Prize-winning musical playwright hopes part-time career yields more successes
The prospect of becoming a full-time musical playwright is a bit troubling for Niskayuna’s Kit Goldstein Grant, but she may be just that good.
“I get the Dramatists Guild magazine, and there are always articles about how nobody makes any money being a dramatist these days,” she said. “So, it is a bit daunting to consider doing it to make a living. I don’t want to deal with that terrible stress, so I’m probably happy doing it half and half.”
Lately, however, the 50-50 breakdown is more like 75-25, in favor of her work in the musical composition field. Just last month her play “It’s Raining Tamales” received third prize in the 2012 Jackie White Memorial National Children’s Play Writing Contest, presented by Columbia Entertainment in Columbia, Mo.
“It’s something to put on my website and my cover letters when I send my plays out to theater companies around the country,” she said. “Having that prize gives a theater company a little more incentive to actually look at your play. Hopefully, they might bother to actually read the script.”
Goldstein Grant, who was married this summer to Michael Grant, works part time at her family-owned business in Schenectady, Tough Traveler. Home-schooled for most of her formative years, she took a few classes at Schenectady County Community College and then went to Union College, graduating in 2005.
Two years later she had finished up a two-year program at the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Writing Workshop in New York City. Since then she has churned out five original productions for the Schenectady Theater for Children, and also wrote another musical, “The Giant Hoax,” for the Classic Theater Guild at Proctors.
“I’ve been pretty busy, and this summer, with getting married, too, I was really busy,” said Goldstein Grant, who recently wrote the musical score for a new play, “Drums Along the Mohawk, Outdoor Drama,” and is also working on the score for an independent film about the Civil War, “Thirst.”
“My parents have been pretty good giving me time off, and my husband has been very supportive. It seems like I have so many projects going on that my music is gradually becoming more of a full-time job.”
She was commissioned to write “It’s Raining Tamales” by the Schenectady Theater for Children, which took the show to numerous Capital Region schools throughout the 2011-2012 season. STC board member Claire Nolan remembers seeing Goldstein Grant’s work as far back as 2002, when the Niskayuna Acting Troupe — the creation of Goldstein and her high-school friends — put on “It Spoiled His Constitution” at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany.
“She put on this interactive play for children, and I can just remember thinking she’d be great for us,” said Nolan. “She was young, I think she may have still been in high school, but it was just fabulous. You could tell she had plenty of potential.”
Nolan saw another Goldstein Grant original a few years later when “The Wrong Box” was staged at Union College.
“That wasn’t a children’s play, but you could see this person had some wonderful talent,” said Nolan.
Heart and humor
“So, I got the board members to go see it, and we all agreed. Her heart and her humor comes out in her work, and her script works on so many levels. She’s also a wonderful person who’s been very engaging and great to work with. We’ve been thrilled to have her create plays for us.”
Goldstein Grant wrote her first musical at the age of 13. A few years earlier she had taken up the trombone but then switched to piano.
“I don’t play excessively well, so I don’t generally play my own stuff,” she said. “I’d rather have somebody else play all the right notes. But when I was young I had some very supportive friends, and we started our own theater company. We kept it up for quite a few years, through high school, and I might perform in the chorus or some other small part, but I realized early that it was best for me to focus on writing and let other people perform.”
“It’s Raining Tamales” is based on the Mexican folktale called “The Day it Snowed Tortillas.” Much of what she writes is adapted from much earlier material.
“When I write musicals I like doing adaptations because then you’re not spending so much time trying to develop the story itself,” she said.
“Obviously, what you’re doing is quite expanded from the original short story and there’s a lot you add to it, but if you’re adapting something it’s much easier to spend time writing all the music and notating it correctly. It takes a lot more time when you’re creating the original story itself.”
She said she used to consider herself more of a lyricist than a composer, but after her two years in New York that all changed.
“They saw me as more of a composer, and I guess I have moved in that direction a bit,” she said. “But I love doing both, and to me it’s sort of a combination. I usually do the lyrics first, but when I’m writing them there is usually a tune in my head.”
Her talent was readily apparent to Union College music professor Tim Olsen, who worked with her on her senior project.
“She took a classic American short story and turned it into a wonderful piece of musical theater,” said Olsen. “She was at a pretty high level when I started with her and then she went to New York, so she’s only gotten better. Kit really thinks deeply about the musical content, and how the songs should help push along the dramatic story. There are still many good short stories out there that can be reinterpreted, and Kit understands how to get at that classic human emotion, and put that into her music.”
In the fall of 2010, the Classic Theater Guild at Proctors put on “The Giant Hoax,” Goldstein Grant’s story about the Cardiff Giant, a “petrified man” that was uncovered on Oct. 16, 1869, in central New York and created quite a stir until it was found out to be a hoax.
“We picked Kit’s musical as one of the shows for our season, and we had a very successful run with it,” said Amanda Stankavich, a director and a board member at the Classic Theater Guild. “We got a great turnout, great feedback from the audience, and we were all very impressed with everything she put into her writing. She’s a great local talent.”
When Goldstein Grant isn’t developing her own new material, she’s probably listening to other music, and most likely it will be classic musical theater.
“I pick a different favorite one each time somebody asks me, but I really love ‘Les Mis,’ ” she said. “We just watched the 25th anniversary edition last week and we cried. I’m looking forward to the movie, and I hope to see the show that’s coming to Proctors. I love all the classics like ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Camelot.’ Those are the shows I grew up with, and I still love them.”