#WomenWhoWrite Guest Blog Series: Katya Stanislavskaya

By Gabriella Balsam


Introducing Katya Stanislavskaya!

I noticed you have both a MM in performance from Temple University as well as an MFA from GMTWP. How did your studies in performance influence your work as a writer?

My MM is specifically in piano accompanying and chamber music; working with vocalists and instrumentalists in an intimate setting has been very helpful to me in my work as a musical theatre vocal coach, as well as in many “piano-conductor” situations. Overall, working with performers, answering their questions, and helping them navigate their vocal and/or acting challenges has been very informative for me as a dramatist, especially because I myself don’t come from an acting background.

You’re a professor of musical theatre at SUNY New Paltz. How does your teaching inform your writing? 

I’ve written much more prolifically since becoming a teacher, for three reasons. 1. I have a window into what young people care about, both aesthetically and socio-politically. 2. I have a better understanding of  what kind of writing is clear, with strong objectives; and what kind of writing is murky and difficult to act. 3. I always have talented and curious students who are willing to “workshop” a new song as part of their education. It’s great for a writer to be able to hear their work performed by someone else.

You’ve also worked as an accompanist and musical director for numerous works around the country. How has that influenced your own compositions?  

I never formally studied composition; even as a student at NYU-GMTWP, I was officially a lyricist in that program. My training and experience as a pianist and music director, as well as all of the music theory I’ve taken in my life, is the foundation of my musical education. The flipside is that other people’s music often stuck in my head and/or my fingertips. That said, music directing works by emerging writers—my peers—has been a huge positive influence. Watching their pieces evolve is always educational for my own process.

Your show Women on Love was recently produced at Temple Theaters in a Zoom production. What was it like to do a digital production of this show? 

It was an unusual experience; rather than doing my actual song cycle Women on Love, Temple produced a concert of my songs from three different shows, including the song cycle. Many of the songs in Women on Love are meant to be performed by much older folks. In a live theatre situation, we probably could have gotten away with casting college students as middle-aged parents, etc., by using design elements to help suspend disbelief. But, the director and I realized that it wouldn’t “read” in a streaming production. And so, we used songs from various shows that could be believably performed by 18-to-22-year-olds. I think it was a smart idea, and a big lesson to us all about how casting for streaming productions is more similar to casting for film.

 You aim to write a different immigrant experience in your musicals, most notably in your show Resident Alien, but honestly, in all of your work. What do you hope audiences take away from your musicals about this experience?

There are plenty of artworks about scrappy immigrants pursuing and achieving their “American Dream.” There are also plenty of artworks about the 1880-1920’s wave of Russian-Jewish immigration. In Resident Alien, I wanted to write about the wave of immigration after the collapse of the Soviet Union (something that I experienced myself). I also wanted to show how immigration affects different types of people, even those within the same family. For some, the bubble gets burst, and they regret their decision to emigrate. This often causes families to have internal rifts. I also wanted to show how Americans often treat new immigrants—from being lazy about learning/pronouncing their names to children being bullied for their accents. I think this musical has a lot of relevance in today’s America, when we are all starting to see our country with new eyes, and where the immigrant experience is always fraught with xenophobia from some segments of the population. 

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