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"Pop!" author and Hagerstown native's playwriting career comes in with a bang

July 22, 2011|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE | crystal.schelle@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown native Maggie-Kate Coleman has written the book and lyrics to the show "Pop!" now being shown at The Studio Theatre's The Studio 2ndStage in Washington, D.C. The musical whodunit is based on the aftermath of the shooting of Andy Warhol.
Photo by Joe Crocetta/Illustration by Chad Trovinger

WASHINGTON — Andy Warhol once said, "In the future, everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes."

Hagerstown native Maggie-Kate Coleman is on the brink to have more than just a few minutes of fame.

Coleman, 32, has written the book and lyrics to the new whodunit musical "Pop!" The story is based on the hours after Warhol's death in what she describes as "his imaginary world" with members of The Factory acting as detectives to track down who shot Warhol. The show is being staged at The Studio Theatre's Studio 2ndStage in Washington, D.C., through Sunday, Aug. 7.

Coleman, and "Pop!" composer Anna K. Jacobs have been on the fast track with their musical.

"We're told that it takes normally five to 10 years from when you first have your idea to when it comes to fully be realized onstage," Coleman said.

 "Pop!" has taken four. 

"We had to learn a lot on our feet," she said.

Intro to theater

Theater found Coleman while a student at St. Maria Goretti High School, from which she graduated in 1997.

Coleman, the daughter of Herald-Mail columnist Kate Coleman of Hagerstown and William Coleman of Kensington, Md., said she was introduced —  or maybe pushed — into acting by her teacher, Bonnie Pratt.

Pratt wanted to stage a Shakespeare play with students and was hoping that Coleman would want to participate.

"She asked me 'So are you going to audition for my play, Maggie?' I said, 'No.' She said, 'Do you want to pass English, Maggie?' So I thought I'd better audition," Coleman said with a laugh.

After that, Coleman attended theater and musical camp at Totem Pole Playhouse in Fayetteville, Pa. Following graduation from high school, she headed off to Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., for her undergraduate degree in drama and English.

Writing was something that also found her. Coleman was attending a semester at The Eugene O'Neill National Theater Institute in Connecticut, where she took a writing class.

"I always resisted writing because I thought it was my mom's thing," she said. "But I liked it."

Soon she found herself applying for a program at New York University on a whim and getting in.

"I kind of came in through the back door," she said.


'Pop!' takes shape

"Pop!" was actually Coleman's thesis project at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where she was working on her master's degree in musical theater writing.

"The way the program works is in the first year, it's like speed dating for composers and writers," she said. "You kind of work with everyone in your class and try everyone else out."

The second year is when students actually work on their thesis projects. "Pop!" was one of two projects Coleman was involved in.

Paired with Jacobs, Coleman had to find a musical common ground with her fellow student.

"I love research, history and literature," Coleman said, "and she really, really loves contemporary pop culture with reality television, US Weekly and Style magazine. And Warhol seemed to be a good world that encompassed both celebrity culture and art history."


Creating Warhol's world

One aspect that has many critics abuzz about "Pop!" is, although it is a fantasy world, the show has been lauded for its use of historical detail. Coleman credits that to research.

"I read most every book you can find on Warhol," she said.

Her first introduction to Warhol, a Pittsburgh native who introduced the world to pop art, was while working at her first job in New York City after graduating from Ithaca College.

Coleman worked in the office at Muse Film and Television, a documentary film company that only produces movies about art. While there she did research on a film called "Who Gets to Call it Art?"

The film, it just so happens, was about Henry Geldzahler, curator, art historian and close friend of Warhol's.

"And that was my first introduction to that world," she said.

While Coleman poured over anything Warhol, her musical counterpart delved into musical research.

"It's not a period score," Coleman says of Jacobs' music. "It doesn't sound like the Velvet Underground or anything. She sort of uses a lot of different pop culture filters."

For instance, Shirley Temple and country rock influences can be heard, she said.

When it came to actually creating the music, Coleman said she and Jacobs worked closely together. If the song was more character based, Coleman would write the lyrics first or at least a partial lyric sketch while Jacobs would come up with a partial music sketch.

"And then we finish it off together," she said.

But if the song is more musically driven, the work is done a little differently.

"If it's a song that has to be in a particular style— we have a song that's sort of a ragtimey sort of a song — she might write the music first and I fill in the words," she explained.

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