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In the biography Defying Gravity, Carol de Giere explores the creative life and career of composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz, who is perhaps best known for his show Wicked. The Broadway revival of one of his earlier shows, Pippin, is opening April 25 at the Music Box Theatre in New York.
The biography gives readers a close-up look into the creative mind of Schwartz, using material from more than 80 hours of interviews with him and more than 100 interviews with his friends and colleagues.
But what truly sets this book above comparable literary fare is that de Giere concludes every chapter with “Creativity Notes,” in which Schwartz and others offer invaluable insight regarding the creative process and artistic life.
De Giere counts this aspect of the book as the greatest triumph of the project. “The ‘Creativity Notes’ are what I’ve been getting the most praise for,” de Giere said.
Schwartz’s early creative pursuits led to quick successes. At age 23, fresh from Carnegie-Mellon University, he wrote the score for Godspell, immediately followed by Pippin and The Magic Show. Later he worked on several Disney features, including Pocahontas, which brought him Academy Awards for best score and best song (“Colors of the Wind”).
In 2006, Kansas City’s own Coterie Theater debuted the stage adaptation of Geppetto & Son, which was based on the 2000 TV musical that Schwartz wrote for The Wonderful World of Disney.
Schwartz, now 65, had the idea to convert Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked into a stage musical, as he had done with Pippin and Working. As part of the book’s appendix, de Giere includes Schwartz’s original outline for the show.
“If you read through Stephen’s outline, ” she said, “then look at the original novel, and then at the final production, you’ll find it’s a complete lesson in the manner by which Schwartz’s theatrical genius brings such a colossal undertaking to life.
“I think it‘s really illuminating for anyone who’s either an admirer of Wicked — or who’s working on anykind of adaptation of their own.”
This biography’s name, Defying Gravity, refers to the rousing Act One climax of Wicked. Yet the title has another meaning, as well. The book, which came out in 2008, explores not only the challenging collaboration issues and decisions that led Schwartz to such phenomenal hits, but also those that resulted in expensive flops, even after they had all the earmarks of certain success in their initial stages. These are the experiences that had him seriously considering early retirement at one point.
But the author said the book wouldn’t have been so exciting if it had just focused on his great successes.
De Giere said, “Stephen had to overcome his own ‘story’ that he was telling himself about supposedly only being a ‘three-hit wonder.’ He had to overcome his attitude — both about himself and the industry in which he was working — and in doing so, defied his own gravity — and the gravity of the critics around him.”
The story behind the book is as remarkable as many of the incidents it details. De Giere was not very familiar with the business of theater before starting work on the manuscript. But the Madison, Wis., native said, “When I was growing up, my mother loved musicals and would play things like The Pajama Game, The King and I, and a lot of wonderful classics on vinyl LPs — and I think the first movie I saw was South Pacific. These tunes were the music of my heart.”
Her outsider status may have worked in her favor. “I think one of the reasons Stephen consented to let me do this book was that I was interested in how musicals were made and how creativity works,” de Giere said. “So I came in with a lot of those questions myself.”
A former librarian living in Iowa, de Giere had been around books all her life when she decided to turn her attention to the other side of publishing by becoming a freelance journalist. One assignment had her preparing musician biographies, working from an alphabetical list.
“Out of all of the possible musicians, I was given the letter ‘S’ for last names, and that encompassed Stephen Schwartz,” she said.
During her research, she was struck by the insights regarding creativity posted on his website, she recalled. “I became sort of absorbed by these and thought he would be a really interesting person to write about.”
She became so committed to the project that eventually, she and her husband relocated to the East Coast to make her work easier.
“I needed to be near New York City,” de Giere said. “I needed to know what Broadway was about in person — and I needed to be near enough to catch Stephen on subway rides or those occasions where I could just pop out a tape recorder. So we packed up and drove across the country.”
Besides the book, de Giere is responsible for a quarterly e-newsletter that keeps devotees informed about the composer and his shows.
“While gathering materials, I wanted to offer something to the book’s prospective audience,” de Giere said. “So I started www.MusicalSchwartz.com. And because a lot of websites have newsletters, I asked Stephen if he would sometimes write updates for it.”
The result is “The Schwartz Scene,” which has received such an overwhelmingly encouraging response that it spawned a website of its own: www.TheSchwartzScene.com. There, enthusiasts can sign up and receive regular bulletins about Schwartz’s work.
When asked about her personal favorites among his works, de Giere said, “I like this upcoming version of ‘Pippin’ and how they’ve re-imagined it. And I’ve seen Wicked about 14 times. … But what my husband and I see whenever we get a chance is Children of Eden. The music is so grand. Some of it is just epic, and the story [a musical retelling of the Bible’s Book of Genesis> is mythic and stirring at a deep level. There’s also much of the music of Godspell that lifts me.”
Thanks to Schwartz’s talent and perseverance, he seems to be at last getting, as the Wizard in Wicked would put it, his “due — long overdue!”
