ZM is one of three new musicals being developed this summer at the 38th annual National Music Theater Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT, along with We Live in Cairo and Slaughterhouse Five.
Kotis (book & lyrics) and Hollmann (music & lyrics)
have written a show that follows "two teen-aged, fast-food workers as they struggle to live, and love, during a food-bourn catastrophe." They took a break from their developmental work—hopefully a lunch break—to answer questions about the show from Playbill.
Why have zombie stories been so popular in recent years? What fears are being tapped into that make the subject more resonant today?
Greg Kotis: We all know human beings have a capacity for mindless, self-destructive herd behavior. Perhaps the popularity of zombie stories has something to do with that.
Urinetown had such a distinctive musical sound. Which musical influences does the score of ZM draw upon?
Mark Hollmann: The score draws inspiration from a lot of pop and rock influences, like Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen, and Ben Folds Five.
What sets ZM apart from other zombie stories (other than the singing and dancing)?
Greg Kotis: Like every writing team, Mark and I have our own particular sensibility, so I suppose our sensibility can't help but make ZM its own thing-- which is a circular answer, I realize, but there you have it. How much of ZM is musical parody, and how much of it is serious (if any)?
Greg Kotis: It's both. The style is dead serious, but the text gets ridiculous from time to time.
Traditional zombies seem pretty inarticulate. In your show, how do they speak? How do they sing? Do they dance?
Greg Kotis: Our zombies mumble and moan during the book portions of the show, but they're fully articulate when singing. Same rules apply for movement--they shamble, unless they're singing, in which case they dance.
How has your work at the O’Neill Center’s National Music Theater Conference helped with the process?
Greg Kotis: Being at the O’Neill has allowed us to take apart the proverbial engine, lay all the parts out, and reassemble the thing, hopefully for the better.
What’s the latest on your other recent musical projects, The Sting and Yeast Nation?
Greg Kotis: We move immediately from ZM to The Sting after we complete our time here at the O'Neill. We've had two readings of The Sting [about two con men who try to con a gangster], and will soon begin a two-week workshop [at a location TBA]. Yeast Nation [about the emotional lives of primitive protozoa millions of years ago] had a sensational production in San Francisco in 2014, and an equally sublime production by a homeschool group in Brooklyn in 2013. We're currently searching for producers and theaters to take Yeast Nation to its next destination, wherever that might be.
What does "ZM" stand for?
Greg Kotis: I'll never tell.
National Music Theater Conference artistic director Paulette Haupt said of the team: "Greg and Mark have incredibly fertile minds and they have fed this work with such imagination and vision. Their work on ZM while in-residence at the O’Neill has been transformative."
Tickets and more information are available by calling (860) 443-1238 or visiting theoneill.org.