Inside The Writers’ Room: Alex Bechtel and Tony Lawton
Meet Tony Lawton and Alex Bechtel, the writers of Arden Theatre Company’s original musical The Light Princess. They’ve shared stories about the creation of this new work, their inspirations, and the lessons along the way.
Tell us about the writing process. Why did you choose to adapt this story? When did work on this play first begin?
AB: It was Tony who first decided to adapt The Light Princess. It was a story that he had been fond of for quite some time, and had long thought would make a great play. Once he started working on it, he thought that it should be a musical. It was at this point that he asked me to come aboard as composer. Tony sent me the first drafts of scenes and song lyrics in the spring of 2015 and that was when music started showing up, too.
TL: Most of the time, I wrote drafts and sent lyrics to Alex, who then wrote music for them. We got a grant from the Independence Foundation to workshop the adaptation in early 2015. We had a public reading at Fringe in September 2015. Terry booked us at the Arden not long after that.
What was your favorite scene/song to write?
TL: I don’t want to give away the happy ending, but every time I worked on it or read it, I cried. MacDonald really gave us great material there. Also, the Witch was a gas to write.
AB: There’s a song in the second act called “The Turning of the Tide.” It’s the dramatic and emotional climax of the piece, and it was one of the last songs I composed for the show. I believed that if I wrote most of the other musical elements of the story, that I could use the melodies from those songs within this emotional breakthrough. If you listen carefully, the counter-melody that the piano is playing as the Princess sings is from her first love duet with her Prince. Needless to say, I cried a lot while writing it.
How does it feel to be performing in a musical you wrote the music for?
AB: Great! And scary. I love being able to shape the material as we build things in rehearsal. I’ve done a lot of ensemble-created/devised plays and musicals, and I feel that being able to create something as you perform it gives the actor such a sense of ownership. And Tony has written such wonderful versions of these characters: I have such unbridled fun playing The Witch. She is vengeful, justified, passionate, and absurd–and I love every moment of playing her. The Prince is the scary/hard part for me. I have a tough time imagining myself as the “handsome prince” type. So there’s a bit of nerves that I have to work through on that stuff.
Do you feel connected to George MacDonald, the stories originating author, as a storyteller?
TL: George MacDonald had a heavy influence on C.S. Lewis, another author I’ve adapted. What they have in common is an insightful and highly nuanced understanding of the human psyche, and a tight grip on the drama of the soul, especially in the context of the Invisible. MacDonald’s fairy tales are, in my opinion, the clearest and most dramatic of his prolific writing. And The Light Princess offers the most opportunities for humor, which I think we can always stand more of.
What part of this story are you most excited to share with audiences?
AB: I think Tony’s take on this story is so important–the notion that a human being is not complete until they have experienced both joy and sorrow, the fact that sadness is a vital part of the human experience, the idea that “We just are not worth very much until we’ve cried a little.” I tear up a little just writing that down right now. And I feel lucky to be able to share that message with kids, teachers, parents, and grown-ups.
TL: The love story really works like a top; I’m keen to see how that aspect of the story draws in the audience. Also, the plight of King and Queen as parents of a spirited child will, I hope, spark recognition among parents in the audience.
What instrument do you play in the show?
AB: As I write this (things sometimes change in rehearsal!) I play piano, guitar, and accordion in the show. Emily Gardner Hall has me beat, though! (She plays piano, guitar, accordion and viola throughout the show!)
How does this show differ from solo shows?
TL: The negotiation over the script’s contents was surely a lot more drawn out and complicated. That process required that I learn a lot of diplomatic skills, and more importantly, to keep my ego in the backseat, behind considerations of quality and audience experience. I’m learning every day that “my concept” is not nearly as important as better ideas that arise from collaboration.
The Light Princess is extended by popular demand thru June 1. For tickets, purchase online or call 215.922.1122.