A Play on Songwriting

Clare Drobot and Nathan Zoob craft “Between Us and Grace,” a new play with music



Following up The Glassblock’s recent partnership with the New Hazlett Theater, Recital will continue the tradition of publishing a preview, a review, and a video in partnership with the five performances in the 2017–18 season of the New Hazlett Theater’s CSA Performance Series. Now in its fifth year, the series offers viewers the chance to become a “shareholder” in supporting five evening-length performances by new and emerging Pittsburgh creatives — that is, choreographers, musicians, playwrights, and performance artists. Applicants who make it through the competitive selection process are given a stipend, funds to be used for technical assistance from a pre-selected pool of stage, lighting, and sound designers, and an equipment budget. The series represents an opportunity for the audience to directly contribute to new art while the artists have a platform to experiment and stretch beyond their previous efforts.

Throughout the season, Recital will be meeting with each of the artists and bringing you a brief profile of them and their work in the days before their opening performance. We will publish a considered review or a post-show discussion with the artists for each performance, developed from post-show discussions with a consistent panel of local experts in related disciplines. Additionally, Recital will slowly build a feature-length documentary investigating the CSA’s history and this current season’s performances.

We hope you’ll enjoy this series, and without further word count, buy a share here, watch a video clip, and read about Clare Drobot and Nathan Zoob’s Between Us and Grace, a character-driven play that kicks off the 2017–18 season.

“It’s a play about faith and coming of age, the creative process, and how we tackle things,” says playwright Clare Drobot of Between Us and Grace, a new theatrical collaboration with musician Nathan Zoob that kicks off the fifth year of New Hazlett Theater’s Community Supported Art (CSA) performance series.

In a small town — “the middle of nowhere” — two characters, Stella, 17 and emerging from a strict, religious household, and Jacky, 33 and trying to find the deeper meaning of it all, strike up a friendship. This meeting becomes the epicenter of a new phase in their respective lives with repercussions rippling outwards.

Clare Drobot

The creative pair — Drobot and Zoob, that is — met by chance at a dinner party when a mutual friend introduced them. “I had actually written a little ten-minute play that had these characters, Jacky and Stella, in it,” says Drobot, “and I knew there was something more there, but hadn’t figured it out.” After listening to Zoob’s music, “it all kind of coalesced and I figured out that these two characters are songwriters.” Drobot, who in addition to being a dramaturg, serves as director of New Play Development at City Theatre, then asked Zoob to write songs to compliment the “30 messy pages” of script that is now being developed into an evening-length play.

It’s a play with music, not a musical. “There are no jazz hands,” says Drobot. There are no spontaneous leaps into song, no choruses forming from a group of street-sweeping extras. “[Stella and Jacky] are performers and they’re writers, and only in those contexts do they perform [music],” Zoob clarifies.

To tackle the roles of Stella and Jacky, roles that require acting, singing, and instrumental chops, Chantelle Guido and Ethan Saks were recruited. (Siovhan Christensen and Kevin Paul round out the four-person cast. Anya Martin directs.)

“I’ve never seen someone take one of my songs and really translate it,” says Zoob. “Watching Chantelle translate the song to piano and then sing it in her style has been really exciting.”

Nathan Zoob, mid-song.

Zoob’s known around Pittsburgh as a musician’s musician, playing in a number of bands, most recently, Wreck Loose, the city’s best answer to Elton John’s classic 70s lineup. In speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year about his solo EP, Curriculum Vitae, Zoob said, “when it comes to sitting down and writing a song, I’m always going to be worried first about the lyrics and second about the music.” That approach plays well in the context of Between Us and Grace.

“There are a handful of scenes where the song clearly is a response to that scene, either in tone or in the lyrical content,” says Zoob.

“None of the songs are like ‘I got into a fight with my friend. Now, here’s a song about getting into a fight with my friend,” says Drobot, “but you definitely see songs that color the character’s emotions.”

A bonus performance of “Rosalina,” one of the songs from Between Us and Grace.

The performance at New Hazlett will be presented as a workshop performance. “It will be book in hand. We’re not trying to present a finished project,” says Drobot. “But theater, like music, lives out loud when people hear it. Once you have an audience, you can figure out what you have.”

See the results for yourself on October 26 at the New Hazlett Theater at 8pm. More information here.