Julia Meinwald (’05) on Authoring Musicals and Ordering Milkshakes


Julia Meinwald, Silliman '05

"Gordon and I tend to be drawn to footnotes in American History. We love writing about characters who make decisions that at first we cannot comprehend, and trying to understand them better as we create the show."

Julia Meinwald (Silliman '05) is a musical theatre writer based in New York City. She is currently developing several pieces, including The Loneliest Girl in the World, which is one of eight works to earn the high honor of being featured in the 2016 National Alliance for Musical Theatre Festival. We asked Julia to tell us about what inspires her, the way she approaches her collaborations, and how her years at Yale prepared her for a career in the NYC arts scene.

When did you know that you wanted to pursue your current career?

I was very boring, in that I've known I wanted to be a composer since I was like ten, and by college I had it narrowed down to film scoring or musical theatre, so I never got to experiment with a bunch of different majors.

Were you involved in the arts scene at Yale?

I actually never wrote a musical at Yale, although I did learn a lot playing in the pit or stage managing for other people's musicals. I did get involved in a ton of theatre productions, mainly doing sound design or stage management. I also scored a ton of student films. I'm happy to report that I'm still collaborating with some of the film makers I worked with at Yale, though it's a harder slog without the amazing support of places like the DMCA and access to beautiful venues to record in and a bevy of orchestras who are game to perform your scores just for fun. One of my favorite things at Yale was being in the improv group Just Add Water -- my fellow Jawbies have remained some of my closest friends and collaborators, plus I still have the jumpsuit.

What is your favorite show/exhibit right now?

I had the most wonderful time at Bedlam Theatre Company's Sense and Sensibility -- such beautiful language, strong, huge but totally grounded characters, and a super clear and fun vocabulary of movement. In the improv world, I am a devotee of the wonderfully patient and hilarious Kornfield and Andrews show on Sunday nights at the Magnet Theatre.

What current projects are you working on?

Okay, there are a couple buns in the proverbial (non-biological) oven, so I'll try to be succinct.

  • The Loneliest Girl in the World, a musical about Anita Bryant and the gay rights activist who famously pied her in the face, was recent presented at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre Festival.

  • The Magnificent Seven, about the 1996 women's Olympic gymnastics team, recently had a concert at Dixon Place, as well as a workshop/reading type situation through Fresh Ground Pepper late last year. (My writing partner Gordon and I developed the show with them as part of their Playground play group.)

  • Elevator Heart, my musical with Sara Cooper and Amy Burgess about all things woman, recently had a production at NYU with the undergrads at The New Studio on Broadway.

  • REB + VoDKa + ME, a show Gordon and I are writing about Columbiner culture (the online community fascinated by Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold), is actually heading back to Yale this summer for the Yale Institute for Musical Theatre alumni residency. After starting the show with The Civilians in 2015, we're now developing it further through the Musical Theatre Factory's Lerner and Loewe writers group.

  • In the improv world, I'm having a ball performing with the show Dragons & Dungeons at The Magnet.

  • You can find updates on all the Julia news that's fit to print at www.juliameinwald.com

How did your current projects come about?

Gordon and I tend to be drawn to footnotes in American History. (One of our first shows, Pregnancy Pact, definitely falls into that category.) We love writing about characters who make decisions that at first we cannot comprehend, and trying to understand them better as we create the show. One of my friends once called a show of ours "aggressively empathetic", which I loved as a description of what we're trying to do.

How do you approach the art of collaboration?

I absolutely love working collaboratively, mainly because I love getting the benefit of other peoples' wonderful ideas and work ethic. For me personally, I love having roles clearly separated. I know there are lots of great teams who work in the room together, with the lyricist proposing a snippet of melody here and the composer providing a turn of phrase there, but I like to have and give total control over each domain. Feedback like "the accompaniment in the verse felt surprisingly manic for this moment when the character is at peace" is great, but I basically never want to hear a suggestion of a different chord or hook.

If you could perform or have your work displayed in any venue, which would it be?

Oh my goodness, there are so many wonderful venues out there, and I'm such a glutton! Anywhere! Everywhere! I have so many wonderful memories of seeing work that I've loved at Ars Nova, Playwrights Horizons, The Public, LTC3...really too many places to name. I also have a fantasy of someday having my work produced at the Hangar Theatre. (I grew up in Ithaca, and when I was little made my parents take me to their production of Falsettos no less than five times.)

If you could meet one artist/author, alive or dead, who would it be?

I want to meet JD Salinger and ask him if he likes me.

Have you always been based in NYC?

I came to NYC right after college to attend NYU's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, and I'm here for the long haul. I absolutely love NYC, so it's a bonus that it's also the perfect place to do what I want to do creatively.

How does NYC affect your work?

There is so much amazing work to be seen here, and so many inspiring writers. It's the absolute greatest to be in a city with such a big musical theatre community and one that cares about new work. Programs like the Dramatists Guild Fellowship, the Civilian's R&D Group, MTF's writers group, Ars Novas Uncharted group (and/or similar past and future incarnations thereof), the New Dramatists Composer Librettists Development Program, American Lyric Theatre's residency program, Fresh Ground Pepper's Play Group, Page 73's Interstate 73....there are so many awesome opportunities to develop new work with a group of writers/directors who will give you feedback. Every day I've been here, if nothing else, I've felt totally connected to this wide, supportive network of folks who are writing and performing inspiring stuff and want to see you succeed at the same thing.

What is your best advice for recent grads?

Go out for milkshakes with everyone...you never know who will become your next great friend and collaborator!

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