I’d like to start this piece out with a bit of an enthusiastic buzz about the musical written by Preston Max Allen, titled We Are The Tigers. When I took the train into New York City that afternoon, between jobs, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew about it was that it was a Killer Cheerleader musical and my friend Molly loved it so I believed in Molly and I went. Let’s just say from the first musical note of this, I was hooked!
As I watched I was flabbergasted at how easy it was to see how it is to be a high school student now, and though I was one many years ago, it has been a while. To be honest, as I watched Tigers I realized how much of life as a student hadn’t changed that much. It made me think back to how things were when I was that age. It allowed me to see through the eyes of others how they could have felt and it actually gave me muse to write my next novel.
As I was on my way back from Theatre 80 to Penn Station, I got to thinking about how awesome it would be if Preston, the esteemed author/writer/songwriter/etc, would be okay doing an interview with me for a piece for the board, and after a few days of trying to get up the nerve, I actually asked him and only days later I got an answer! I was so excited that I penned out a few questions while I was at work and sent them off to him via email, as we had planned. Just yesterday I got the replies and I’m truly excited to bring them to you! Each numbered question will have an answer, and then I’ll make some comments between them, but first I would like to publicly say thank you to all who were involved in any way through the journey that was “We Are The Tigers” from its inception through closing at Theatre 80 and beyond! You’re an inspiration, all of you!
“DO YOU WANT TO SETTLE, DO YOU WANT TO SIT BACK AND WATCH LIFE GO BY, DO YOU WANT TO SETTLE OR DO YOU WANT TO FLY? DO YOU WANT TO WONDER IF I ONLY MADE IT WHO MIGHT I HAVE BEEN? DO YOU WANT TO WONDER OR DO YOU WANT TO WIN?” I don’t know about you, but I WANT to win, and we can, if we all share Tigers with the world around us!
Me: What inspired you to want to write a musical? Was there an event, happening or muse from which you got the idea for ‘We Are The Tigers’?
Preston: My dad’s a writer and a lifelong musical lover, and we're very similar, so that’s what I was super interested in growing up. I always thought I'd be more involved in writing for film, but I had no idea how to make movies and found it much easier to put on shows with my friends. And then as far as Tigers, I went to an arts high school – then arts college - that both had a lot of women in the programs, and the shows we would do often didn’t have many female leads. So I wanted to write a musical that would provide roles for schools in these situations, and hopefully that would also be age-appropriate and relatable. And of course, I just love teen horror – I’m a huge Buffy fan and was watching a lot of CW for years – so that's just where my brain defaults tonally.
My thoughts and comments: I think this is fantastic! To know that your goal with this was to write about what you were interested in, and to make it possible for more females to have lead roles in musicals and to make something that was age appropriate and relatable to both males and females, though more importantly, the females in this case. It’s wonderful that you wanted to do something for that age range of people, just know that it didn’t just touch people of the high school and college age range, though it does, it also touches those of us who are much older. It brings us back to our younger days, it helps us to become the phoenix that Riley speaks of. Truth be told, with some of the things that you brought up in “Tigers”, and things that were not mentioned, perhaps by putting members of your audience into the lives of the Tiger’s Squad from the audience, we may be able, by seeing the musical or hearing the soundtrack, help others who are in those situations or ones like it!
Me: How did you build up your characters? Did you use lists of questions? Did you just start to write and everything just flowed out about them? Or was it something else?
Preston: I do a lot of freewriting, and from there I’ll figure out who my characters are becoming and what their personalities and conversational styles are. After a draft is done, I’ll go in and see what else I need to learn about them to really fill out the storytelling. Occasionally that includes writing a paragraph or so of backstory, which did come up for most of the Tigers over the years.
My thoughts and comments: I think it is fascinating to learn about the inner workings of how a writer makes up their characters. Each writer is different, just like each character. For me, I either start out with a list of questions about the character and answer them or sometimes the words come first and I fill in the questions afterwards. I think for me, it truly depends upon how talkative that specific character is in my mind. And I love that your characters in Tigers case, seem to happen before the questions are asked!
Me: I know “Tigers” has had a long journey, and though I was not a part of the Tigers-verse from the start, I’m a part of it now and I’m wondering how the show has changed through the years?
Preston: Oh, it’s been through so much! It used to be much more broad in terms of comedy, more larger-than-life and campy. Really early drafts had a lot more characters and leaned a lot more on horror stereotypes without really exploring them, which I'm so glad we got away from. It's evolved as I’ve gotten to know the characters better, gotten to see what the audience responds to, and also checked in on what I want out of it as a writer. For this story, I ultimately really wanted to honor the depth and reality of what these characters are experiencing, while using horror and comedy to heighten and explore those themes, and not the other way around.
