“The earth”, wrote the poet George Santayana, “has music for those who listen.” And in July 2020, when Shaina Taub went from what she thought was the craziest, busiest time of her life to a calendar filled with page after page of empty, she turned to the place that held the piece of land she adored. She decided to listen.
An accomplished songwriter and performer with heaps of projects, Taub was creating the musical enough with the Public Theater where she is artist in residence. In the works for years, with a slated opening for fall 2020, the show shines a light on America’s women’s suffrage movement and the complicated backstory behind the Nineteenth Amendment. Not only was she writing this epic musical, Taub also starred as Alice Paul in it. If that wasn’t enough, she co-wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway adaptation of The devil wears Pradawith his writing partner Sir Elton John.
Going from one extreme to another, she had to give herself something creative to do, some sort of outlet. “Otherwise, I thought I was going to lose my mind,” shares the Emmy-nominated writer and performer. She found joy and inspiration walking through Central Park with a notebook in her hand.
“It’s such a beautiful place bustling with people and nature and feels like a big, bright flower in the middle of the city,” says Taub who wrote a musical adaptation of Twelfth Night and As you like it as part of the Public Theater’s public works program which was performed at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. “I’m still so drawn to the Delacorte because singing and dancing under the stars for an audience that didn’t have to pay a single dollar to be there is an incredible community ideal of what New York can be at its best. These are people who come together to make and see art that is accessible to everyone.
Taub walked from the Great Hill to the empty Delacorte Theater. Seeing the turtle pond, she offered herself a promise. “I committed to working on a song every day with no real plan,” she says.
The mission proved to be liberating and healing. “It’s been so long since I wrote songs that were for themselves. It wasn’t indebted to a larger story or musical theater piece,” says Taub. “I’ve worked a lot on musicals where I have to plan ahead what a song should do and where it fits into the plan.” But this free-form writing took Taub back to an earlier time as an artist. “It was a surrender to the genre of writing in my early twenties and it was really therapeutic.”
The result has been a complication of soulful, rich, celebratory and vulnerable songs on her new album “Songs of the Great Hill.” Debuting on Atlantic Records, Taub collaborated with producer and three-time Grammy nominee Josh Kaufman. There are life-affirming tunes like “Sing Again” which center around hope and the celebration of union. This song along with “Should I have a Kid Again” and “Time with You” came together as Taub challenged herself to write music and lyrics simultaneously, sitting back, finding out what happens. . “I feel like maybe I wouldn’t have been so vulnerable or honest if I had planned the songs ahead of time. But they just popped into my head and I had to follow through,” she says.
Taub was inspired by one of her favorite records, “Songs In The Key of Life” by Stevie Wonder. “This album contains some of the most intimate and beautiful love songs and then the most uplifting community anthems you can imagine.” It’s something she strove to do on “Songs of the Great Hill.”
“If you’re feeling really down and need a feeling of joy or healing, there are songs like ‘Sing Again,’ ‘Possibility,’ and ‘Tikkun Olam,'” she says. in a more introspective mood, there are songs to put on when you need a good cry.”
Taub offered more information on enoughhis captivating show which now plays at The public theater.
Jeryl Brunner: How did you find the inspiration to write enough?
Shaina Taub: Producer Rachel Susman gave me the book Jail for freedom [where activist Doris Stevens offers her personal account of the suffrage movement]. And it just blew me away. As soon as I started reading the book, I thought I had to. I couldn’t believe I didn’t know the story at all. It didn’t happen to me in high school or college and it was so dramatic and exciting and dynamic. I couldn’t believe there weren’t a huge amount of movies, plays and musicals on this subject. It was crazy that the story was essentially untapped.
Brunner: The women of the Suffs have this singular and united goal of gaining the right to vote, but their method of achieving it is so diverse.
Tab: Initially, I thought I could not make the conflict between the suffragists and all the forces that opposed them. It seemed less interesting to me. We all know who was right or wrong on that side. What was much more interesting were the internal conflicts within the movement. These women all share a goal but have different ideas on how to achieve it.
I think about how I constantly collaborate with fierce, dynamic, powerful and stubborn women like me. We all share goals on how to put together a production. One of them says, “No, we should do that. Another said, “We should do this. The fire is in the collaboration – that marvelous messy, complicated and restless relationship towards a common goal. It got me excited to be able to dramatize and have women talking and singing about working towards a goal that seems truly impossible and then figuring out how the hell to do it.
Brunner: You have an all-female, non-binary cast with women playing Woodrow Wilson and Dudley Malone. Why was it important?
Tab: It wasn’t originally part of my concept. At first, I thought the cast would be mostly female. I thought, okay, maybe Wilson or Dudley or some of these other roles could be male. But then when I started collaborating with my amazing director Leigh Silverman, who was with me from the very early days, she said, ‘I really, really think it should be all women because it’s is about women reclaiming this erased story and telling it for ourselves. .” In fact, the way to mock and erase Woodrow Wilson’s racist and sexist legacy is to have it played by a woman and create this tour de force.
I open each act with a satirical, misogynistic and anti-suffragette song: “Watch out for the Suffragette” then “America When Feminized”. They are original songs but inspired by the real anti-suffragette vaudevilles of the time. There’s the idea that we, as women and non-binary performers, can come to terms with this misogyny and reclaim this narrative that we weren’t taught and hopefully teach it ourselves to a new generation.
Brunner: In enough you address racism within the movement. Alice Paul tells Ida B. Wells, a civil rights force and an African-American journalist and activist, that she was not allowed to march with her state in the procession for women’s suffrage. Paul wanted Wells and the other African American women to stay in the back and be separated.
Tab: I always knew I wanted Ida to be a character from enough and it was critically important to recognize the racism embedded in every step of the white women’s suffrage movement and their organizations. I didn’t want to walk away from that because it’s absolutely true that time and time again they’ve made racist compromises. In a profound and important way, it added to the drama that justice and equality activists are not perfect warriors doing everything exactly right. They can often be myopic, make mistakes and compromise, and be racist and sexist. And these revolutions and movements for change are flawed, messy, and full of people like Alice Paul, who made inexcusable choices like the one I dramatize on the show.
I didn’t want to present a glorified view of what a social movement was, because it’s not true. The challenge of all this is that there is so much more history than I could ever show in my hour and a half musical. You could write an entire musical about every historical figure I portray, even in a short time. There is so much more to the life of Ida B. Wells than I am able to dramatize in a musical. I hope this inspires more work in any stories where I can barely scratch the surface.