Alumna Spotlight: Mackenzie Anderson

Mackenzie Anderson is an NSU alumna. She graduated in 2017 with a double B.A. in theatre and music. Today, Anderson works as vocal coach and piano teacher at Pro Music Plus in Sunrise, but more recently she has become the co-writer of a song cycle, which is a set of related songs, often on a romantic theme, intended to form a single musical entity.

What is the name of the production you’re working on and how did it come about?

“It’s a song cycle called “Songs From The Brink.” We, Robyn my writing partner and I, wrote it. I showed him a song that I had written, and he liked it and thought we could create a song cycle and we wanted to write something that was about the issues and struggles of our current generation, of the millennial generation, because there’s not anything like it and we felt like we had something to say. So, we’ve been working on it for the past few months kind of creating the songs, deciding what issues were the most important that we wanted to address and how to address them.”

Would you say that social problems for millennials are what inspired you or are there other things that inspired your music?

“That’s the main inspiration for the content of the show. The musical inspiration comes from a lot of art our favorite contemporary musical theatre composers such as Ryan Scott Oliver, Jason Robert Brown, Pasek and Paul who wrote the music for ‘The Greatest Showman.’ That’s where the musical version comes from.”

I understand you’re still in the writing process –

“Yes! Almost done.”

How long have you been working on writing the music?

“We started I think in December. We started brainstorming the ideas for what we wanted to write then one day we just sat down at the piano finally and spat out an entire song in an hour, and it was kinda in that moment that we realized, ‘Wow, naturally we need to do this.’ We make a really good team. We need to actually create this piece and share it with people and not just write it for us. So yeah, we started working in December and it’s almost done. Thank God!”

What would you say has been the most exhausting part of the process and what has been the most exciting part?

“The most exhausting part for me has been physically writing the music into the music notation program, where you create the sheet music, because it just is really tedious and there’s nothing creative about it. It’s just bluh bluh bluh; it’s very mundane.

I think the most exciting thing is when you find a chord change or a lyric or something that just completely encapsulates what you’re trying to say and what you’re trying to get across, and then from that lyric or that chord or that motif, then everything else within the song kind of flows naturally. Because you can build the whole thing based off that idea. The other most exciting thing is when the song finally comes together and is totally complete and you can play it all the way through for the first time. So that’s really cool.”

What would you say you’ve learned through this process of writing the music and the lyrics?

“Creativity is a lot of work. I’ve learned how to persevere with an idea. A lot of times — it used to take me years to write a whole song by myself just because I would kind of run into writer’s block and then I wouldn’t touch it again for months, but this has kind of forced me to keep deadlines and keep moving and just getting something out into the world and then molding it into something beautiful. So, I’ve definitely become a writer and it’s actually really funny looking at the sheet music from the very first song that we wrote to even the one that I just finished tonight the complexity has grown exponentially, and I feel a lot more confident in who I am as a writer and what I have to say.”

Both you and Robyn are performers. Are either of you going to be in the production?

“No, we are not going to be in it. We didn’t want to let… I don’t know how to phrase this, we didn’t want to distract ourselves or anyone else from the actual music itself and we didn’t want people to get the wrong impression. It just felt really self-indulgent to put ourselves into the show and we wanted to be able to sit back and watch it come together as its own piece and not write for ourselves.”

How have you come to decide what actors you do want to be in the show? What has that process been like?

“For the most part we just kind of started talking to friends of ours that are also actors down in Florida and a couple of them said yes at first and then got gigs and had to drop out. Now we’ve kinda been going by word of mouth and doing a kind of really lax audition process, but I’m so happy with the people we have. We have an incredible cast that has finally come together today…Today we finalized our last person.”

That’s awesome.

“Yeah! And so, thinking about all the voices that we have and the quality of the actors that we have. I mean they’re all incredible singers, incredible actors and they all have such unique voices and unique characters and they represent a lot of different cultures and races and you know there’s only four people in the show, but I think the actors that have decided to come onboard with us are going to do an amazing job of representing our generation.”

You’re not done with this project yet, but do you already have any plans for any projects you might want to do next?

“Not for a new project. All our attention is on this right now, but we have bigger plans depending on audience reactions and reviews we get back from this staging of it. We’re hoping to stage a full production because this is more of a grassroots basic production. We want to do a full production in South Florida next year and hopefully for Carbonell eligibility, which is the South Florida theatre award, and then next year possibly entering it in new musical theatre competitions in New York and getting sponsors and producers up there and getting it into a big production.”

That sounds exciting. Could you tell us what the difference between a grassroots and full on production is? Should the audience anticipate seeing a set and costumes or sheet music?

“The [songs] are going to be memorized but … this is the very first time that this has been staged so this is kind of a workshop in a way where we’re hoping to have a talk back after every show for a few minutes so  people can give opinions on this or that and ask questions and we can gauge their reactions and maybe work on it a little more. There’s gonna be very minimal costuming, like I said they represent people of our generation so it’s not gonna be like ‘Hunger Games’ kind of costumes. We want them to be relatable because they are us. Basically the biggest difference would be if we got a producer for a full-scale production, you know, it would have more extravagant lighting and more of an extravagant set. It would be more of the technical aspect that would get more extravagant and probably expensive.”

Is there anything else you want our readers to know about your production or your process?

“A lot of what we address in this are things that are really important to us — such as issues of sexual assault and gun violence in school — so we hope that people will go into this with an open mind and maybe learn something that they didn’t know and see a viewpoint that they didn’t recognize before.”

When are the dates and times of “Songs From The Brink?”

“It’s going to be at Villain Theatre which is in Miami. It opens April 12 and it runs two weekends so [April] 12-14 and 19-21 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 but there are student rate tickets. If students want to bring their Shark Card to the theatre then they’ll get the student rate of $15.”

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