DISCUSSING ‘WE THE PEOPLE’: A MUSICAL FOR THE NOW
INTERVIEW: DANIEL SUIGIMOTO
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
Fresh off the heels of critically acclaimed original shows such as Letters To Eve and White People Drinking, Daniel Sugimoto and The Zoo Theatre Company are launching another world premiere musical this summer at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. This musical is We The People, a contemporary musical that is a movement in itself. The musical follows a melting pot of young Americans struggling to make sense of the ever-evolving socio-political climate in our country. In this Tin Pan L.A. exclusive writer Daniel Sugimoto (music, lyrics and book) discusses everything it took to create this modern musical and why its message serves to inspire anyone who’s dispirited by this year’s election and its aftermath.
How would you describe your musical in a nutshell?
We The People is a modern underground musical movement that follows a melting pot of young Americans struggling to make sense of the ever-evolving socio-political climate. The story centers around a young Chicana rebel traversing through the fog of what she feels is a “new America”. Deflated by new obtrusive political policies and anti-immigrant, LGBTQ, minority rhetoric, our hero must bring peace to her community and spread it to the entire country.
How did the idea for your musical come about . . .inspiration?
It was the morning after the Presidential Inauguration and my girlfriend was in Washington attending the Women’s March. I remember being so depressed the day before but after seeing my friends, my family, most everyone I knew attend the march; I thought, “this is history, this is big, this needs to be remembered”. This musical is inspired by that power, the potential of people standing together.
What inspired you to write this show? Why tell this story?
People need to know that they have a voice; that they can make a difference. People throw phrases like that around a lot but on a psychological, empathic level, we can impact people and not have any idea we’re doing it. I was inspired because I believe there is an actual need for educating the community on the power of empathy, theatre is designed to be that outlet.
When writing this piece where did you start?
I started with my friends. I started with people I knew; gauging their reactions to the political world upon Trump entering the race. I started really seeing the separation between people who were paying attention and people who weren’t. This way, the characters are honest, relatable, and represent all trains of thought.
How do you write songs? Which comes first, music or lyrics?
Lyrics. 100%. I have to know what the characters are saying; what they want. I tend to tier sounds and dynamics of songs around what the characters are experiencing, I feel it makes the songs less random ‘musical theatre’ and more ‘if this moment in time were musical’.
How has the director helped you shape this show?
I’m directing this one actually, but my girlfriend and partner, Julia Lisa, also director of the company, is the saving grace to just about everything. She has really been the reason most of the shows get finished and produced. If there are any strong moments or sections of strong story structure, it was her idea, I just know how people talk and can write it down.
What excites you most about this show?
I am most excited to inspire someone who might not be feeling the best about this country’s future. The current socio-political climate has oddly enough united some that might not have normally connected. I’m inspired to bring people together, maybe start a conversation between people who hold different ideals, make progress.
Any final thoughts about the show you’d like to share?
Yes! I want to thank every single person who has been going out and marching or rallying. In a way, protest is the earliest form or progressive theatre and without strong movements, our country wouldn’t be anywhere as progressives it is now. We’re not perfect, but our potential is intimidating and beautiful. Also a huge thank you to Ryan for staying connected to other projects while being such an accomplished composer/writer/conductor.