We caught up with up and coming writer Beth Hyland ahead of her musical SEAGULLS premiering at the Octagon later this month...
Tell us a little about yourself, where did you grow up and when did you start writing...
I’m originally from Rochester, New York. I always liked to write, but my first love was musical theatre, and I grew up wanting to be an actor. During college, I spent a semester at the National Theatre Institute, and even though I was there to study acting, all of us were required to take a playwriting class. My professor, Donna DiNovelli, asked each of us to write the opening number to an original musical, and as I worked on that song, it felt like something clicked—it was the most fun and rewarding thing I could imagine doing, and I couldn't get enough of it. I’ve been writing plays and musicals ever since.
How did you come up with the idea for Seagulls?
I went to Kenyon College, which is a very small school in the middle of a bunch of cornfields in Ohio. While I was studying there, it occurred to me that being at Kenyon—being stuck in the middle of nowhere with a small group of people and pretty much nothing to do except read, make art, and fall in and out of love—was actually very similar to being in a Chekhov play. Once I realized that, it also occurred to me that the younger characters in The Seagull were really similar to my friends and classmates—I felt like I knew Konstantin, Nina, Masha, and Medvedenko in real life. I’d also been wanting to write a musical with a contemporary indie-rock score, so I brought these ideas together by imagining what would happen if Konstantin and Nina started a band. The play fell into place from there.
Are the themes from Chekhov’s play The Seagull still relevant today?
Absolutely—I think part of the reason that Chekhov is still produced so much today is that his writing touches some essential parts of being human. The themes of The Seagull—the highs and lows of trying to achieve greatness; the pain of unrequited love; the beauty and sadness of our first romantic relationships; and the way that we disappoint the people we love most—are exactly as relevant now as they were in 1904.
One thing that I was excited to update in my adaptation was The Seagull’s perspective on the character of Nina. It was such an exciting challenge to look at her character with a modern, feminist lens—I hope that it can inspire some interesting conversations about her role in the original play.
Has a real life band inspired you to create the fictional band in the play?
A lot of my college classmates started bands that would play gigs around campus, so those bands (some of whom have gone on to be quite successful in the US) inspired the band in the play. In terms of the songs in the show, I wanted each character to have their own distinctive musical sound. Some of the bands that influenced the score the most are Bon Iver, Neutral Milk Hotel, Phoebe Bridgers, Elliott Smith, Fiona Apple, and Leon Bridges.
Top 3 tips for young writers wanting to create a musical
- Write a play that you’d like to see. Don’t worry about whether your work is cool, or whether it’s about something that other people think is important or impressive, or whether your parents or teachers would approve of it.
- Listen to and see as many musicals (and as many other types of art!) as you can, and be analytical about them. If you loved something you saw, what made you love it? If it didn’t work for you, why not? Engaging with art is the best teacher, and it’s also a great way to get inspired to do your own writing.
- Find people you love to work with! Theatre is a collaborative art form, and collaboration is a skill that takes a lot of practice. Find people you love being around who will lift you up and push you to be better.
Do you have a favorite character in the play and why?
I really do love all four characters so much, but I have to say that my favorite character is Simon. He’s so decent, sweet, and funny—he’s just easy to love!
What is your favorite song in the show and why?
I think my favorite song is Remember—it’s always so electric when all four actors are singing and playing together.
Can you describe the show in 3 words?
Vibrant, youthful, and bittersweet.
Beth's musical SEAGULLS is in rehearsals now and opens at Bolton Library Theatre on Thu 24 October - find out more and book tickets