Defying Gravity is available in paperback as well as e-book formats from all major book-sellers. For more information, check out www.DefyingGravityTheBook.com.
Worldwide opera star Renée Fleming will perform in Kansas City on Thursday night, November 18, but the day before, she'll be part of a panel discussion for "Music and the Mind" — a conversation about how music affects the brain, cognitive development, healing and quality of life.
WHAT: Music and the Mind with Renée Fleming
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov 17, 2021
TIME: 4:00-5:30 PM
WHERE: The 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods, KS, 66205
Music has a profound impact and the ability to shape 86 billion neurons in the brain for cognitive development, healing, and therapy. Science research has clearly shown that music therapy interventions can improve quality of life across nearly all neurological disorders. And there is tremendous public-interest in applying music to creative aging, childhood development, and community wellness.
But scientists want to know more.
Join soprano Renée Fleming and a distinguished panel of local Kansas City experts in neurology, music therapy, music and healing, and more for this cutting-edge discussion. Audience members will be able to participate in a Q&A following the panel discussion.
*Please note this Music and the Mind Event is not a musical performance*
As Artistic Advisor at Large to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Renée Fleming has spearheaded a collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, with the participation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Sound Health initiative explores and brings attention to research and practice at the intersection of music, health, and neuroscience. This collaboration has led to workshops at the NIH, and events and performances at the Kennedy Center. This initiative has also led the NIH to recently award $20 million dollars in funding for music and neuroscience research over five years.
As part of her advocacy, Fleming is also advisor to the recently launched NEA/UCSF Sound Health Network and co-chair of the Aspen Institute/Johns Hopkins NeuroArts Blueprint, both working to advance the field of arts and health.
This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Please call the Harriman-Jewell Series at 816-415-5025 to reserve your seat.
WHAT: Renée Fleming, soprano in recital
WHEN: Thursday, Nov 18, 2021
TIME: 7:00 PM
WHERE: Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
COST: Tickets from $25.00 *discounts available for students, educators, first responders, active duty military and veterans with valid I.D.
Pair a glorious voice with a winning personality and you have a diva for the ages. Renée Fleming is a longstanding Harriman-Jewell Series favorite. With her many television and Broadway appearances, Fleming has been embraced by music lovers of all genres.
Whether singing at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Olympics, or Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, Renée Fleming represents opera to the world. In addition to her numerous operatic performances, Fleming often works classic show tunes and the Great American Songbook into her recitals. Fleming’s trademark rapport with audiences will give her Kansas City performance a warmth that is personal and sincere.
Rob Ainsley is pianist for the recital. His diverse career as a musician, conductor, educator, and administrator has taken him to top organizations and colleges from coast to coast. He now serves as Director of the Washington National Opera’s Cafritz Young Artists and American Opera Initiative. Ainsley performed with Renée Fleming in The Metropolitan Opera’s August 2020 “Met Stars Live in Concert” that was streamed worldwide.
ABOUT THE HARRIMAN-JEWELL SERIES
Renée Fleming's recital will mark the 977th performance since the Series was founded in 1965. From free education events that allow interaction with musicians and dancers, to our free Discovery Concerts that are open to the community, the Harriman-Jewell Series continues to offer life-enriching opportunities for its community's youth and lifelong learners.
Whether you're spreading truth, information, or love, traveling abroad for humanitarian reasons can have risks. Detained American journalist in Myanmar, Danny Fenster, is to be released from jail, and to fly home soon. But it doesn't always end well for every foreign national attempting to do good in a foreign country.
The missionaries consisting of sixteen Americans and one Canadian kidnapped by the Haitian “400 Mawozo” gang on October 16, is extremely scary. The gang has threatened to kill the humanitarian Christians if a million dollar per person ransom is not fulfilled. The group consists of men, women, children and an eight-month-old baby.
These missionaries have sacrificed their time and paid their own way to go to the poorest place in the Western hemisphere to try to spread God’s love and save some souls. In turn, the missionaries are experiencing a nightmare like they’ve never imagined. They’re imprisoned and being threatened with a bullet in the head.
Most of us will never get over seeing journalists being beheaded and tortured in Syria and Iraq by the barbaric Islamic extremist group called ISIL. Burning people alive and beheading others were too graphic and gruesome to ever be forgotten.
Years ago, I traveled to a third world country on a “missionary trip” with others thinking it would be a nice break. I’ve never worked so hard in my life.
Sadly, the 17 missionaries in Haiti are undergoing a cruel experience that may end with the cost of their very lives. What are they thinking now? What is going through the minds of the little children who traveled to a world to help others and spread God’s love?
Haiti has been the site of years of humanitarian efforts. The United States and other countries have given billions of dollars to help Haiti. Sadly, hurricanes, political unrest, underdevelopment and extreme poverty have all made for a sad scenario.
