"Call Me Adam" chats with writer and lyricist Lisa Diana Shapiro about her new Off-Broadway children's musical Samantha Spade, Ace Detective with music by Georgia Stitt. Samantha Spade, Ace Detective tells the tale of Samantha, a lonely kid who prowls the black & white, rain-washed streets of her film-noir fantasies, as "Samantha Spade, Ace Detective," the go-to gumshoe who always solves the case (for $25 a day, plus Twizzlers).
Samantha Spade, Ace Detective plays from April 26-May 18 at TADA! Youth Theater (15 West 28th Street). Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a writer/lyricist? I've worked as a stage actor my whole life, but when I moved to Los Angeles for film and tv, the competition was so tough that I started writing plays for myself to act in. I produced my first play myself on a credit card and a loan from my parents, and a wonderful writer by the name of Vivienne Radkoff happened to see it. She took me aside and said, "You have to be a writer," and I've been writing ever since. I think the great thing about the writing community is that we are all constantly reaching out and mentoring the young writers coming up behind us. It's a very giving community.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Wow, that's a laundry list. Julie Andrews, Kristin Chenoweth, Faith Prince, Jodie Foster, Amy Adams. For starters. Oh, and John Kander. And Susan Stroman. And Kathleen Marshall. Should I stop now? I should stop now. I could go on.
3. What made you want to write Samantha Spade, Ace Detective? When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with old movies. (I still am.) I loved The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. To Have and Have Not was one of my favorites, I used to recite Bacall's "you know how to whistle" speech long before I actually knew what it meant. (My big sister taught this to me just for general hilarity's sake. Imagine a six-year-old--no wait, don't.) So I guess this story has always been in me, and when I pitched the idea of a detective story to Janine Nina Trevens at TADA! Youth Theater and she said yes, it just came pouring out of me. Also, I really wanted to have a female detective wearing a swell fedora and solving the crime. Girls never get to wear those great hats.
4. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? It's a family show, written for both kids and their parents. I hope that Samantha Spade, Ace Detective will inspire young people to check out the original movies like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. I think that the show makes the conventions of these movies, especially the style and the hard-boiled lingo, accessible and fun. Just because a movie is not in color does not mean it is not really cool.
Here's a sneak peak at "Slingin' the Slang," a short film based on one of the songs from Samantha Spade, Ace Detective: http://samanthaspademystery.com/slingin-the-slang/
5. What has been the best part about working with Georgia Stitt? Everything, from top to bottom. Georgia is an insanely talented composer and she got what I wanted to do immediately. The music for the show is so perfectly in the style of the period, while also really fun. Writing with her really challenged me to work at the top of my game, and constantly push to be better. I love the score of this show.
6. What do you like most about writing children's shows? How did you decide to work in the genre? I've worked with kids a lot in my career. I've taught creative drama and improv, I love teaching. I also feel really strongly that children's theatre is what will keep theatre alive in this country. Turn people on to theatre when they are young, they will have a love for it their whole lives. Theatre isn't some elitist, snobby thing, it's an exciting communal experience of telling stories. There is something so wonderful about sitting in a dark room watching live actors take you to another world using only some fabric, some painted wooden walls and your imagination. It's magical.
7. Your first musical, Princess Phooey, was produced at TADA. What made you initially want to work with them and what made you want to come back with Samantha Spade, Ace Detective? I met Janine Nina Trevens when my one-act play, The End of the Story, was chosen for a one-act festival that TADA! used to do. At that point, I had never written a musical, but I really wanted to write one. I kept pestering Nina with ideas every time I saw her, and she liked the Princess Phooey pitch enough to take a chance on me. Princess Phooey was a great experience, and I was so impressed with the high production values at TADA! and the talent and enthusiasm of the kids. Also, Nina has great dramatic instincts and is willing to be adventurous and try new things. It was a no brainer to want to come back.
8. Why did you want to write Samantha Spade, Ace Detective in a film-noir genre? What do you like about this style of entertainment? I love these characters. I love how they are so tough and stylish. They lie all the time, but the detective always sees through them, and then they are completely brazen about being liars. Plus I loved the idea of putting a black-and-white movie on the stage, just using the magic of sets, costuming and lighting.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? Say "yes."
10. What have you learned about yourself from being a writer/lyricist? I've heard it said that every artist tells the same story over and over again. My stories always involve a misfit girl who finds her place in the world by learning to be herself and finding her unique voice. I guess that's me. But I also think that's everybody.
11. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? I'd love to be able to fly.
Lisa had her first musical, Princess Phooey (music by Eric Rockwell) produced at TADA! Youth Theater in 2008, selling out its run and garnering rave reviews. Other playwriting credits include the hit comedy Labor Pains, a Comedy in Nine Months, which played a sold-out premiere run at the Victory Theatre in Los Angeles and has been produced regionally. Labor Pains was also a finalist in the New American Comedy Festival and a Backstage West-DramaLogue Garland Award nominee. Aces Wild, Lisa’s first full- length play, premiered at Theatre Geo in Hollywood, winning awards in the FutureFest national play competition, the Jane Chambers Playwriting Competition and the Writer’s Digest Competition. Lisa’s play...and Into the Fire has been workshopped Off-Broadway at Urban Stages and performed as a staged reading at Naked Angels in New York and at the West Coast Ensemble and the Victory Theatre in Los Angeles. Her high-school tour show, The End of the Story, also received a workshop production Off-Broadway at TADA! Youth Theater.