Interview with Composer Erin McKeown, Composer of “Miss You Like Hell” Playing at Wilbury Theatre Group

Photo of Erin McKeown by Jo Chattman

Miss You Like Hell
Presented by Wilbury Theatre Group
Book & lyrics by Quiara Alegría Hudes
​Music & lyrics by Erin McKeown
Directed by ​Don Mays
Music direction by ​Matt Requintina

​March 5 – 29, 2020
The Wilbury Theatre Group
40 Sonoma Court
Providence, RI 02909
Wilbury on Facebook

Erin McKeown in Concert:
Saturday March 14
7p doors, 8p show
The Good Will Engine Company
41 Central St, Providence, RI 02907
Jocie Adams supports
TICKETS for Erin McKeown in Concert

Interview conducted by Kitty Drexel

Providence, MA — Composer and lyricist Erin McKeown graciously agreed to answer interview questions ahead of her post-performance talkback after the March 13, 7:30PM performance of Miss You Like Hell at the Wilbury Theatre Group. We are grateful that she took the time to connect with us about performances, her career, and upcoming projects!

This interview has been edited for clarity, grammar, and length.

Queen Geek: March 2, 2020 was Super Tuesday. What parts of “Miss You Like Hell” do you find the most rewarding or cathartic in this political climate?

Erin McKeown: I find the witness to the audience extremely rewarding. It’s their catharsis that really feels good to me. I need to watch art that other people made in order to experience catharsis. I can’t feel my own catharsis with something I made. But I do really find it wonderful to watch.

Most people when they watch the show. In the end, no matter how it’s staged, no matter who the actors are, they do have a real release.  think they are releasing and crying on a personal and a national level which feels really good. To the extent that we want to telegraph an intention, that is our intention. Folks are crying and moved and aware of their relationships with their family. Then they’re also, I think, just releasing from the toxicity of what has been happening on a national level around these issues.

 QG: “Miss You Like Hell” puts a face to the immigration crises at the US/Mexico border. In February, the Department of Justice said it would create a within itself a “section dedicated to investigating and litigating revocation of naturalization.” The DoJ website says it would bring justice to “terrorists, war criminals, sex offenders, and other fraudsters” who obtained citizenship through illegal means. What are your thoughts in response to this horrifying announcement?

EM: This feels like more of the same. I’m not sure why people are surprised that this is the direction that things are going in. From the beginning, this administration has been very clear about how they feel about immigrants. They have been methodically, impressively if you think about it, step by step escalating and building their policy. I think it’s naive for people to think that somehow this is going to stop.

So the announcement is horrifying but not surprising. If anyone is surprised, they are not paying attention. I think for me personally it’s another reason for me to continue the work that I do. I resolve to keep my humanity and the humanity of others from being ground down by this type of thinking.

QG: I love that “Miss You Like Hell” is an intersectional-feminist, rock musical. What are your hopes for this and other musicals like it? 

Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia, Nicole Paloma Sarro, and Tanya Avendaño Stockler in MISS YOU LIKE HELL at The Wilbury Theatre Group; photo by Erin X. Smithers.

EM: I certainly hope there will be others like it. Miss You Like Hell comes from a lineage of other musicals that are trying to speak to things that are outside of the mainstream. My main hope, right now, is that people do it.

What’s happening right now for our musical, and what I hope continues to happen is that more people have the chance to see it than would have to see it if it was only playing on Broadway. It’ll be done in Seattle this summer. It’s going to be in Iowa next year. There was a group of western Kansas high school students who did it and took their version to their state theatrical competition which was incredible.

There’s no one path. If a musical doesn’t go to Broadway but becomes a huge hit, that’s not the end of that musical. While financially and commercially going to Broadway is incredible. But, in some ways, it’s not the most useful.

That’s my hope for this. Folks are doing it in their community. They’re doing it as a response to what is happening in their community, and that’s exactly what we made it for.

QG: You’re a busy singer and songwriter. What advice can you give to New England area performers who are interested in bringing new work to the world?

Photo of Erin McKeown by Jo Chattman

EM: I’m a big proponent of “don’t quit your day job.” I know that sounds counter-intuitive coming from an artist. I think that the less pressure we can put on our creative endeavors to solve our financial issues, the better.

Music has always worked best for me when it is a release. When you make something your job, you lose things. I always tell folks, keep your day job as long as you can. There will absolutely be a moment when you cannot do your day job. Don’t quit it until then.

I’m also someone who functions great where there’s a lot of pots on the stove. I’m a procrastinator and I like a deadline. Having a lot of things that are in various states of being done really stimulates me to work on things in a timely fashion.

Keep your day job. Do a lot of things. They’ll all feed each other.

QG: Do you have any new projects/tour dates you’re excited to tell us about?

EM: Yes! I am working on a new musical that I wrote the book, lyrics, and music for. It started out as a personal challenge to see if I could build a show from the ground up. It’s called Terrarium Behavior. It’s a workplace comedy/dramedy that takes place in a terrarium with original music in the style of the great American songbook.

I have a new singer/songwriter record that’s coming together. I hope to do some recording in 2020. Both [the musical and album] would come out in 2021.

I do this project where I do a concert in the city where [Miss You Like Hell] is opening. I’m unique in the world of musical theatre in that I have a robust touring career and a robust theatre career. I feel like I have an opportunity to get people into spaces they don’t usually get to go to.

The Wilbury Theatre Group has been really great! They’re letting people know about a concert I’m doing in town. The concert will be in Providence Saturday, March 14 at the Good Will Engine Company. If you like Miss You Like Hell, you’d like my concert. If you like my concerts, you’d like Miss You Like Hell.

Concert Info:
Saturday March 14
7p doors, 8p show
The Good Will Engine Company
41 Central St, Providence, RI 02907
Jocie Adams supports
TICKETS for Erin McKeown in Concert

About Erin McKeown:
Erin McKeown is a musician, writer, and producer known internationally for her prolific disregard of stylistic boundaries. Her brash and clever electric guitar playing is something to see. Her singing voice is truly unique —clear, cool, and collected. Over the last 20 years, she has performed around the world, released 10 full-length albums, and written for film, television, and theater, all the while refining her distinctive and challenging mix of American musical forms.

​McKeown’s first musical, Miss You Like Hell, written with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater in 2018. It was nominated for 3 Outer Critics Circle Awards (Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Score), 5 Drama Desk Awards (including Best Music, Best Lyrics, Best Orchestrations), and named Best Musical of 2018 by The Wall Street Journal.

Leading her own band, she has performed at Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, and the Newport Folk Festivals. A familiar presence on NPR and the BBC, McKeown’s songs have also appeared in numerous commercials and television shows.

While a student at Brown University, Erin was a resident artist at Providence, RI’s revolutionary community arts organization AS220. A 2011-2012 fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center For Internet & Society, she is also the recipient of a 2016 writing fellowship from The Studios of Key West and a 2018 residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.​

McKeown is the 2020 Professor of the Practice at Brown University.

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