Loading. Please wait...

A Peek Inside the Process

Rachel Bonds & Zoe Sarnak bring us into their process writing The Lonely Few

Interview by Phaedra Michelle Scott, Dramaturg for The Lonely Few

Phaedra Michelle Scott: Where did the idea of The Lonely Few come from? What was the story you were interested in telling?

Rachel Bonds: Zoe and I knew we were going to get to work together. We both wanted to make something with music, and I don’t come from the world of musicals at all. I was interested in making something that is on a smaller scale—like a Hedwig. Where the cast are also the musicians. Something that could maybe live in the world of a concert.

Zoe was interested in that idea because she had a group of songs that felt like they lived in a story together but potentially in a less traditional musical structure. We started looking at this group of songs that she had with this idea that we were building up to a concert musical. I started interviewing her about her music—where did the songs come from? We found that most of the songs came from heartbreak, then we dug into it. Heartbreak, sexuality, and coming of age as a queer woman.

We started to shape the story from those interviews, and because we had the concert-model in mind, we wanted there to be a strong female-identifying protagonist—a frontwoman for the band—around whom we’d shape the whole story. Then we wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote. We were looking for a narrative that felt right, that made the story satisfying.

Then, when the pandemic started, we paused and thought—maybe we can make this into a film. We sat down to write out a treatment, and that’s actually when we found the story we wanted to tell. When we thought about it as a film.

PMS: When you shifted mediums, that’s when it clicked?

RB: That’s where we really hammered out a plot and narrative, and THEN we went back to the stage version and shifted the whole thing. We realized—it’s a love story. And it’s not just this one protagonist—it’s actually two. It’s a story about two women. It’s their love story. That’s how we cracked it.

Then we wrote a billion more drafts after that (laughs).

PMS: How does music influence storytelling?

Zoe Sarnak: What’s really beautiful about musicals in general is that characters should sing truth and changes, and explore pain or joy or transformation or catharsis that they can’t quite express through dialogue or words. They have to express it through music, and it’s true of all great musicals, I think.

For this one, the characters are all in moments of significant change. All six of them. All six of them are excavating struggle in the past, liminal space in the present, or moments in their lives when everything is about to turn over. Or they are stuck and feel like they may never change again. All of those things are so hard to verbalize because we are busy living our day-to-day lives. Music has the language, even before lyric, in the notes and the rhythms, as a way that we express ourselves. In this show, the added bonus is that [the characters] are musicians, so it is their language.

Music can unlock things inside of us that we don’t know yet even, and I think that is really expressed in this show.

PMS: We’re getting a lot of the emotional story of the characters through their relationships to musicianship as well. So, there might be hints that an audience member listening closely might pick up.

ZS: 100%. The blend of genres of the piece allows different characters to have different musical voices. Another thing I found really exciting in seeing it on its feet, is the way people play [their instruments] is also character development. I cannot wait for people to see The Lonely Few play as a band, and just how much you learn about their character by how they hold their instruments, or when they play them gently, or when they are headbanging. There is so much character that is expressed through how we sing, but also how we play. When we choose to play, and when we don’t, as well.

PMS: What’s something that you hope audiences walk away with?

RB: This is a love story between two women, and as far as I know in the musical canon, there is no musical that features this kind of queer love story as the structural central relationship. Zoe and I didn’t necessarily approach this from a place of politics. We approached it from a personal place, but by nature it is political, especially at a time when I think a lot of us feel scared about having our rights stripped away from us, and losing our access to choice over our bodies and who we can love.

The main thing we’re putting out there is that this is just a love story like any other. It’s about standing in front of the community and being embraced by that community, even if you didn’t necessarily think that community would embrace you.

ZS: I thought about this a lot. Some days I think to myself, I want to write a queer love story in the most rich and celebratory of queerness way. I want to write a queer love story that is something that I would have always wanted to see when I was younger. It could be so special for so many people, and I think it is so important.

And also, it is a love story in the universal sense. I really believe that one of the most powerful things about this show is that it can celebrate queerness, while being a love story that anyone can see themselves inside of.

PMS: The musical focuses on artists and creating art; what’s some advice you would give to anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in the arts?

RB: My advice is to get your hands into as many mediums as you can. I think it’s really good to say yes to new things, even if you don’t know how to do them. It’s okay if you’ve never done it before, you can learn, especially if you have a background in theater, it makes you adaptable and potentially very good with people of all kinds.

ZS: Each show is different, but one of the things that was true about this show for me was—I wanted it to feel undeniably honest, always. There’s a lot of my personal life in the show. However, you can get caught up in thinking that the context you know [from lived experience] is in what you are doing. At the end of the day, you are writing for characters who are not you. Very importantly so.

I think the process for writing this show often for me has been putting myself in an emotional place for any given character, and allowing it to connect to something unspoken and deep inside of me that brings out images and thoughts (and even memories). But then being ruthless about editing.

PMS: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

ZS: I am very thankful that this story is coming to life. It is such a labor of love over many years, and also it is an expression of a lot of truths that took me many years to feel comfortable sharing. For it to come to life and have people—such amazing artists so committed to it—have brought together this family of people. Feeling the energy already of people who want to connect to it is really meaningful. I want to thank every single person who comes because it’s a true labor of love.

I want to specifically thank Rachel, because I think it takes a really special writing partner to dive into stuff like this. It’s a gift to write with her.

RB: This has been a yearslong collaboration with Zoe. Because I don’t come from the world of musicals, she has taught me so much and it has been such a joy. It’s not like I’m off writing the book and she’s off writing the lyrics, everything we do has been so intertwined and she has taught me so much about structure and plot. Her brain works so differently than mine, and they are very complimentary. Our aesthetics are very similar and I just feel very grateful to have her and to make art with her. I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with her, and this has really become our child. It’s very close to our hearts.

The Lonely Few

MAR 2 – APR 30, 2023
Written by Rachel Bonds
Music & Lyrics by Zoe Sarnak
Directed by Trip Cullman & Ellenore Scott
Produced in Association with FourthWall Theatrical
Featuring Joshua Close, Damon Daunno, Lauren Patten, Ciara Renée, Helen J Shen & Thomas Silcott

Lila (Lauren Patten, Tony Award winner for Jagged Little Pill) is getting by in her Kentucky hometown—scanning groceries at the Save-A-Lot, caring for her erratic brother, and living for Friday nights, when she plays a gig with her band The Lonely Few. And that's enough. Or she thought it was, until Amy (Ciara Renée, Frozen, Waitress), an established musician ragged from the road, passes through and offers her a shot at something much, much bigger. But is Lila ready for the life she never dared to imagine? A world premiere musical by Zoe Sarnak and Rachel Bonds, The Lonely Few is a love story between two women searching for a sense of home.

This play was commissioned as part of the Geffen Playhouse's New Play Development Program thanks to the generosity of Sandra Krause and William Fitzgerald. Major support for this world premiere production provided by the Edgerton Foundation New Play Production Fund.


Loading. Please wait...