"It's Revving Up" — The Next Generation of Female Songwriters Share Their Hopes for the Future

News   "It's Revving Up" — The Next Generation of Female Songwriters Share Their Hopes for the Future
 
Female songwriters are making noise in New York City, and they deserve to be heard. As part of Playbill.com's Women in Theatre week, we talk to a few female songwriters about navigating the industry.

Lauren Pritchard
Lauren Pritchard

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"There's a feminist in all of us that would like to see music… find a way to no longer focus on 'man' and 'woman,' but be sort of genderless or androgynous," explained singer-songwriter and actress Lauren Pritchard. Her musical Songbird will open Off-Broadway in the fall.

"I would love to think that you write a show and someone doesn't know if it's written by a woman or a man," said Zoe Sarnak. Her musicals A Lasting Impression and The Years Between continue development as she takes on new projects, including a movie-musical short.

"I want to change stock characters," added Katie Thompson. "I want the ingénue and the supporting best friend — I want them to not have to be soprano, alto or mezzo. I want to see women characters that exist in the contemporary world that are complicated and strong and vulnerable and all of those things, and I want to create those roles as well as see other people like us." She takes a break from performing (after a few years that included projects such as Giant, Big Fish and Tarzan) to focus her efforts on her musical Haunted.

All three are making their mark on the New York theatre scene — as both performers and writers — but want to see the industry continue to evolve. Female songwriters are rare in an industry dominated by males on the creative end. Work by male songwriters is more often produced, and it was only this year that an all-female writing team made history by winning the Tony Award for Best Score. So, why did it take until 2015 to see history be made?

"It's this weird thing that when you fight for something as a woman, especially an artistic thing — and I hate saying these things — you are either perceived as being a bitch or you are perceived [as] 'emotional,'" said Thompson. "'Oh, well, she's just emotional.' I get this a lot, actually — they don't mean it in a mean way, but they say, 'Well, of course, she's going to react that way. Have you seen her work? She's an emotional writer. She's an emotional performer. Of course she's going to be an emotional collaborator' or, 'Of course she's going to fight for this one thing that doesn't matter' that they don't understand, yet, that matters. Because when you fight for artistic anything, a lot of times, your collaborators don't understand until they see it up. Until they finally get it. Until that moment."

Katie Thompson
Katie Thompson

Pritchard, who has been signed with Sony/ATV since 2008, also sees the disparity between men and women in the songwriting industry.

"I do think at some point that we, as female writers, deserve a certain amount of respect that is absolutely starting to be seen, but it's taken a long time to get to that point because it's a man's world," she said. "It really is, and I can say that honestly. I live in every single day of my life; I have for the 12 years that I've been working in the industry, and it's kind of brutal. This is the thing that I find frustrating: Sometimes, you have to be so far in one direction of strength or anger or whatever it is to prove your point way more so than a man sometimes. And, I don't mean by being angry. I just mean in the things that you're writing about. Sometimes, you can write for a perspective that maybe you have to make more masculine than you want it to be to prove the point, when you wouldn't have to do that if you were a man. So, I think that's the only thing that would be nice to see, where women don't necessarily have to work so hard to prove their point, [and] they don't necessarily have to overcompensate sometimes.

"And, it doesn't make anybody bad or wrong. It's kind of literally the way of the world is, and it's slowly been evolving and changing and getting better for us over time, which is good. You know, and I think also, what I'd like to see more of, especially for young girls — because, in my downtime, I do a lot of songwriting coaching… Especially for young girls, but young boys and young girls, in general, [I'd like] for them to have an understanding that they have a voice, and they can use it for anything that they want, especially from a writing perspective. Essentially, you can write whatever you want, and the only person putting a limit on that, in theory, is you, right?"

Zoe Sarnak
Zoe Sarnak

All three spoke of the exciting moments at this year's Tony Awards. Fun Home, a story about a female's relationship with her father and her sexuality, not only took home the Tony for Best Score (Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron), but it also was honored with Best Book (Kron), Best Actor (Michael Cerveris), Best Direction (Sam Gold) and Best Musical.

Sarnak said that it's exciting "when you look at a show like Fun Home, to see a character and her struggling with her relationship with her father, not worrying if she's going to find a husband — not that that's not an important story, it's just that there are so many stories to tell about women…and also about men."

According to Thompson, "I think that it's been revving up. I don't know if you've felt it... I've been here for seven-eight years, but there's been a real rev for more women, more women, more women. I performed at one of the Lilly Awards [events] two years ago, and I was just across-the-board shocked at the support that all these women have for each other, and I think the turning point really is just inviting more women to be in positions of power without apologizing for it. Now, I feel like these next couple of years are very important because we have to put our money where our mouths have been for years and years and actually come up with beautiful pieces of work."

As for this year in female pieces and the success of women songwriters, Pritchard said, "It was like a f*cking revolution."

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