really that basic.  You can look at almost any successful musical where there is a character who wants something and the whole show is about how they get it.”

Wanting to be the best in her field is no easy task, especially for women.  Jeanine Tesori said at the Tony Awards, “You have to see it to be it.”  Despite Georgia not having many female archetypes, she credits the support of teachers and parents for her success. “Nobody told me I couldn’t do it.”  Her advice is straightforward in terms of making it happen:  “I have learned you can’t wait for someone to call you and say, ‘I have a job for you.’  You have to look around for whatever opportunity and say, “I should be doing that job. Who do I call to get that job? How do I MAKE that job? What do I do to make sure they think of me in that context?”

Georgia raises awareness of the plight of parity for women composer/lyricists as a Board member of the Lilly Awards.   Six years ago, as a way to recognize female playwrights who were being overlooked, Marsha Norman, Julia Jordan, and Theresa Rebeck started this not-for-profit organization to honor their work.  It’s not just an Award Ceremony, but it has “grown to [represent] the statistical analysis of what the numbers really are all around the country.  How many women are being produced? How many directors are being hired? How many female composers are being hired? And how many female lyricists/playwrights/etc.? How many female protagonists are in the show? What are the stories being told? And the number hovers around 22% female, which is unbelievable when you think about how many women are in the audiences and how many female playwrights there are.”

Programs range from providing writing retreats to a mentorship program, led by Susan Stroman.  A Fall Fundraiser is scheduled every year. Georgia is the co-producer and music director for the November 9th event, The Lilly Awards Broadway Cabaret, which features Broadway stars performing the works of women writers. You can learn more about this event at http://www.thelillyawards.org/thelillyawards/.

What Georgia loves most about being a composer/lyricist is communicating.  “I love using music to communicate an idea and then having someone say afterwards, ‘I really get what you were trying to say.’” We DO get it. Thank you, Georgia for making us all feel something special through your music!

Georgia Stitt is Composer/Lyricist and a Music Director. Her musicals currently in development include Snow Child (commissioned by Arena Stage); A.Jax (written for Waterwell with Kevin Townley and Hanna Cheek); Tempest Rock (written with Hunter Foster); The Danger Year (a revue of original songs, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle); Big Red Sun (NAMT Festival winner in 2010, Harold Arlen Award in 2005 and written with John Jiler); The Water (winner of the 2008 ANMT Search for New Voices in American Musical Theatre and written with Jeff Hylton and Tim Werenko); and Mosaic (commissioned for Off-Broadway in 2010 and written with Cheri Steinkellner). She has released three albums of her music: This Ordinary Thursday: The Songs Of Georgia Stitt, Alphabet City Cycle and My Lifelong Love. Her songs and arrangements are represented on the solo albums of Susan Egan, Lauren Kennedy, Kate Baldwin, Robert Creighton, Stuart Matthew Price, Caroline Sheen, Daniel Boys, Kevin Odekirk and composer Sam Davis. Her choral piece with hope and virtue (using text from President Obama‘s 2009 inauguration speech) was featured on NPR as part of Judith Clurman‘s Dear Mister President cycle, and her most recent orchestral piece, Waiting for Wings, co-written with husband Jason Robert Brown, was commissioned by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and premiered there with conductor John Morris Russell. Georgia has degrees from Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music and NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts. She is on the theater faculty at Pace University the Board of Directors for The Lilly Awards. Other fun credits include being the music supervisor of the Anna Kendrick/Jeremy Jordan film The Last Five Years, conducting Little Shop of Horrors on Broadway, writing arrangements for Tony Bennett‘s 80th birthday party and playing a nun in The Sound Of Music Live! on NBC with Carrie Underwood and Audra McDonald. www.georgiastitt.com

Making Music: The League of Professional Theatre Women Networking Event

TAKE IT AWAY!  captures the passion and promise of this event to represent the mission of The League:  an advocacy organization; a support system for women in theatre; a center for the exchange of information and skills that women can utilize in their careers; a means of linking women in the professional theatre; a forum for ideas relating to art and its effect on society. 