How much money would the world have to give to Haiti to make life better for this nation? This is a question no one can answer because usually aid is a short-term solution. We spent a trillion dollars in Afghanistan and they aren’t any better off today.
Good missionary people went to Haiti with good hearts for helping others in the name of God’s love. They went to share a message they hoped would bring about change and better lives. They may now lose their lives.
Christians point to Jesus as the model for such missionary efforts. He came preaching and teaching in an effort to demonstrate and spread God’s love and it cost him plenty – his life, executed in public on a cross.
There are some Christians today who, like Jesus, are willing to risk their lives for the sake of others. Did these men and women literally go to Haiti taking their children with them truly believe they could be killed? Would they purposefully do this to their children? Who convinced these people that such a trip with small children was a good idea?
My goal here is to simply say, think about such trips to places like Haiti. Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Nigeria and numerous others countries are not vacation spots. Foreign travel may sound exotic and adventurous but consider the possible cost.
Many missionaries and Christian workers have paid the ultimate price in order to spread the gospel of Christ. Only eternity will reveal what their selfless sacrifice has meant to those whose lives they impacted.
By chance, if you decide such an international trip is not for you, don’t feel bad. Consider helping in an American inner city, Appalachia or maybe your own neighborhood. Service at home is needed across America.
Let’s pray for the safety of these missionaries and for those negotiating their release. May God help them and all who may consider such endeavors.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Glenn Mollette is a graduate of numerous schools including Georgetown College, Southern and Lexington Seminaries in Kentucky. He is the author of 13 books including Uncommon Sense, Grandpa's Store, Minister's Guidebook: insights from a fellow minister. His column is published weekly in over 600 publications in all 50 states. Glenn Mollette has been on numerous International humanitarian and missionary group trips. Hear Glenn Mollette every weekday morning EST at 8:56 on XM radio 131. Editor-If you need to tweak or do a small edit for you paper or website that is okay. Please respond to this email if you need a picture for this column. Scroll down for additional biographical info. Buy his latest recording titled "Black Coffee" on iTunes. Learn more at www.glennmollette.com
The Black Trans Fund, incubated at Groundswell Fund, and Grantmakers for Girls of Color launched the Holding a Sister Initiative, the first-ever national fund explicitly dedicated to transgender girls and gender-expansive youth of color.
Dr. Monique W. Morris, president and CEO of Grantmakers for Girls of Color, and Bré Rivera, program director of the Black Trans Fund are together spearheading the Holding a Sister Initiative to bring attention and resources to organizations supporting trans girls of color, normalize concern and investment in their success, and create learning opportunities for cis and trans girls of color to move in deeper community with one another.
The initiative will award $1 million in grants in the first year, and will ultimately engage trans girls and gender-expansive youth of color in the decision-making process for selecting grantees on an ongoing basis.
While there has been an increase in donor attention to work led by people of color, it has yet to translate into significant gains in funding for trans and gender-expansive youth of color.
According to recent regional studies in Detroit, South Florida and New Orleans, trans women of color face higher levels of hunger, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration and discrimination. At the same time, the majority of this year's record-breaking anti-trans legislation are targeted to affect youth, including bills that prevent transgender athletes from playing in school sports and the "Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act." Research has show sharp rises in suicide attempts among trans youth during 2020 and 2021.
"The reality is transgender and gender-expansive youth of color require more attention, and resources to interrupt the staggering intersections of trauma and crises they experience," said Bré Rivera.
The initiative joins existing funding intermediaries who have been leading the work to resource trans communities and engage trans people in the direction and distribution of resources, including the Third Wave Fund, the Black Trans Travel Fund, and Fund for Trans Generations. As funding partners, the Black Trans Fund and Grantmakers for Girls of Color aim to expand and transform philanthropy's investments in trans and gender-nonconforming youth. The initiative will move resources to organizations serving and led by trans girls and young women of color. It will also amplify narratives that elevate the humanity, dignity and leadership of trans and gender-expansive youth of color, as well as the ways their experiences and contributions have been overlooked, minimized and targeted by oppositional and systemic forces, and larger social justice movements.
The Holding a Sister Initiative will be led by a manager, who will steward culture change through grantmaking, capacity building, narrative shifting and philanthropic organizing. The position is currently open for applicants.
About Grantmakers for Girls of Color
Fiscally-sponsored by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC) works to mobilize resources and amplify transformative organizing work to dismantle systems of oppression led by girls and gender-expansive youth of color. Grantmakers for Girls of Color openly invites partners and stakeholders to co-create an inclusive space in support of girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth of color across programmatic issues and geographic areas. Learn more by visiting Grantmakers for Girls of Color.
About the Black Trans Fund
The Black Trans Fund is a groundbreaking endeavor: the first national fund in the country dedicated to uplifting and resourcing Black trans social justice leaders. BTF seeks to address the lack of funding for Black trans communities in the U.S. through direct grantmaking, capacity building support, and funder organizing to transform philanthropy. Learn more by visiting Black Trans Fund.