Interview: TYLER TAFOLLA, Seasons: A New Musical Song-Cycle

Tyler Tafolla is a performer, director, and musical theatre writer with experience working in New York, Los Angeles, and San Diego. He has recently released a concept album for his new song cycle musical, Seasons

To start off, how did you first become interested in musical theatre?

When I was eight years old and they realized I wasn’t doing great in sports, my parents put me into the local youth theatre company. I don’t remember this, but my mom says right after the audition, I told her, “I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life.” I grew up doing theatre and watching a healthy diet of Disney and Spielberg and movie musicals. I think we rented out the VHS of Mary Martin’s Peter Pan from the library every week. 

I was never truly trained until I went to college, but I had a huge passion for it growing up. I didn’t really take voice lessons or do the usual stuff that kids who eventually do this do. I was just a sponge and I loved the medium. In high school, I was really into Spielberg and I didn’t know if I wanted to get into movies or if I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to do something within the arts and within the medium of telling stories. I loved storytelling and characters and when you fall in love with a character more than anything. I ended up going to college for musical theatre at AMDA and got my BFA in Musical Theatre. My world kind of led me to this point where now I’m writing and doing stuff full time with musicals which is so awesome. 

What made you start writing?

In high school, I was writing little skits and sketches for my friends to do and making home movies because we were bored. My senior year of high school, they were looking to do a new musical and I, being the ballsy teenager I was back then, asked if they’d do it if someone wrote something original. I had this idea in the back of my head already for a story and I was like, “Yeah I’ll just turn this into a musical.” I was totally fearless! 

I finished the first draft of my first musical and it was really bad, but it was finished. They were like, “We’re going in a different direction,” and I think they did Fiddler or something. But I had this first draft of this musical in my back pocket. The show is called Scott Robbins and the Traveling Show and I’ve produced and done stuff with it since. 

They have a program at AMDA, where I did my four year BFA, called The Student Vision. You can pitch original musicals to this board of faculty and staff. If they like it, they’ll let you put up your musical. It’s all student-led, student-directed, with student actors. So halfway through college, I thought, I have this crappy first draft that has really good potential, I think I should do something with it. I wanted to find a way to stand out from the crowd because a lot of the teachers and staff were working professionals. As those in college for musical theatre know, there’s a lot of us and there were a lot of boys at that time that looked exactly like me, but sang and danced a lot better than me. 

At that point at AMDA, no one had done a fully finished musical; they’d done a song cycle or fifteen minutes of a show. So I thought I’d do the first fully finished totally original musical. A year after I first heard about the program, I’d finished a new draft of the script and all new songs. I pitched it to them and they liked it. I eventually workshopped it all the way to doing a two weekend run at AMDA with this show that had been in my head since high school. 

I kind of fell into becoming a writer. I was originally just going to do the book and get someone else to do the music and lyrics. Then, I thought I would do the music and get someone else to do lyrics. I kept trying to get people to help me work on this and eventually it got to a point where I needed to finish it because no one else was going to do it for me. It became this sort of mission of mine, if you will, just to finish it because I believe in the story and the characters I’ve created. 

Can you share a bit about Seasons

Seasons is a new musical song cycle. It’s about six friends who, within the span of six years, go within all the big milestone seasons of their life: high school, college, marriage, divorce, jobs, careers, kids. It hits all the big marks in their life. A lot of the characters go through spouts of asking, “Why do seasons have to change? Why can’t we just stay the same?” It’s about kids becoming adults, learning why having seasons of their lives is a good thing. They learn throughout the span of it that we as humans don’t always have control over our lives and where our lives go. But after the good and the bad happen, we have the choice of where we can go from there. 

It’s been a fun labor of love. I had little melodies that I’ve written here and there during my time in college that I’d never really used. After pitching the other show, Scott Robbins, over the years to different theaters and venues, I wanted to do something smaller with a smaller cast of three girls and three guys that didn't need a lot of set pieces. 

I’m really inspired by people by Jason Robert Brown and Pasek and Paul and I saw that they started off doing song cycles. So I wanted to dip my feet in that and doing something that was nonlinear was a fun little challenge. We were going to perform it earlier this summer in 2020, but because of everything...that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, around March when all this went down, I thought to myself, I have all of these songs finished and I want to do something with them. I want everyone to have a new musical to listen to this year even though Broadway closed. I thought I’d just turn it into a concept album, stream it online, and make it a fundraiser because Broadway and everyone are struggling right now.

We premiered it on October 15. I got a couple of artists that are pretty well known in the theatre community like Mariah Rose Faith, Desi Oakley, and Adante Carter. They were all totally into it and wanted to be a part of it. I just wanted to give people something to look forward to still within this weird year and something that they can jam out in the car to. 

What were your musical influences for Seasons?

The sound of the show is very inspired by the music I was listening to in high school. You’ve got stuff that sounds like Billy Joel, The Cure, Mumford & Sons, and Green Day. It hits the greatest hits of what Tyler was listening to back then, and I still listen to it now. I think it was Lin Manuel Miranda who said that the music that will be the most important to you is what you were listening to in high school. So if you were to put in Tyler’s mix CD from high school, this is the kind of sound that would come out of it. It’s a nice mix of fun stuff you can rock out to and songs you can get really introspective and heavy with.

What was recording a concept album during a pandemic like? 

