Lynn Nottage Talks Opera, ‘MJ’ and How Lockdown Changed Her

Lynn Nottage has had a hat-trick of shows on New York stages this season: the new opera “Intimate Apparel,” the Michael Jackson musical “MJ” and the play “Clyde’s.” How does she top that?

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

By leaning into comedy. “I want to create theater that’s joyful,” the playwright said on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast.

“I want people to leave feeling good,” she continued. “I think that so much of my career I’ve written plays that are somewhat tough and that raise difficult questions, and it’s not that I won’t do that anymore. But I feel like there’s something in the way in which humor opens up the heart and allows access to different kinds of emotions that really appeals to me in this moment.”

Also on the new Stagecraft, Nottage discussed the differences between an opera (like “Intimate Apparel”) and a musical (like “MJ”), and recalled  the multiple tries it took to get the libretto for “Intimate Apparel,” her adaptation of her own play, right.

As is traditional in opera, Nottage wrote the libretto (her first) before composer Ricky Ian Gordon wrote a single note of music. One thing that helped her out: other music. “One of the things that I did when I sat down to begin the libretto was to build a soundtrack of the world and music that I imagined [the protagonist] Esther would be listening to, or what would the Lower East side sound like, or what would the bordello sound like,” she said. “I went about trying to find those particular sounds, and that’s what I listened to as I was writing.”

She also revealed how she thinks about the complexities of weighing an artist’s creative legacy against their personal legacy — a question that she endeavored to wrestle with in “MJ.”

“The phrase that I’ve used, and has been a guiding principle, is just, number one, replacing judgment with curiosity,” she explained. “And the second thing is sustaining the complexity of the characters, and understanding that as an artist I’ve always leaned into complicated characters. That’s never going to change.”

To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.

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