Monday, 22 December 2014

Interview with the women producers behind The Scottsboro Boys



A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to review The Scottsboro Boys in London's West End, which tells the harrowing piece of American history in which nine African American boys were accused of raping two white women and were in the first instance sentenced to death without much of a trial or even proof of the allegations.

The musical received 12 Tony Award nomination on Broadway before making its way across the pond and playing a sell-out run at the Young Vic Theatre earlier this year. The show has now returned to London and is playing at the Garrick Theatre in the West End until 21 February 2015.

Catherine Schreiber and Paula Marie Black are the two women producers behind the production and I spoke to them for Woman's World (which is where this interview first appeared) about their involvement with the show and the challenges of bringing it to the UK.

How did you became involved with The Scottsboro Boys?

Catherine Schreiber (CS): "I met with Jacki Florin, a lead producer on The Scottsboro Boys. I read the script on a Friday, flew to Minneapolis (where it was playing pre-Broadway) the following Wednesday to see it. It was one of the most emotional, life-changing and powerful experiences I have had in theatre. And that was it. I had to become involved in the show."

Paula Marie Black (PMB): "I was very aware of The Scottsboro Boys on the New York City theatre landscape but hadn't experienced the production. The Scottsboro Boys never left me, it whispered in my ear and then centered directly in my heart and this has never happened to me before as a producer.

"I simply sensed brilliance and knew how meaningful and life-changing it would be for myself and all of us on this production. I had no doubt that my destiny and The Scottsboro Boys had intersected and I had an important role to play as a lead producer."

What was the most challenging part of bringing this moving story to the stage? And the most rewarding?

CS: "The most challenging part was finding support for the musical, which despite being nominated for 12 Tonys, closed early on Broadway for a variety of reasons.

"Some were skeptical about doing a musical in London, particularly a show about one of the greatest travesties of justice in American history, but I was convinced (as were the other producers who joined me) that the sophisticated London audience would appreciate this brilliant masterpiece by Kander and Ebb and I am thrilled that they have.

"And I must add, what has been also deeply rewarding was getting involved in the Scottsboro Boys Museum in Alabama. I became a founder to support the great work being done there by Shelia Washingon, so that the story of the Scottsboro Boys is not forgotten. It was deeply gratifying to be a part of history, to be honoured with the key to the city of Scottsboro and to be honoured to give the key note address in Alabama when the Governor of Alabama signed the Scottsboro Boys Act April 19th, 2013, exonerating the boys. This show has helped change history. I am very deeply proud to be part of this."

PMB: "I was very focused as a lead producer to protect and lift this production. I did not let its past history of a short run on Broadway of just 49 performances, and ultimately 12 Tony Award nominations, affect me. I simply said and believed my positive affirmation out loud that was then and this is now."

Can you tell us about the journey of bringing the musical from New York to London? Were there particular challenges to promoting it to a British audience?

CS: "When the show closed on Broadway, I was determined that it find a new life and we always thought London would be the place to go. I was honoured to get the rights from the John Kander, David Thompson and Susan Stroman to do the show and I believe this was because of my passion and commitment to the project.

"We were blessed that David Lan and the Young Vic embraced the show. It was the perfect theatre to co-produce with. I also knew I didn’t want to produce it without some of the original brilliant cast members and we were able to bring six American actors to the Young Vic.

"One of the challenges we faced in London was that we were presenting part of American history few Londoners, indeed not many Americans, knew about. But the themes in the show are universal and The Scottsboro Boys has touched the hearts of those who see it."

PMB: "I deeply and simply felt that London's theatre community would have the distance and ability to accept the brilliant creative concepts and message of this production.

"I believe The Scottsboro Boys is a both a timeless and contemporary piece of American musical theatre that at the same time makes the audience face square on injustices, questioning their own perspectives and in doing so leaving the performance potentially changed as injustices continue around the world."

Besides The Scottsboro Boys, what other projects are you currently working on?

CS: "I have been working full-time on The Scottsboro Boys for the past few years, but I am working on bringing a new play by an American playwright to the Chichester and thrilled at the opportunity to work with Jonathan Church.

"I’m a supporter of Matilda and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in New York, and also a producer on The King’s Speech. I hope to have some time now to fully consider the wonderful projects being offered to me, besides getting my own film scripts into production and yes, return to acting and my own writing for a bit. And I would love to do another production with the Young Vic."

PMB: "I am executive producer of the cast album of The Scottsboro Boys and looking very much to preserving John Kander and Freb Ebb's lyrics and composition with the cast and orchestra at the iconic Abbey Road Studio Two later this month.

"I am also a co-producer on Made in Dagenham, honouring all women in the UK and around the world who stand up for change; a Tony Award winner for Hedwig and the Angry Inch; and co-producer for On The Town, also currently running on Broadway.

"My future musical productions headed for Broadway, and each one lifting the works of a woman director and/or playwright, are Fun Home, The Great Comet of 1812, Black Orpheus and Unchain My Heart…the Ray Charles Musical."

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