On Monday, October 5th, the League of Professional Theatre Women’s Networking Committee hosted a special panel on Meet the Music Makers: Composers & Lyrists and Special Guests discussing the Creative, Legal, and Financial Aspects of Songwriting to promote women in the professional theatre!

The event featured Composers/Lyricists Georgia Stitt, Donna Moore, LPTW Co-President Carmel Owen, June Rachelson-Ospa & Allison Brewster-Franzetti, as well as special guests Entertainment Attorney Pamela Golinski and the President of Rodgers & Hammerstein Ted Chapin, who discussed the creative, legal, and financial aspects of songwriting.

Topics ranged from the songwriting process to the different ways in which songs generate income. Chapin’s vision for R& H: “…to keep going!” And we shall!

Brought to you by the Networking Committee:  Ivy Austin and Frances McGarry, Co-Chairs, Katherine Elliot, Salon Series Chair; Richarda Abrams, Rosemary Camus, Victoria Hale, Lorna Lable, Dorothy Leeds, Mary McGinley, Romy Nordlinger, June Rachelson-Ospa, Wendy Peace, Amie Sponza, Elizabeth Strauss (Apprentice Program).

SAVE THE DATES: 

Monday, November 2, 2015:  Let’s Give Thanks! Pranna Lounge 6-8 pm 6-8 pm

Monday, February 29, 2016:  Unsung Heroes:  Backstage Professionals 6-8 pm

League of Professional Theatre’s NETWORKING MONDAYS; Meet the Music Makers!

In our continuing effort to develop and promote women in the professional theatre  we invite you to . . .

Networking Logo

NETWORKING MONDAYS

 Insights, Information, and Inspiration

Join your colleagues, expand your networks, bring a potential new member!

Monday, October 5, 2015, 6pm-8pm

Meet the Music Makers: Composers & Lyricists and

Special Guests discussing the Creative, Legal, and Financial Aspects of Songwriting


 Ripley Grier Studios 520 8th Avenue, Studio 16T

 Panelists include GEORGIA STITT (Snow Child, My Lifelong Love); DONNA MOORE (Cougar The Musical); JUNE RACHELSON-OSPA & ALLISON BREWSTER-FRANZETTI (The True Colors of Weedle); CARMEL OWEN (Asylum: The Strange Case of Mary Lincoln); PAMELA GOLINSKI (Entertainment Attorney FGR & S PLLC); and TED CHAPIN (President, Rodgers & Hammerstein)

Light Refreshments Available

RSVP: Networking@TheatreWomen.Org

SAVE THE DATES

Monday February 29, 2016, 6pm-8pm

Unsung Heroes:  Backstage Professionals

Monday, May 9, 2016, 6pm-8pm

New Wave:  Young Members and their Projects

LPTW Members: FREE                   Non-Members $15                        Non-Members with Theatrical Union Affiliation $10

The Power of Words…and Girls

Posted: 07/29/2015 6:22 pm EDT Updated: 07/30/2015 1:59 pm EDT

On a warm summer evening in Bedford, New York, surrounded by rolling hills and a warm audience of supporters, the girls introduced themselves, in all their diversity and honesty: “I’m yellow.” “I’m white.” “I’m caramel.” “I’m bi.”

The bullied girl who found school “the scariest place to be,” who “went to the blade because I felt afraid.” Jewel.

The girl who “just because I’m in seventh grade doesn’t mean I’m any less discriminated against.” Emma.

The girl whose dad “beat my mom for 15 years, [but though] she was down she brought herself up.” “Elizabeth.”

“Sticks and stones can break your bones,” finished one, but words can hurt you.”

