Spotlight on Andrew Neisler

With just a few days to go before our first public performance of Folk Wandering, we’re pleased to bring you interviews with the pair who first conceived of this oh so very big oh so very special musical. Jaclyn Backhaus and Andrew Neisler first dreamed up Folk Wandering in 2008, and since then it has grown into the collective dream of a family of over 70 emerging artists. Below, Andrew shares the story of how it all happened. Read Andrew’s interview below, check out Jaclyn’s here, and grab your tickets to Folk Wandering today (February 23 – March 18, A.R.T. New York Theatres)!

Pipeline Theatre Company: Tell me the Folk Wandering origin story, how did this musical come to be?
Andrew Neisler: Jaclyn and I met freshman year at NYU and have been essentially inseparable collaborators ever since. She was and will always be my writing muse. I’ve never met anyone who shares such a bizarre and unapologetic sense of humor and I count my blessings everyday that we found each other so early in our creative development. Right after graduation she asked me to read some writing she was working on. It was a few different pieces, all short, sketchy ideas dabbling in historical fiction; goofy and smart and so fun. I knew I wanted to work on them with her. We decided that maybe they were all part of one big story about the realities and illusions of the American Dream. We also were listening to a lot of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at the time (don’t judge us, this was 2008) and we knew there wanted to be a folk-musical score that helped us weave these stories together. The one problem was that neither Jaclyn nor I write music. Luckily we had lots of brilliant friends and colleagues that did. So, with the support of our at that time fledgling arts incubation company, Fresh Ground Pepper, we pulled together a team of singer/songwriter/actors to help. After a wildly imaginative and inspirational 2 week workshop in 2010, we had over 3 hours of material and 32 songs. Folk Wandering was born.

PTC: What was it that made you want to create this musical?
AN: Honestly, the thing that excited me the most initially was just getting all of our talented friends in the same room to make something way bigger than us. Folk Wandering from the beginning has been about weaving stories together in the pursuit of some greater American truth, and the more people we could get in the room to participate in the weaving the more universal and inclusive the exploration and the voices. From my years working with Liz Swados at NYU, I fell in love with the music writing process, and though I myself am not very skilled at it, I love listening to and watching my singer/songwriter colleagues spin beautiful melodies out of Jaclyn’s writing. And that process has, even now 8 years later, been my main source of inspiration during the long Folk Wandering process. These songwriters keep me in a state of CONSTANT AWE. 

PTC: What aspect of the Folk Wandering story do you most relate to?
AN: Without giving away too much about the show, I think I most relate to very deep conflict the show is wrestling with: how do we frame, talk about, learn from, acknowledge, honor, and mourn our collective American history and all its faults? And way more importantly: how do we, with the knowledge of all this, move forward? This question, for me personally, is paralyzing. I just often feel like I don’t know what to do to fix this country, to heal the oppression, to put better systems in place, to uplift my fellow citizens who are in pain: I just don’t know. And I think Folk Wandering helps me grapple with how to take responsibility for our collective American history and the problems of the “American Dream” in a hopeful and positive way. I guess what I’m saying is: I most relate with the question of “What now?”

PTC: If you were to write a tagline for Folk Wandering, what would it be?
AN: This is totally unfair because I’ve been asked to do this already maybe 50 times so I scoff at “if you were asked”… BUT let’s go with: “What isn’t a hazy bourbon dream?” 

PTC: What first attracted you to directing?
AN: I started in theatre as an actor. And I loved and still (though I haven’t done it in forever) love performing. But the more shows I worked on, the more I got bored with the rehearsal process as a performer. I just realized I cared so much more about the big picture. So I started directing. I think ultimately theatre for me has always been a large scale, social experience. I love building, developing and nurturing the culture of a rehearsal room. It’s part artistry and part hospitality (maybe it’s the southerner in me). I had a (also southern) teacher and mentor at NYU who once told me that the feeling of your rehearsal room is what it will feel like to sit in your audience. I think about that EVERY DAY I am directing. Just like I want to throw a good party every few months for my friends, I want to host a good night at the theatre every now and then for my fellow humans. I want to give people an opportunity to commune, to laugh, to feel, to drink, to eat, to be shocked, and to go out afterward and reminisce about it. To create memories together. 

PTC: Two truths and a lie, go:
AN: I’d rather be at the beach. I’d rather be eating grilled shrimp and drinking a margarita. I’m a highly talented computer programmer and freestyle rapper.

Folk Wandering begins preview performances on February 23, opens on March 4, and runs through March 18. Tickets are now available to all performances. Get your tickets today!