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July 28, 2020

Collaborative Friendships


In honor of International Friendship Day, Concord Theatricals is celebrating the beauty of friendship by exploring long-lasting artistic relationships.

We’ve posed one simple question to some of our writing and composing teams, giving us a little insight into their process (and some friendly advice, too):

What is the key to a lasting collaborative friendship?

Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore

Shows written together: 27, including You’ve Got Hate Mail (US) and Drop Dead! (UK/US)

Billy Van Zandt on working with Jane Milmore:

“For a collaboration that lasts, you need to find someone who makes you laugh harder than anyone else on the planet.  And they need to feel the same way about you. If you’re lucky enough to find that, like I did for 46 years with Jane Milmore, you’ll be together forever and never feel like you worked a day in your life.”

Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen

Shows written together: five, including Tuck Everlasting (UK/US) and Dreamland (UK/US)

Chris Miller on working with Nathan Tysen:

“I think one of the keys to a lasting collaborative friendship is communication. Over the last 20 or so years we’ve learned to keep our lines of communication open so that we’re consistent in expressing and listening to what our needs are. Talking a lot. Not just about scenes/songs/craft/the work, etc., but life, hopes, dreams; that book you just read that excited you, musical artists that are inspiring you. Even if you have a terrible day. All the things that go into your life that can be filtered through someone else’s perspective are important, and the only way that happens is with communication and openness. I don’t know that I would want to work with someone who didn’t want to communicate and have a friendship on some level. I also think it’s important to explore other collaborations and situations so that your core partnership can stretch and grow. Not everything one has to say as an artist can be contained in just one collaboration, so getting out into the world and working with many people helps when you go back to your core collaborator. It’s important to experience someone else’s view of the world, and not trap yourself in an echo chamber.”

Nathan Tysen on working with Chris Miller:

“Come into your collaboration prepared for the task at hand. Then listen, listen, listen, and be prepared to throw away everything that you came in with. Remember you are building a musical house that you both have to live in. Stay open, stay positive, and don’t take things personally. Make time to be friends outside of the construction zone, add a post-writing cocktail into the schedule. If you can do that, you can build a whole neighborhood.”

Eamonn O’Dwyer and Helen Watts

Shows written together: two, including Mrs Beeton Says… (UK) and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (UK)

“Trust, laughter, a shared artistic vision; delicate sensitivity paired with utter pigheadedness; mutual respect, an enormous phone bill, and most importantly of all, gin.”

Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford

Shows written together: four, including I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road (UK/US) and Shelter (US)

Nancy Ford on working with Gretchen Cryer:

“The first key is luck in finding the right collaborator. Gretchen Cryer and I were collaborators first, then friends as a result of working together and discovering that we shared the same basic values and sensibilities and found the same ideas interesting. The longevity of our partnership can be probably be attributed to our total respect and admiration for each other’s talent. This results in very few artistic differences, but if they do arise, which is inevitable in a long-term relationship, we know it’s a mere blip on the radar screen and does not color the entire collaboration or friendship. ”

Gretchen Cryer on working with Nancy Ford:

“Nancy Ford and I have been writing musicals together since we were 18 years old, so it may be the longest theatrical collaboration in history – 66 years – and we’re still going strong. The friendship came out of the collaboration, and so it’s also my longest running friendship. It has lasted because we are both in awe of each others’ talents and are excited by the work we do together. It’s fun, and we have weathered the ups and downs because we are both out of the Midwest where perseverance is key.”

Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner

Shows written together: six, including Dog Park (US) and Chaps! (US)

“We’ve collaborated on musicals, books, commercials and films for more than 30 years and have a few secrets to a collaborative friendship. Understand why you need a partner and what you both do or don’t bring to the table. Remember, it’s about the work, not the person. No work is wasted. Say yes as much as you can, and don’t swe
at the small stuff. Oh, yeah, and laugh… a lot.”

John Kander and Fred Ebb

Shows written together: 19, including Chicago (UK/US) and Kiss of the Spider Woman (UK/US)

John Kander on working with Fred Ebb:

“For Fred the perfect score would be one with no ballads, he thought I was too sentimental. But then our pleasures were always so different. Those differences kept us apart socially: neither of us was equipped to understand the other’s needs the way a best friend would. But creatively it worked for us. We were afraid of totally different things.”

Michael Patrick and Oisín Kearney

Shows written together: two, including The Alternative (UK) and My Left Nut (UK).

“You need to trust someone to tell you when your ideas and work is not quite good enough, but knowing it comes from a place of wanting to make the work as good as possible. Having a shared vision and desire for quality binds you together. Grow a thick skin. Be able to slag each other. And have other projects that you work on yourself so you’re not in each other’s pockets the whole time.

At the end of the day, it’s a privilege to be able to work with someone you get on with. Have the craic, don’t take yourself too seriously, and be honest with each other.”

Nick Newman and Ian Hislop

Shows written together: three, including The Wipers Times (UK/US) and Trial by Laughter (UK).

Nick Newman on working together:

“The keys to fruitful collaboration are patience, respect, honesty, humility, dedication, luck and success. And the ability to complete each other’s…”

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

Shows written together: 28, including Pal Joey (UK/US) and I’d Rather be Right (UK/US).

Richard Rodgers on meeting Lorenz Hart:

“I left Hart’s house having acquired in one afternoon a career, a partner, a best friend, and a source of permanent irritation.”

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

Shows written together: 11, including Cinderella (UK/US) and State Fair (UK/US).

Richard Rodgers on working with Oscar Hammerstein II:

“What happened between Oscar and me was almost chemical. Put the right components together and an explosion takes place. Oscar and I hit it off from the day we started discussing the show [Oklahoma!]”

Be sure to explore our website for collections of plays and musicals that celebrate the brilliance of friendship on stage.

In the US and North America, check out Friendship Plays, Friendship Musicals and Shows About Friendship.

In the UK and Europe, check out Friendship Plays, Friendship Musicals and Shows About Friendship.