Q&A with Joshua H. Cohen - words for Tamar of the River

Joshua H. Cohen is a New York based playwright, lyricist and composer. He won the Jonathan Larson award for Tamar of the River (with Marisa Michelson).  He has scads of accomplishments, which you can find at http://www.joshuahcohen.com. 

See what he has to say about Tamar below...I love getting a peak into other writers' processes!

1) How did you get involved working on Tamar?

When Marisa received the American Musical Voices grant, she approached me with the idea of adapting this story from Genesis into a music-theater piece about a young woman trying to stop a war. I was immediately attracted to the moral complexity of it -- can an action that seems revolting actually be the best course? What is too far in pursuit of a noble goal? -- and to the musical possibilities of a young woman's developing relationship with God.

2) How do you and Marisa, the composer, collaborate?

Our collaboration, like our work, is fluid. First drafts of songs and scenes often happen over email, with Marisa sending me wordless recordings, or me sending her a completed lyric. Then we get together to pound out the details, in one session ranging over the entire show, and in another spending hours on a single moment. Also, I pace a lot.

3) If there were one sentence from the show that captured its essence, what would it be?

One of the things I love about Tamar is that it defies easy solutions to complex problems. If I had to summarize the point of the show, it might be the lyric the River sings at the end: "It will come. Peace will come. Days will come. Days will go. It will come. Peace will come. Time will ebb. Time will flow."

4) What are your dreams for Tamar?

The maddening complexities of war and peace are always readily apparent somewhere in the world. Syria today, who knows where tomorrow. If Tamar can spur and contribute to some part of that conversation, that would make me very happy. Of course, for that to happen, as may people as possible need to see it first...

Q&A with Marisa Michelson - Composer of Tamar of the River

Marisa Michelson is an enormously talented young composer who is winning legions of fans in the Broadway/music theatre world. She received a 2011 Jonathan Larson Award and was the only woman to receive a 2009 "American Musical Voices: The Next Generation" Award from the Shen Family Foundation. She also garnered a Global Arts Village grant to study Indian Hindustani Singing in India (how cool is that?). Marisa sang with Meredith Monk (see her "Influences" below) in Songs of Ascension at BAM , and theatre titan Maury Yeston is a HUGE fan.

Marisa's new musical, Tamar of the River (co-created with lyricist/bookwriter Josh Cohen and directed by Daniel Goldstein) starts previews Saturday, September 21. If you're in NYC and a fan of ground-breaking musical theatre, you should check it out. More info and tickets at tamaroftheriver.com.

And now - a peak behind the curtain with Marisa... 

1) What was your spark of inspiration for Tamar?

I wanted to write a story with a strong and powerful woman at the center, a woman who goes on a real inner journey as well as an outer one. For source material, I went to the biblical women, and found the story of Tamar. Our piece now has very little to do with the biblical Tamar, but originally, she provided inspiration. When I went to Israel five years ago, I traveled to Neve Shalom (oasis of peace), a village co-founded by Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinian Arabs to demonstrate that the two peoples could live and work together peacefully.  Neve Shalom was physically beautiful, emotionally moving, and spiritually inspiring.

2) What was your process in creating the musical world for Tamar?

There is nothing more alive and exciting to me than the human ability to communicate through the voice and body.  I began by using my own voice to explore the intense beauty and pain that is awakened within me in response to the natural world.  I spent time outdoors listening to the wind and trees and, yes, to rivers! When I really listen, the natural

elements speak to me, and I try to transform what I experience into music.  It has been my intention to create for the River a musical Being-ness that is primal, earthy, passionate, but also spacious, light, airy, elusive.

3) How did you start writing music?

I started writing classical piano pieces when I was eight years old, then tried my hand at some Tori Amos-like singer songwriter stuff, and then had the opportunity to attend NYU’s summer musical theatre writing program for high school students. I just loved being able to express the emotions of characters beyond myself.

4) Who are your major influences?

Meredith Monk composes and creates from her body.  Her work is primal and touches me deeply.  Adam Guettel’s rhythms, his melodies.  Novels bring me to tears:  currently Nicole Krauss’ “The History of Love” and David Grossman’s “To the End of the Land.”  The psychologist and great humanist Erich Fromm.

5) What impact do you hope Tamar will have?

I guess, most of all, I want people to come out of the theatre asking themselves questions. 

From the smallest actions to the largest ones, can we be conscious, aware, connected in every moment to what it is within us that chooses to act? What compels us forward, onward ever onward, despite life's uncertainties? Is it ever really possible to "know" something? Must we necessarily relegate feelings and senses to a lesser realm than rational thinking?  Or is there a third kind of "knowing," grown out of recognizing and cultivating our uniquely human capacity for both intuitive listening and also rational thinking?

This may seem a bit abstract, but I keep coming back to this quote from the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna tells Arjuna:  “Know when to act and when to refrain from action, what is right and what is wrong, what brings freedom and what bondage.  One who is free from attachments, and who has mastered himself and his passions attains the supreme perfection of freedom from action.”

Inspiring new musical - special discount tix through Hope Sings

When Danny Goldstein, a musical theatre director I know, Facebooked me about his latest directing project, the new musical "Tamar of the River," I thought: this isn't your run-of-the-mill musical comedy. This show is up to something in the world. 

"Tamar of the River" asks the question: would you betray the one you love to bring peace to all?

Musical Theatre legend Maury Yeston calls it "genuinely new, crossing musical boundaries." Marisa Michelson is the composer, Joshua H. Cohen the lyricist, and they share book duties.

AND producer Cara Reichel of the Prospect Theater Company is offering Hope Sings fans a special discount offer!

Purchase tix by Sept. 21 with code HOPE30 for $30 regular tickets - a 40% savings!  

After Sept. 21, use code HOPE25 to save 25% on regular tickets ($37.50 price).

Purchase tickets at www.ProspectTheater.org, or call 212-352-3101.

For more info including video to to www.TamarOfTheRiver.com.