It was nuts, but it was awesome though! Most of my contact with people was through either social media or email. I didn’t see anyone in person during that time, except my girlfriend Megan [Kuramoto-Monroe] who is on the album and is living with me. The only other person I saw was Mariah who came down for us to shoot the music video, socially distanced. 

I sent everyone the tracks and told them the feel of the song and the style and said, “Have at it! Go wild with it, be free, have fun.” I sent them the sheet music and let them get creative on their own side of things. They sent me back tracks of their audio and we just dropped it into what we were working on over here. 

I’m in San Diego right now and we were getting people from New York and LA and all over to put this together. It was a fun two to three month time where I was getting tracks from people. My brother Ryan and I were doing the mix in our garage. It sounds way better than the capacity in which we were creating it. That’s a testament to all these artists’ talent and their abilities because they are so good on this. I listen to Desi Oakley and I cry. We were mixing and doing live instruments, drums and guitar. A lot of this, I was Garageband-ing and then we were able to go back and layer in all of the real live stuff. It was so cool to see it all come together. 

How did you assemble this fantastic cast?

It’s a mixture of the people I know, the people who are available, and the people who I’m very inspired by and have wanted to work with over the years. Me and Mariah had wanted to work together and we finally got to work on this. 

A lot of the people, I was just reaching out to. You know the Starry musical. That team is so awesome and I was able to reach out to them and a lot of the people who worked on this worked on Starry. I wanted to reach out to these people because I knew they were available because nothing is going on right now. It was the perfect time to get all these really talented people that I’ve admired from afar together to do this. 

It felt like the right piece to work on for right now too. The feelings we’re singing about are very topical. I never expected the songs to ring this true during this time. I listen back to these lyrics and these songs and I see them with different eyes now. 

Are you hoping to fully stage Seasons when life is back to being a bit more normal? 

I am hopeful for any capacity this could be in. With Seasons, this is a show that can live without big sets and in concert style. If you make it too big, it could lose its charm. The show is meant to feel like you’re opening someone’s photo album or journal or yearbook from their life. 

I’m hopeful for theatre to come back soon, so I would love for that to happen. I’m discovering all of this as I go. I’m looking up bloggers and people to write about it and to talk to because I believe in the story and the characters and the artists that are on this. I want them to be seen and be out there right now. It’s so easy to get lost in the waves of social media and the news. I’ve been doing all my own marketing for the show and my own music and Scott Robbins. I’ve been doing it on my own. I want so desperately to work with people. I want to work in the theatre and be doing stuff on a bigger scale than I am. 

Getting your work out there is a challenge even in good circumstances, but especially right now, I imagine. 

The more talk that it gets, the more people share it on social media and on the internet, that’s how these things stay alive. Starry is the way it is right now because people shared it. I love Starkid and I grew up watching A Very Potter Musical and their popularity is from word of mouth. It’s from people talking about it over blogs and the internet and all of that. Unfortunately for new content right now, that’s the only way it can stay alive. Even this last season of Broadway, there wasn’t a lot of original stuff that wasn’t coming from a movie or an album from a well-known artist. Any original stuff that you want to do now is so difficult which is why i’m so thankful for people like you who are preaching about the good news of original art right now and keeping people like me afloat. It inspires me to see that there’s still an appetite for original new stuff. 

It’s funny that you mention Starkid, because my best friend finally got me into watching their shows during quarantine. 

I was inspired by them too. When I was in high school, AVPM had just come out and it was the first time I saw young people writing new stuff. It was based on Harry Potter, but it was still their creation with their own inside jokes. It gave me the freedom to be like, “Oh I can do that!” You don’t need a big budget. You don’t need the Shubert Organization backing you for people to see new stuff with the help of the Internet. 

So you’re donating part of the proceeds from the album to Broadway Cares: Equity Fights Aids and Feeding America. Can you tell me a bit about that decision? 

To put it bluntly, the world is on fire. I knew at the beginning of this in March that everyone needs help right now. Then I realized Broadway was slowly dying and the theatre world in general is not surviving. So I thought: how can I, being the little person with my megaphone on my soapbox, do my part during all of this? There’s plenty to be angry about or talking about right now. One time, I heard someone say, “I’m only one but I’m still one.” If I can only do this little amount, I’m going to do it to the best of my abilities. Even though I cannot save the theatre community as a whole, I can still do everything I can try to make a difference. 

This is a heavy question, I know, but what do you think the importance of art is in the middle of the crisis -- both health crisis but also political crisis -- that we’re currently in? 

I’ve learned this through the two musicals that I’ve put out. I think of it like how the 1970s happened and the Vietnam War was happening and all these terrible things were going on and Star Wars came out and it sort of ignited people’s ideas of fantasy and escapism. On the one hand, theatre is a great place for escapism and escaping your troubles. 

On the other side, you have something like Seasons which is still nostalgic in the sense of music, but is talking about stuff that we are currently going through. But it doesn’t feel heavy handed. It says, let’s sit down and talk about what we’re feeling and what’s going on and that this sucks right now. I think theatre is both sides of that coin: it can be escapism, but also a safe place to feel people with the hope to keep going. It’s not someone yelling at you like on the news, but a place that we can talk about it and heal. Theatre for me has always been a healing place. If I can be that, if I can provide that for somebody, that would be great. 

To find out more about Tyler, you can check out his website or follow him on Instagram. To listen to Seasons, you can stream it on all music platforms or purchase it online. Proceeds will help raise money for Broadway Cares: Equity Fights Aids and Feeding America.

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