Fellows Spotlight is our blog series that invites you to take a behind-the-scenes look at our Fellows program.
We’ll be hearing from all our 2018-2019 Fellows: Jay Adana, Rae Binstock, Zeniba Britt, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, Mathilde Dratwa, Aryanna Garber, Charles Gershman, Nambi E. Kelley, Melissa Li, Benjamin Velez, Kit Yan, and Zack Zadek.
Each of the Fellows/teams were asked the same 5 questions, exploring where these writers have been, are now, and are journeying towards. Our Fellows took this gentle structure and ran, each submitting responses as unique and creative as they are.
This week we are proud to introduce Benjamin Velez.
What was your first experience with theater?
My mother forced me to audition for a local community theater production of Oliver when I was six years old. The director was only seeing kids aged nine and up, but my mom lied to get me in and I eventually got cast as Oliver! It was a magical experience where I caught the theater bug and it’s never let up since.
When did you decide to become a writer? Is there a writer, show, or piece of writing that was particularly influential on your path?
The first CD I ever bought was John Williams’ movie score for Spielberg’s Hook. It was a transcendent moment that led me down the path of a film score obsession and a love affair with musical storytelling.
How do you describe your work overall? What sets your work apart?
I’ve always found it hard to describe my work, mostly because the music I write is a fusion of a lot of different styles, similar to my influences. I don’t believe any of us are singular in how we exist; every character is a mixture of experiences, upbringings, flaws, and passions, and the music I write reflects that. Pop, funk, folk, rock, blues, blended together with a cinematic scope of world building to make the audience feel like they aren’t just hearing a collection of songs, but that they are entering another world. This cinematic approach to genre and musical storytelling is drives my work.
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you’ve been developing as a Fellow?
[Aryanna Garber and I are] working on a musical called Borderline about Anna, a girl who gets diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and struggles to understand what that diagnosis means for every aspect of her life. [We] are trying to navigate both the light and dark side of mental illness in a way that both challenges and invites our audience to understand a full nuanced picture of something often portrayed in the extreme. The fellows program has helped us hone in on the story we want to tell in terms of stakes and character so that we can create the most compelling story possible.
What do you find most rewarding about your work as a writer
I love the ability to connect with stories and experiences other than my own through the language of music. In my mind, the human experience is all about empathy and understanding, and as a writer I try to find the most creative and effective ways to help others do just that. If something I write can help humanize a person usually seen as “other”, or add shades to how someone thinks about previously immutable beliefs, that is the most rewarding feeling. It means I get to use my very specific toolbox to bring empathy to our ever increasingly polarized world.