Welcome to the DGF Fellows Spotlight.
These interviews put the spotlight on individual DGF Fellows and invite you to take a behind-the-scenes look at our program.
This year, you’ve met Jessica Kahkoska & Elliah Heifetz; Paulo K Tiról, Andy Roninson, Kate Douglas, Avi Amon, Nikhil Mahapatra, and Andrew Rincón. And we’ll wrap up the 2019-2020 Fellows calendar year by continuing to introduce you to all the fellows: Kyoung H. Park, Melis Aker, and Nolan Doran.
Each writer is asked a series of questions to help us get to know them better, while exploring where they’ve been, what they’re up to now, and what they hope for the future.
Please take your seats, unwrap your candies, and silence your cellphones as we put the spotlight on Nolan Doran!
What was your first experience with theater?
My first experience with theatre was probably watching the filmed version of “The Sound Of Music” , “The King and I” and even “The Wizard of Oz” on TV with my mom. They used to play those movies on TV at the turn of the seasons. Growing up in Salt Lake City, those films showed me that the world was much bigger than that little mountain town where I was born. At age 9, we moved to Richmond, VA and my grandmother took me to the Broadway touring houses to see shows like “A Chorus Line” and “Starlight Express”. We’d also go see the local regional dinner theatres with shows like “Nunsense” and “Godspell” and “Joseph and the Amazing….” I soon was acting and singing in plays and musicals in middle school and high school. Then came “RENT,” which was one of those pivotal moments that changed everything for me.
When did you decide to become a writer? Is there a writer, show, or piece of writing that was particularly influential on your path?
Writing songs runs in my family. My grandfather played a mean Gibson Southern Jumbo and my mom carried that torch. She played that same guitar and sang in a group with my aunt as they traveled the world with Glenn Close in the 60’s with Up With People. My father was also a singer and a songwriter and he met my mother in that same group. I grew up surrounded by music and was always singing and writing little songs here and there. I think I wrote my first show around the age of 9 years old and would put on little puppet shows for my mom.
I don’t think there was one particular path that brought me to writing musicals – it was a combination of experiences from singing in choirs and performing in musicals to writing pop songs and working in the studio scene and learning how to produce records with R&B masters. Then later after performing and traveling, I wanted to take my songwriting skills and tell a story onstage. The most influential show in my early life had to be RENT because it taught me about what life could be like in NYC: wonderful, scary, lonely, vivid but meaningful. It taught me the meaning of, “No Day But Today” and how important it is we use art to tell stories that matter and spread a message of love and hope instead of fear.
How do you describe your work overall? What sets your work apart?
I started singing at an early age and didn’t come from the traditional theatre background. I always had a great love for R&B and Pop music – some of my influences range from Mariah Carey to Michael Jackson to Take Six to Kim Burrell to Brian McKnight and Boys II Men. I even had a boy band back in the day and we wrote Hip Hop/R&B songs. We even sang for Michael Jackson twice and had a single with Jadakiss. I still can’t believe that!
When I write, I pull from those pop, R&B, and Gospel musical influences and look for ways to bring fresh sounds to the stage that can use familiar sounds to tell a powerful story. l love SCI-FI and any day I can write about a character who travels to other galaxies in outer space, I’m into it! I’m drawn to underdogs and subcultures and the people living on the other side of the tracks. I love to explore characters who are overlooked and forgotten and look for ways to shine a spotlight on them, so we can see our own humanity through them.
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you’ve been developing as a Fellow?
As a Fellow, I’m working with my collaborator Avi Amon on a new piece called “The Lesson” which is a musical fantasia about a theoretical lesson between Mozart and Beethoven who met in Vienna in 1787. Its like a steampunk alt-future trip into an alternate universe with two characters you think you know but will learn you know nothing about. We started writing it as a song cycle, and we’ve used our year as fellows to rework our outline and build out our scenes and create new songs.
I love being in those sessions with Larry, Michael, Allison and our class of fellows because of the incredibly generous feedback they provide. Everyone is invested in each others work. Being able to share our writing helped us see new areas where we can push the characters further – which in turn helps push the lyrics and music to new heights. Living in NY, the year as a fellow gave us the space and time to focus on our project and the luxury of the incredible DGF staff who support you every step of the way. It’s almost unheard of for someone to say, “Hey, your work matters – Go write that – Go finish it. We have your back. What do you need from us?” The year has been like a dream because DGF believed in our work and reminded me that we as writers have value and what we do still matters.
What do you find most rewarding about your work as a writer?
The most rewarding part of being a writing is being able to lose yourself in a character and a story and create new worlds and experiences you may not be able to have in real life. It’s also one of the most incredible gifts to watch your own writing performed by insanely talented actors who make your work their own by infusing their unique experiences with yours. Writing is the incredible gift of giving and allows us to hold up the mirror to the audience so we can all see ourselves reflected back from the stage. My biggest wish has always been to “Help others through music” and if I’m lucky enough to ever do that, I hope my writing will help someone else know that they are seen and worthy. That will be my greatest gift.
Do you have any upcoming work you’d like to share?
[Yes!] I’d love to talk three things:
1. I’m releasing a video for a song I wrote called, “That One Thing” featuring Curtis Wiley from AIN’T TOO PROUD. [ You can watch “That One Thing” here!]
2. I’m Producing an event called ARTISTS FOR CHANGE with Julie Boardman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to help flip the Senate featuring some incredible artists like Tony Kushner, Young Jean Lee, Paula Vogel and Dominique Morisseau, Alex Dinelaris, Bernadette Peters, Forest Whitaker and more!
3. I’m working on Broadway For Biden as Executive Producer along with Julie Boardman, Halle Morse and Jeff Metzler to produce a large Broadway Concert to celebrate an inclusive forward thinking diverse Broadway and show our support to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harrris.
Thank you Nolan, for contributing to the blog! You can stay up to date on his work by following him on social media! www.facebook.com/NolanDoran Insta: @nolaninyc Twitter: @nolandoran