Andrea Green is an award-winning playwright, composer and music therapist. Her musicals for young performers present relevant universal stories and uplifting memorable tunes, and they deliver important messages on themes of tolerance, inclusion, understanding and respect. Concord Theatricals proudly licenses three of Andrea Green’s titles: Homeroom: The Musical, On the Other Side of the Fence and The Return of Halley’s Comet. We sat down with Andrea to discuss her career, her philosophy and her future endeavors.
You’ve said that “music is a healing art,” and you’ve dedicated your career to the creation of music and theatre promoting harmony, empathy and compassion. Where did this passion first spring up? When did you first begin making music?
Great music expresses great emotion. Without emotion, it’s just a collection of notes.
When I was a young teen my physician Dad took me with him on house calls and on hospital rounds. He encouraged me to play my guitar and the piano and to sing for his patients.
I found myself helping his patients through the music and the emotional connection.
It was at this time I began composing music and writing lyrics to help his patients express their feelings about their health concerns, their worries and about their hopes and dreams for the future. I also participated in a teen organized music group called The Young Set, where we performed in hospitals and nursing homes in the Philadelphia area. These early experiences taught me a great deal about the power of music and how it can be used to transform lives.
Your mother was a music teacher, violinist, poet and songwriter, and your dad was a general practice physician. How did their respective professions affect your career choices? How did you come to merge music and mental/emotional health?
Music and medicine were a huge part of my childhood. It was a blending of my mother’s insightful, thoughtful nature and her passion as a violinist, composer and poet and my Dad’s sensitive, outgoing, engaging, nurturing work as a healer physician. I got lucky to inherit some of their talents and their mutual love of the arts, along with a huge dose of empathy and caring for people. My parents introduced me to Broadway shows, The Philadelphia Orchestra and to many cultural music educational opportunities, as well as to stellar piano and voice teachers.
It was the beautiful combination of my parents’ love for me, love for the arts, and compassion for people that inspired me and led to my work in the field of musical theater and music therapy.
In 1982, you established your creative voice with the debut of On the Other Side of the Fence, a tuneful show set in two barnyards, side by side. How did this show come to be?
I was working as a music therapist at the HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy in Philadelphia, where I heard teachers debating whether their students who had severe physical disabilities could perform in a theatrical production alongside children without disabilities. The teachers were concerned that their students would be patronized and not accepted as equals. I felt differently. I believed that with the “right” musical theater framework and process, designed with an inclusive intention, the two diverse groups of children could come together successfully. I then created the musical On the Other Side of the Fence, with a metaphorical message that provided both groups of children with a common ground to work together. The purpose of the musical was to foster empathy, understanding and respect while at the same time offer a quality musical theater experience. The recitative style, with many character roles and a strong supportive chorus, provides a unique theater structure offering everyone an opportunity to be heard and to feel valued. Little did I know, On the Other Side of the Fence would be the first in a series of inclusive musicals I would create and direct for over 35 years.
What lessons about writing/collaborating/theatremaking did you learn from this experience?
Having an extensive background as a music therapist has made me a stronger composer and playwright. Tapping into my music therapy skills including my understanding of the human psyche, I can bring greater depth to the music and the musical theater process. I can delve into serious issues that are relevant. I can create music that reflects emotion and unifies and inspires connection. By creating diversity in the story and in the music, I can reflect a diversity of thoughts, opinions, feelings and life choices/styles. Having advanced music skills at the piano and in music composition gave me better tools to reach more people.
Collaboration in the musical process should present itself as a mutually contributing beneficial trusting relationship where both parties are open and willing to work together for the ultimate benefit of the piece and should be honest regarding the reality of each person’s contribution.
A few years later, you collaborated with Selma Tolins-Kaufman, and the result was Homeroom The Musical. How did you and Selma first meet? What was your working relationship like?
My co-writer Selma was a school psychologist who heard about my inclusive musical theater work with elementary-age kids and attended one of my productions. She then proposed for me to co-create a musical for middle school-age students using stories from English class personal journal writings as the foundation for the show. Selma got a grant and we combed through hundreds of teen writings and developed the concept for Homeroom the Musical. The most powerful stories from the teens jumped out and became the framework of the musical.
Selma and I worked collaboratively on the book and the lyrics and I composed the music. Selma’s school district initially produced Homeroom and then it went on to be produced at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia until it was published by Samuel French, Inc.