For over 20 seasons, playwright Joseph McDonough and composer David Kisor have worked together to create ETC’s fanciful holiday musicals. Their newest enchanting musical, The Dancing Princesses, came to life with hard work, humor, and lots of music.
Where did the idea for the story come from?
McDonough: This show began with an idea from David Kisor. He had an earlier version of this show that he created several years ago for University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Preparatory. We started with that concept then changed and deepened the plot quite a bit with mostly new characters for this new version of the story.
How did you prepare to write and compose?
McDonough: Having worked together on so many shows over the years, I think we’ve developed a shorthand regarding the writing process, understanding what ETC’s needs are for the production, and remembering what has worked (and what hasn’t worked) in the past. All of this familiarity with the process and with our ETC collaborators has given us the freedom to work creatively but also efficiently in creating a brand new musical. And I personally always have the benefit of knowing that the music and lyrics that David Kisor will come up with will always be heartfelt, witty and exactly what the story needs.
Kisor: When composing, I try to find a unifying musical theme to tie all of the music together as a whole. With there being five princesses in our version of The Dancing Princesses, I decided to use the five black keys on the piano – also known as the pentatonic scale – as the basis for all the music. Improvisation or just playing around with notes is definitely a part of the process.
How did you create a world premiere musical?
McDonough: As soon as last year’s production of Cinderella: After Ever After closed, we spent several afternoons at Coffee Emporium and Skyline brainstorming and ironing out the plot and the character descriptions before we started writing. Lynn Meyers (ETC’s Producing Artistic Director) was also very involved in this process providing us valuable guidance, feedback, and suggestions.
Kisor: We were able to have three readings of the play at different stages of development with actors from Ensemble Theatre. This was immensely helpful to hear the dialogue and songs out loud and have the actors comment on them. Once we were in rehearsal we went through that process again, page by page, line by line, allowing anyone and everyone to question the script and lyrics in order to make the story clear. We would rewrite on the spot until there was a consensus that things were clear and understandable.
McDonough: The insightful questions and generous feedback we received from everyone was invaluable as we continued to revise and shape the script and score. We were, in fact, writing many of the roles in The Dancing Princesses with specific actors in mind. Having worked with so many of these wonderful actors before, it allowed us the advantage of writing specifically to their talents which was both a lot of fun and a tremendous help in the creative process.
What is it like to see your story come to life?
McDonough: While I always really enjoy creating the characters and I especially enjoy combining comic bits with touching moments, my favorite part is seeing the various pieces—dialogue, song, dance and everything else— come together as we rehearse and then put it up on the stage. For me, it never gets old sitting in the audience and watching the results of so many hard-working, talented and collaborative people and thinking back to when the show was just an idea that David, Lynn and I were just discussing as a concept and when the script was just a blank computer screen as I typed “Act One, Scene One.”
Kisor: I have no words to describe what it is like to see and hear something that was once just a thought in my head come to life on the stage. I am proud and humbled all at the same time. To have plays produced at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is a dream come true.
If there’s anything to be learned from McDonough and Kisor’s fairy tales, it’s that a pair of shoes can change your life, and that dreams can come true.
Call or click for your chance to see The Dancing Princesses!