New plays spring up in Central Texas as regularly and profusely as wildflowers. New musicals, not so much. While a typical season will see some 80 homegrown dramas produced here, only a handful of those will be fueled by song, with just a few composers – notably Allen Robertson (Stone Soup, Jouet) and Chad Salvata (Pythia Dust, Sarah Silver Hands) – creating musicals on an ongoing basis. So when two Austinites take it upon themselves to create one and a company has enough faith in it to mount a workshop production, it's news. Audiences know Andrew Cannata and Jarrett King for their work onstage – King in shows such as Salvage Vanguard Theater's Bright Now Beyond and Heddatron, Cannata in a host of musicals, from Zach Theatre's Les Misérables to Zilker Productions' Little Shop of Horrors to Penfold Theatre's I Love You Because – but now they're taking on new roles offstage: as co-creators of Perfect Profile, a new musical receiving its four-performance premiere.
The two longtime friends – they've known each other since high school – embarked on the project two years ago as something of a lark, but when they felt they were on to something, they reached out to Penfold for support. Now their comedy of lovelorn New Yorkers who seek to reinvent themselves through their profiles on an online dating site will have a chance to find its own match among the Austin theatregoing set. The Chronicle asked the pair about their experience making their first musical.
Austin Chronicle: When you embarked on this project, was there any musical that served as an inspiration or a feel to shoot for?
Jarrett King: We definitely drew on elements of the musicals we've been in over the years to help us shape the story. The tone of our show varies a lot; some moments are more broad, like Little Shop of Horrors, and others are very sincere. But we were adamant about keeping the show in the present and talking about issues that we face today: identity, in particular – getting lost in the excitement of creating an online self and the complications that can follow. That seems like an issue that's only getting more and more prominent.
AC: Jarrett, what does Andrew bring to the partnership that takes the work further than you could take it by yourself?
King: This process really taught me how to generate a lot of content – turning a blank page into a page full of ideas, which doesn't always happen easily and quickly for me. What Andrew is so good at – and maybe it's his I.T., troubleshooting background – is quickly identifying what part of that content works within the whole of the show and what part isn't serving us. Also, there's no way I would have had the stamina to see this project to completion without Andrew. You end up being each other's cheerleader during those times when the inspiration well's run dry.
AC: Andrew, what about Jarrett?
Andrew Cannata: This process has taught me so much about my strengths and weaknesses in the world of writing for musical theatre. Luckily for me, Jarrett's strengths line up perfectly with some of my weaknesses. For example, I realized it was very difficult for me to generate lyrics for some of the music in the show. The actual melodies flowed right out, but as soon as attention was turned to the lyrics, I hit a wall. Not only was Jarrett able to help me over my hurdle, he wrote a good number of the lyrics for many of the numbers. I truly feel that, without Jarrett, I never would have finished a musical like this.
Jarrett also seems to know exactly what to say and when to say it. Another weakness I discovered was when I took on writing a few scenes. Like Jarrett, I could generate a lot of content – more than I ever imagined I could. The problem was I didn't know when to shut up. My scenes would always come out with a massive amount of dialogue. Jarrett was always able to find the good in the scene, pull out the bad, and condense my thoughts into a more manageable amount of content that got straight to the point.
AC: What's the biggest surprise you encountered along the way in terms of the story?
King: I was so surprised that we developed such a close relationship with the characters. When they were happy, we were happy right along with them – which made it very hard when we had to lead these people to difficult places. I've written other characters before, but these really felt like people I knew, and we'd often be hanging out with them on a daily basis. I guess the biggest surprise is that when we led our characters to dark places they didn't rebel against us, you know? We didn't feel like we had to back off from making them feel like real people. Our characters thanked us for that, if anything.
Cannata: The biggest surprise for me was how malleable our story really was. Jarrett and I started and finished writing our first draft in six months and were really happy with our accomplishment. What we didn't realize then was how much the story would change over time once we started having other people play with it. I think what surprises me most is that the story didn't fail us. It didn't matter what changes people recommended we make, the story seemed to form around those ideas as if they were always supposed to be a part of it. The show we have today is definitely not the same show we had after our first draft – and yet somehow it is.
Perfect Profile runs May 14-16, Thursday & Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 3 & 8pm, at Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale. For more information, visit www.penfoldtheatre.org.
Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.