Tisch professors Michael John LaChiusa and Sybille Pearson are the masterminds behind the new hit musical “Giant.”
“Giant,” which made its off-Broadway debut at the Public Theater on Lafayette Street earlier this year, is based on the
1952 novel of the same name by Pulitzer Prize winner author Edna Ferber. The musical’s plot follows a Texas family over the course of 30 years and explores issues of greed, racism, power and family.
LaChiusa and Pearson started to work on the musical several years ago. LaChiusa is the musical’s composer and lyricist, and Pearson wrote the book to complement the music.
LaChiusa has been teaching songwriting in the Graduate Musical Theater Writing program at the Tisch School of the Arts for more than a decade, and Pearson has been teaching musical theater bookwriting and playwriting since 1985. Both professors bring their expertise to the production of “Giant” in significant ways.
“[My job] entails not only writing the dialogue for the scenes, but writing out the usually hidden sub-text, which characters don’t normally reveal in the writing of plays,” Pearson said.
Both professors agreed that their professional roles must be approached with the same mindset they use as teachers. Pearson said she often feels like a beginner each time she writes and has to treat herself like a student when starting a new project.
LaChiusa also approaches his work similarly to the way he approaches teaching.
“[I need] to nurture my work,” he said of his songwriting and composing music.
Pearson and LaChiusa’s experiences working on “Giant” helped them improve their day-to-day roles as educators.
“The theater is about human interaction, learning how to speak to people, encourage and support them, creatively critique their work and, hopefully, inspire them is also a part of the experience of making theater, much as it is when one teaches,” LaChiusa said.
Much of the strength of “Giant” comes from Pearson and LaChiusa’s success as collaborators.
“[She] is about the best collaborator one could have. She’s patient and hard-working and always inspiring,” LaChiusa said.
The relationship between the two is supportive and comfortable. Pearson said that she is not afraid to show her collaborator unfinished drafts that she would not show anyone — she feels brave when working with LaChiusa.
Thirza Defoe, a second-year graduate student of Pearson’s, said she was impressed by her professor’s talent.
“I think Ms. Pearson has written something that speaks to this many cultural fabrics,” Defoe said. “This piece on many levels touches the humankind.”
“Giant” will grace the Public Theater stage through Dec. 16.
Marina Zheng is a staff writer. Email her at email@example.com.
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