Inside MuseMatch with Bill Coyne

MuseMatch is billed as a Musical Theater Blind Date Collaboration: composers are paired with singers they don’t know and are asked to share their deepest personal joys and fears to make a song together, all for charity. The seventh edition, which benefits Sophia Warrior Princess, returns to Feinstein’s 54 Below on June 18th.

Actorvist-producer Bill Coyne, who created the series, talks about the inspiration behind it and the importance of giving back in a self-involved world.

MuseMatchVIIKC: So to start us off, can you tell us how the idea for MuseMatch came out?

BILL: The main source of MuseMatch was the frustration, both on a personal level and on a community level, that I felt as an artist. The nature of theatre is collaborative and communal, and unfortunately in the environment that we live in as artists, so much of the conversation turns to yourself: “When am I going, why am I going in for this material, and I want to be in this Broadway show, and this.” I feel like a lot of artists, particularly myself — I kind of lost sight of why I started doing it in the first place, which was community and collaboration. The nature of the way theatre is in America, it’s about getting here in order to get there instead of being present and collaborative. It becomes very self-involved. I was really frustrated by my own self-talk and by the energy that I saw my friends and the people who I did collaborate with, how they had this amazing talent and they didn’t know how to channel it or focus it or they didn’t feel like they could. So I wanted to create a space where people could channel that energy into something productive, artistic, and beautiful instead of complaining about it.

KC: Once you had this idea, how did you actually make it happen? How did you get people together, what’s the process of producing the show?

BILL: Well, it’s kind of funny, I don’t know who said it initially but you kind of throw your hat over the fence and then you figure out how to get it later. So here we are and we’re on the precipice of our seventh MuseMatch and you know, it actually went fairly smoothly the first time. I did it by myself the first time, aside from a musical director leading the band — in terms of the organization and the production of it, it was all me. I’ve been really lucky to work with amazing artists, musical directors Joshua Zecher-Ross, Nathan Dame, Alexander Rovang, and now Kristen Rosenfeld. And over the series Stephanie Cowan’s assisted me as a producer, Ashley Rodbro’s helped me, and now for the past couple MuseMatches, Ariel Dobshinsky’s been helping me as well. So it’s really a team effort.

The inspiration of the evening was to change that complaining culture I was talking about earlier and shift the artists back to the why, get artists back to their own personal why, and set the evening’s tone to be inspirational and uplifting. The way to do that is by unfettered honesty and authenticity in the performance. So the format of the evening was really designed to get artists and writers to get through that veneer, that stuff they schlack on to themselves, creating this alias as a personality or as, “Oh, I’m this writer who does this, and I always promote myself to be this bad boy of musical theatre, I do pop and it’s really fun,” you know what I mean?

KC: Everyone’s like a product, not a person.

Lauren MarcusBILL: Yeah, exactly. And so this is really just to get back to humanity from both sides. Each pair is given a series of five questions — if you answer them honestly, there’s no way you can’t have a real conversation with your partner. So that’s the goal, to just get artists, whether you’re the writer or the performer, to realize that there’s enough in you. You are enough, you are interesting, there is inherent drama and interesting subject matter in the day to day. All of us have such amazing stories just by nature of existing as human beings in this crazy world. Everybody has had something happen to them that they might not talk about. Not all the subject matter has been really heavy-handed, some artists take it and use it to expose a very quirky or funny moment in their lives, and other people have used it to excavate this incredible deep-seated pain that hasn’t been expressed, that’s kind of laid inert underneath. So it’s been a cathartic healing experience for some, for some it’s been a breath of fresh air, a moment of levity, so that’s the heart of why we do MuseMatch.

KC: After two years, has the process been a little more streamlined? You have a new group of people and choose a different charity every time — from doing the first show all by yourself to having a MuseMatch family working on it now, how different is that?

BILL: Well, the first one was really great, and it was well-attended, and then over the course of it, we’ve had kind of a mix. I want this to serve as an opportunity for people so it’s not all Broadway stars or people who’ve been on Broadway, it started out as just artists I’ve worked with professionally, in readings, friends of people I worked with, people I’d seen who inspired me. And then the network, or the family so to speak, has grown to incorporate referrals. This is a referrals-based system so every time I do a concert I follow up with them and say, recommend three writers, recommend three performers, so that’s kind of how the family has grown. And it’s been amazing to watch. MuseMatch 6.0, #YesAllWomen — so it’s all female composers, as you know — and that concert sold out, it was standing room only. So my intention for this concert coming up, Saturday, June 18th, is that we sell out and that’s kind of the consistent thing, we’re always selling out.

KC: You’ve set the bar now.