Words are the currency, and the power, of the young performers of Girl Be Heard, artists and activists who bring global issues affecting girls center stage in cutting-edge theatre. The nonprofit company has performed at the White House, the United Nations, the State Department, TED conferences, and in underserved communities locally and globally. Major original productions have addressed homelessness, the rape epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sex trafficking, and gun violence.

Girl Be HeardIt always starts with the personal. When Hazel joined Girl Be Heard, she heard the story of Melanie, whose brother was shot and killed in 2010–something she could not have experienced otherwise. So she shared her stories too. “Society teaches us to gulp down pain and not be vulnerable,” Hazel says. “Girl Be Heard gives us a place where we can be vulnerable.” As Executive Director and Co-Founder Jessica Greer Morris pronounces, “We take the shame out of the equation…and show that you can rise above adversity.”

And they change lives. “I owe this group so much,” says Alexandra Saali, a founding member from 2008 who now serves as a Young Professionals “Amplifer” for Girl Be Heard. Hearing about the plights of Congolese women and the other girls gave her “purpose, mission, and the drive that kept me on track through the crazy years of growing up.” Alexandra is bound for medical school after she graduates from Brown University.

Brmuda

Julienne Lusenge (r), President of Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development, a coalition of 40 women’s organizations in DR Congo, so believes in Girl Be Heard that her daughter Raissa is joining. Also at the Bedford home of Chairperson Jackie Shapiro was former Premier of Bermuda Dame Pamela Gordon-Banks (l), to be honored at this year’s “Gotta Love Girls” Gala.

In Bermuda, she said, “We have a saying: ‘For each one, reach one, teach one.'” She went on to share the impact of Girl Be Heard performing in Bermuda, “where, being a small country, people can be quiet. These young ladies made it possible for people to realize they can have a voice, and that everyone has a story. With a support system you can do and be anything. The sky is the limit.”

Which is at the core of Girl Be Heard’s philosophy: if a girl can change her own life, she can change the lives of girls everywhere.

This upcoming season, the girls will address eating disorders and the $55-billion-dollar-a-year diet industry in a documentary theatre and dance piece called Embodi(ED). They also have workshops, school groups, and ensembles. When girls audition, Artistic Director and Co-Founder Ashley Marinaccio is looking for “raw talent, passion, and the potential to develop as an artist and thinker.” Most important: “someone with something to say.”

Mom & Daughter

Girl Be Heard takes it from there. “Our job is to put Miracle-Gro on these young talents,” says Greer Morris, to empower young women to become brave, socially conscious leaders in their communities. They also build lasting and invaluable community–family, really–for the girls. “Once you’re a member of Girl Be Heard…you’re with Girl Be Heard for life.” Full disclosure–my daughter (r) is a proud member of Girl Be Heard. I’m a proud mom, who also works in philanthropy and knows “making a difference” when I see it.

Girl Be Heard is the real thing. They make a difference. They change lives. And they speak to us all.

Why women-only initiatives are vital for the arts

Writer Ali Smith, winner of this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

Writer Ali Smith, winner of this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

In an increasingly crowded marketplace, women-only prizes shine a much-needed light on the talent of female writers

Global chief marketing officer at Diageo

How appropriate that the title of this year’s winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction is How To Be Both. The extraordinary novel by Ali Smith, which touches on the way the world sees gender and how that has changed, is a timely springboard into a controversial debate within the literary world: do we still need women-only initiatives in the arts?

As a woman who cares deeply about gender equality and has a love of books, I have followed this debate and commentary very closely. This year in particular, the Baileys Prize has generated considerable publicity, which is of course the point, since it is designed to shine a light on great writing by women. However, it has also served to stir a debate around whether these awards are necessary, or whether they are patronizing to women.

Writing in the New York Times, Zoe Heller explained her fear that that women-only prizes institutionalize women’s “second-class, junior league status”, while marking off women’s fiction as something “virtuous but fundamentally tedious.” Jan Dalley in the Financial Times also voiced concern that “gender-based special pleading could imply weakness in today’s world”.

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