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AMDA Alum Catherine Garvin Turns Writer Girl

June 29, 2011 -

AMDA Alumna Catherine Garvin (NY 1989) began her career as a performer, but later discovered her passion to write for the theatre. Catherine has now written two complete musicals and three plays, with more in the works. Her first effort, Fighter Girl The Musical, debuted last year at Portland’s Fertile Ground Festival. We caught up with Catherine to find out, in her words, what it takes to develop such creative aspirations and become a playwright.

What was your experience like as a student at AMDA?

NYC AMDA experience showed me the creative process and how to shape creative intensity into a fantastic theatrical experience. Attending AMDA felt like breathing in my life. In a very short 18 months, I learned volumes about what it takes to be a professional theatrical artist. I experienced first hand how to develop and nurture professional acting, singing and dancing skills and techniques. Most importantly the AMDA experience set on fire a desire and a passion within me to aim high and dream big.

What did you find to be some of the benefits of studying in New York?

NYC is one of the best theatrical centers of the universe. It’s a raw, real and no excuses kind of place. It’s intense, focused and no distractions. NYC provides the best experience of “the best.” It fit my personality and character like a glove.

What were your initial goals for yourself when you graduated?

My initial goals were to act, sing and dance anywhere, anytime and anyplace. What I didn’t know at the time was that during my AMDA experience a seed was planted inside me that later enabled me to have the confidence to write.

I understand you wrote a musical that debuted at Portland’s Fertile Ground Festival last year. How was that experience?

The experience of writing and producing Fighter Girl The Musical for the Fertile Ground Festival 2010 was like riding a fire-breathing dragon.The dragon (creative process) will either devour you or you’ll be reborn. The Fighter Girl experience was filled with intense emotions like, fear, joy, courage, hate, anger, adventure, more joy, birth, death, sadness, sorrow, jealousy and more joy, tears, surrender and birth again.

Since writing Fighter Girl The Musical, I have written my second musical Emma Lily and other plays. My plays that are waiting in the wings to be brought to the stage are Citizen Rose, the story about Josephine Bonaparte’s 3 months in the Carmelites prison, during the reign of terror and revolutionary France, when her first husband Alexander de Beauharnais was guillotined, and The Curse of the Argyle Diamond and Romeo and Juliet of Windsor to name a few.

How did the idea for Fighter Girl The Musical come about?

Fighter Girl started as a song written by my co-writer Arlie Conner and then I wrote the song into a musical.

You and your writing partner also worked with singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik who wrote the award-winning musical Spring Awakening. It’s interesting to note the onslaught of mainstream musicians working their way into the realm of Broadway musicals. How did Duncan help you with Fighter Girl?

Spring Awakening and Rent are contemporary musicals that speak to the same audience as Fighter Girl The Musical. As a writer, I always examine great works of art like Spring Awakening and Rent as a way of feeling inspiration, plot and character development, story structure, etc. The story of Duncan Sheik’s rise as a singer songwriter to musical composer is a telling path that inspires hope for others like myself.

I met Duncan Sheik however only by chance after a concert (February 2009) at the Aladdin Theatre in Portland, Oregon. I waited for him after his concert performance, introduced myself and explained what I was up to. He was friendly and encouraging as we discussed the topic of writing musicals. He said, “Unless you’ve been writing Fighter Girl for three years the play is probably not done but if you’ve been writing for 5 years on the same play you’re probably crazy.”

Was this your first musical writing endeavor or how long had you been interested in writing a musical?

Yes, Fighter Girl The Musical was my first. I didn’t know I had interest until I was faced the task of writing, then I knew I could do it. I don’t know how this happened. It just happened.

Now you are working on your second full length musical, Emma Lily. Tell us about that?

It is easier and faster. I don’t stumble or fall into the same pits of confusion and doubt. I focus on making new mistakes and learn new things about creating. Creating for me doesn’t mean I know everything about “how it will happen.” It’s about setting the course and allowing it to happen. I have true professional standards I learned while at AMDA that I adhere to, set and meet the deadlines, ask for help, have a clear vision and dream big. Sometimes, in order to create something new, everything around me seems to fall apart but in the end the play is still standing. Also it is important to know when the play is done and ready to be shared. Letting go of a play is a tiny death. I will get really fearful and angry about nothing, and then I realize it’s time to let the play go.

What are your future plans for Fighter Girl and Emma Lily?

Fighter Girl The Musical is in serious re-writes for a world premiere, Emma Lily is set to have a staged reading in October 2011 in Portland, Oregon and a workshop production at the Fertile Ground Festival 2012. The big plans are New York Fringe Festival 2012, Festival of New American Musicals in Los Angeles 2012, Bloomington Playwrights Project, JAW Festival 2012 at Portland Center Stage and someday at LCT3 in New York, to name a few.

What advice do you have for current students and recent graduates?

  • Discover the creative process and give yourself over (surrender) to the creative experience
  • Listen to your instructors they will guide you
  • I recommend keeping your creative professional life separate from your personal life
  • Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse. Don’t stop rehearsing until your performance is flying, you’re having fun and laughing
  • Life seems short but in reality it is longer than you can imagine or will understand. "SO" dream big and long
  • Give your dreams time and space to grow into being because they won’t happen the way you think they should or in the time frame you set
  • Learn new things all the time, meet new people, listen to yourself and others (especially the ones you have conflict with). Be silent, listen and learn
  • Tend the fire and flame of your creative passion in the face of disappointment
  • Know in your heart that your time will come. Have confidence. Know your true creative commitment to “Be, Creative”
  • Love and nurture creativity in yourself, and others, like a delicate flower rare and beautiful and never leave room for doubt in your mind or heart EVER
  • As Maude said to Harold, “Love and then go out and love some more”

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and insight with us. We look forward to hearing about both of your musicals as they continue to make their way onto new stages in the future.