By Bailey Hosfelt
“In-Transit,” Broadway’s first a cappella musical, makes its way to Circle in the Square Theatre on Nov. 10. Taking place primarily in the subway, the show is set to bring 11 New York City characters to life as each searches for personal success.
The musical features an original a cappella score co-written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth. While all four writers boast impressive careers, Wordsworth shares something in common with current undergraduates: the degree she received from Fordham University.
Having graduated from Lincoln Center in 1998, Wordsworth spoke to The Fordham Ram in a phone interview about her collegiate years studying theater, transitioning into the professional world of performing a cappella and how she gained her playwriting credentials.
The Fordham Ram: Was there any one performance that you were a part of as an undergraduate that stands out from the rest?
Sara Wordsworth: It’s actually really funny. It’s the show that I didn’t get into that I remember the most. It was my senior year and I was set on getting into “Cabaret.” I had my heart set on being in that show and I didn’t make it. I didn’t even get in the ensemble. It was huge blow for me. I think it was what I did with that blow that then influenced my career. I met with the head administrator of the theater program at the time and I never forgot the conversation we had. She said, “If you do theater, you do it for a lifetime and you’re going to deal with a lot of rejection. It’s going to take 10-20 years to establish yourself in New York. If you can wait that long, you’ll get somewhere.” So what I did instead was decide to direct a Blackbox studio production that semester, a play called “What I Did Last Summer.” I was really proud of that production because I picked up the pieces of what I thought I was going to get and made it into something really beautiful.
TFR: What did your timeline after graduating from Fordham and transitioning into the professional world look like?
SW: I really thought my life was going to be in the direction of a performer. I was also hit with the harsh reality that that’s really hard and you have to find a way to support yourself. I kind of went through a big stage of depression trying to figure out where I go from college. I was auditioning everyday for things and just not really getting very far, and I thought I love to sing and the community and making art with people. That’s why I joined that a cappella group at Columbia where I was working at the time. That was 1999, the year after I graduated, and the people in the group became my best friends, my artistic community, my co-writers and what is now “In-Transit.”
TFR: What is the collaborative partnership between you and your co-writers?
SW: Myself and the other writers were doing what most a cappella groups do – singing cover songs in little clubs and basements. We thought we should write original story songs about our lives, and as we did that, those songs always went over the best in our sets. People really liked hearing original story songs in the medium of a cappella, which no a cappella group was doing [at the time]. And we decided shortly after 9/11 to put together a cabaret about New York and our lives to try to say something positive about the city and make a piece of art.
TFR: So the inspiration for “In-Transit” originally began as a collective autobiography?
SW: Absolutely. We always say this musical is based on us but also on the lives of people we know and love and strangers in New York. The show takes place in the subway mostly and we are just inspired by life around us everyday. I think there’s something for everyone in “In-Transit” now. It’s a very universal story and the heart of the theme is very universal.
TFR: It seems like it is, in a way, a love letter to New York.
SW: Yes. An absolute love letter to the city. And it’s a show for anybody who’s trying to get anywhere who feels like they’re not there yet. How to appreciate being in the moment.
TFR: What was the writing process of “In-Transit” from where it started to where it is now?
SW: It has gone through so many transitions. We’ve all grown not only as people but as writers. “In-Transit” was the thing we would always come back to mostly because we were friends and we wanted to work together. So we were just enjoying the collaborative process so much. So over the years we started with the cabaret show in 2002 and in 2008 we stopped performing it ourselves. We sort of took a step back and said we’re just the writers now we’re going to see how these characters can grow when we have actors doing them. The piece became less autobiographical and more about dramatic stakes. And then in 2010 we had an off-Broadway production at Primary Stages. From there we got picked up by a commercial producer who wanted to take it to Broadway. It’s taken about six years to raise the capital and here we are now.
TFR: When can people see “In-Transit”?
SW: We begin previews on the 10th and then our official opening is Dec. 11. What’s really exciting is that, even after all these years, our writing is changing everyday. I think every preview might be a little different. And then we’ll open and the show will freeze, but I’m still so excited with the work we have to do because really I don’t ever want to stop working on this show. We’re about to enter a month of previews and I’m really excited to see audiences and how they respond to it and then as a playwright reacting to their responses to make a show that is really universal and enjoyable.