What Does It Mean To “Fight Write” a Musical?

Showmance   What Does It Mean To “Fight Write” a Musical?
 
Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews, real-life couple and the team behind Second Stage’s hit Invisible Thread, reveal a creative process unlike any other.

Watch the music video for “Invisible Thread,” the title song from Griffin Matthews and Matt Gould’s hit Off-Broadway musical, and the melody takes on new life outside the context of the show. Equally powerful as its in-context message, the video reveals the intimacy, longing, and connection between the co-writers and real-life couple. Still, the wrapped embrace that opens the video while they sleep is a far cry from the stances they take when they write.

The duo opts for conflict in their process, what they lovingly refer to as “fight writing.”

“We try to keep that tension there on purpose,” explains Matthews, “because if we’re just like, ‘Oh, you’re so good.’ ‘No you’re so good,’ sometimes things come out a little flat. Matt likes to pound his feet and scream and I like to have pretty melodies, so we try to keep the show and the songs living in that world, where there are pretty melodies under pounding rhythms.”

The fresh and soulful results have made the couple one of theatre’s most exciting, rising creative teams. Their work, which is often inspired by their real lives, has attracted the attention of seasoned composers like Stephen Schwartz along with Instagram-obsessed millennials who packed Second Stage Theatre when Invisible Thread made its Off-Broadway premiere there last December. Gould says writing Invisible Thread as a couple—which is based on Matthews’ volunteer experience in Ugandadefinitely complicated things. It took them years to figure out how to live and love, in and out of the rehearsal room.

READ MORE: THE TRUE STORY BEHIND INVISIBLE THREAD

“I always tell people it takes a long time to learn how to get along with your life partner and it also takes a long time to learn how to get along with your work partner,” says Gould, “so it was almost like a double wedding. We had to learn how to respect one another and give each other space. It took us a couple of years to get good at that, but now we know how to work together and we know how to love together.”

They met in August of 2008 at a birthday party for their mutual friend Leslie Odom, Jr., whose wife, Nicolette Robinson starred in Invisible Thread. Eight years later, the blurred lines between work, life, and art still cause real fights. They recently traveled to Los Angeles where Gould music-directed Merrily We Roll Along at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and Matthews worked on writing a television pilot inspired by his Uganda experiences. With their two elderly dogs in tow, they finally arrived at LAX for their flight home to New York. Gould raised his hand for a celebratory high-five on a successful trip, but Matthews felt annoyed by the lack of romance. “We really don’t like to lead with our relationship in work environments, because we try to keep the workspace really safe and clean,” says Matthews, “but when we’re at the airport, give me a peck. These are the things that happen when work and our lives collide.” When to be co-writers and when to be partners is a constant balancing act, one even further complicated by the subject of their work.

As is evident in the music video, directed by stage favorite Andrew Keenan-Bolger, their work is personal. Matthews and Gould are currently writing another documentary-style musical called The Family Project. Looking to create a new “modern family” in their own life, combining their Jewish and African-American heritages, the team uses the musical lens to suss out obstacles and triumphs, challenges and comforts. A workshop of the show hit New York last spring.

The Family Project was inspired, in part, by a trip the two took to Germany with Matthews’ grandfather to the village he had been stationed in as part of the army during World War II. They also visited a concentration camp, where an epiphany struck Gould. “I was standing there with my black boyfriend, his black mother, and his black grandfather and I realized that 60 years ago we all would have died there,” Gould remembers. “How did we get from slavery and the Holocaust to [gay people being able to] get married and have dogs and live together openly and kiss in the airport?” Through a tense combination of fighting for those we love.

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