BILL: And I think the product speaks for itself when you get amazing people in a room and just give them the space to really get naked with each other, so to speak. The product is usually really really great. We have a wide array of performances and styles. We have true pop-rock, almost Katy Perry anthems, to very classic legit operetta songs. So it’s been amazing to see how different people inspire each other and how different synergy arises in different pairings. It’s been really fun.

KC: You never know what you’re going to get!

BILL: Yeah, exactly.

KC: How do you pair these people together, do you have a process or is it just picking names out of a hat and you see what happens?

MuseMatch BandBILL: What I do, and what my collaborators do, is we choose the participants carefully. Everyone who’s in it is a good human being, or so we know them to be a good human being. We don’t want anybody who’s a diva or has an attitude. Everybody has a generous heart as well as talent. And so basically the process is, select people, and then we go based on our knowledge of that artist or that writer and listen to their music and say, “What would be interesting?” And sometimes that results in, “Oh, this person’s an awesome pop singer and this guy’s an awesome pop writer, and he’s a dark motherfucker and she’s a beam of light and joy, and maybe he would unearth something dark in her, or she would inspire some light in him.” And other times it’s like, “Wow, this person is a really great rock writer, and this person is a legit operetta singer, so what would that make?” It’s not just about the artistic synergy, it’s about the human synergy, and it’s really kind of a big old experiment, you know?

I can count on one hand the number of experiences that weren’t satisfying, and it wasn’t with the product, it was with the artist’s attitude. But most of the time, everybody’s been super-awesome to work with. Everybody’s really bought into the method and bought into the heart of the concert, which is art as contribution. And that’s the intention, to really get people to realize that hey, you’re not doing this for you, you’re doing this because it creates a vibration in the world, and that’s why we started the whole MuseMatch series with the intention that it’s all for charity. Going back to the original conversation, everybody’s complaining, “What is my type and why am I not on Broadway,” and meanwhile art was created to inspire people. When you connect people to a cause it immediately awakens that and reactivates that initial intention which is, “Wow, I’m creating something beautiful that makes people laugh, that makes people feel things.” And when you tie that to somebody in need, an audience in need, it really makes the night beautiful. It really becomes a cathartic experience because you get people together for a certain cause, and that’s what I think is the best part about the concert. The product’s amazing, but the fact that these artists — sometimes they don’t have any kind of personal connection to the charity, but they wind up finding one. A common thread is to be found. So it’s really been amazing to see how the artists buy into that, and it yields great results.

KC: Do you have a dream collaboration?

BILL: What I would really love to do — I’ve gotten some really amazing composers, Larson, Kleban, award-winning composers, Richard Rodgers winners. What I would really love to do is pair Lin-Manuel Miranda or Jason Robert Brown or Stephen Sondheim or Jeanine Tesori, any of those established, amazing writers, with somebody who is undiscovered. Somebody who I know is really talented, somebody from Musical Theatre Factory, or somebody who I’ve seen at a concert who is transformative as a performer but just hasn’t been found yet, and I would love to have that be the catalyst for them and their career. That’s my intention. This stuff’s all on YouTube, and some of these videos have gotten thousands of views, but I would just love to be able to get somebody of that caliber to write for the concert and change somebody’s life. And maybe that’s a performer too, maybe I can get Steven Pasquale or Kelli O’Hara to do MuseMatch and have that change the writer’s life, this writer who is doing all of these concerts and writing Theatreworks shows and writing off-Broadway or downtown self-produced work, and then having it transform their career. That’s what really makes a difference for me.

KC: MuseMatch 8: A Star is Born.

BILL: Exactly.

KC: So if someone were to write a song for you — I don’t think they have, right?

BILL: No, no, because that’s not it. I’m a purist. I don’t want to MC and sing songs, I feel kind of gross about that.

KC: Which I’m all about, because it puts the focus on the stories being shared and the charity and not on you. It’s not The Bill Coyne Show.

BILL: Yeah, that’s not what this is about.

KC: And that’s such an easy trap to fall into. But if you were an outside person and you were being paired in MuseMatch, what are the things the writer would need to know about you?

BILL: I think one of the things — there’s actually a song called “Nothing’s As It Seems” and that’s kind of the world you live in today, than what we present. There’s what’s underneath. I think a lot of people know me as an open-hearted guy and a nice guy, but I have a really bad dark side. It’s something that runs in my family, it’s a disorder, and that’s something I work on daily. So I would love to excavate that, I would love an opportunity to share that. I think what it really comes from is I’m just deeply sensitive. Things bother me on a profound level, whether it’s personal or just when I see things that aren’t right, and being done to other people, it really bothers me. That’s kind of why I started MuseMatch, because we live in a really fucked up, messy world. We need art to heal.

Get your tickets for MuseMatch 7.0 here.

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