My thoughts and comments: s The fact that not only the show, but YOU also grew out of the journey makes me smile and it makes me wish I was involved in the Tiger- Verse from the start. What you wanted to do, to honor the depth and reality of the experience of high school, you did do, and I’m VERY proud of you for it! And I can’t wait to see the rest of this journey through even though the show has closed off Broadway!
Me: When you wrote each version, was there any person or people you trusted to show your drafts to?
Preston: I’ve been working with Michael (our director) and Patrick (our music supervisor/arranger) for years, so they’re some of the first to see new pages. I’m also very lucky to have friends who are extremely collaborative who, as early as 2011 for some of them, have been reading drafts with me and testing out jokes and plot ideas. It’s been so fun with those people – some of whom flew in from out of town to see the show – to look back at where it started and see how it all evolved. To be a little on the nose, it’s definitely been a team effort.
My thoughts and comments: I love that this was a team effort! Though now I wonder how you found those people and when you met them? In any case, I think one of these days I’d LOVE to see what Tigers was like all the way through, if you’re up for it! And I can’t wait to follow through the journey of Tigers till it’s next stop and beyond!
Me: Were there any cast/crew members who stuck with the show from the original open through the close off broadway?
Preston: There are a lot of friends and family who have supported and seen every version, but technically the cast/crew switched out from Chicago, 2013 to Theatre 80, 2019.
My thoughts and comments: Wow! I wondered if anyone on stage or off involved in the show stuck through despite being years passing. I think it’s cool though that there are some people who stuck through, despite not being on stage or backstage!
Me: How many different casts/theatres did you have?
Preston: Since 2013, I believe that makes 1 workshop presentation, 2 concerts, 5 readings, and 1 developmental production in LA before Theatre 80. And within all of those, we’ve worked with dozens of extremely wonderful, talented people!
My thoughts and comments: This is really cool, and for some of us writers and theatre people, it shows that a play or musical doesn’t JUST start with it’s showing in a theatre. There are things that happen, like workshops, readings and more that lead into what the majority of people see on stage!
Me: How many total songs did you write for Tigers? How many were in the original? Did all of the songs in the Off Broadway version make it to the soundtrack?
Preston: Oof, I've written over 2 full scores that got switched out over the years. I don’t know how many songs got written total, but I know from the first presentation to the last only “Skype Tomorrow”, “Phoenix,” and Riley’s “Soul of the school” bridge stuck around. And even then, “Don’t Even,” “Shut Up and Cheer,” and the Finale were written months - or days, in "Don't Even"'s case - before opening in February. Everything from the Off-Broadway version did make it in the album except for a couple reprises that are very context-heavy.
My thoughts and comments: WOW! Just seeing that there were only three songs or song pieces in the end version which stayed from the start tells me this was a larger journey than I even thought! I DO love “Skype Tomorrow” and “Phoenix” and the “Soul of the School” bridge, but to think that “Before the Breakdown” or “Move On” weren’t there to start makes me wonder what was?! Everything I’ve heard of this show is so amazing and I wonder, if maybe other versions could be shared too?
Me: What character(s) changed the most through it all? What character(s) changed the least?
Preston: I think Farrah’s changed the most overall. She used to be very open about drinking at the sleepover and didn't want to seem invested in the team, and now she’s more self-conscious about her behavior and wants to be included and respected. The least different is probably Annleigh, she’s always been pretty dedicated to her personal agenda.
My thoughts and comments: I had a feeling that Farrah had changed the most, though I wasn’t sure why. I wonder how it is that she was more open about drinking? Was she the one who was initially trying to get Mattie drunk? Or was that always Cairo? I love the fact that the Farrah I saw was wanting and trying so hard to be included and respected and I’m glad I saw this version, Farrah had a problem that she wanted to fix, she just didn’t know how to. It didn’t look like anyone had time to try to find out how to help her either. That made me want to hug her and help her myself!
Me: Do you have a favorite song from Tigers? Do you have a favorite line?
Preston: I’m really happy with where the overall score landed, but I think "Before the Breakdown" is one of my favorite songs I’ve written for any show. And in “Don’t Even" there’s a line Riley basically screams that's “Have I said everything wrong?” and I just really feel her on that about a lot of situations in my life.
My thoughts and comments: “Before The Breakdown” is one of my favorites too, it shows a strength in both Farrah and Chess, and also in the others. It shows that they don’t want to cry and that they want their lives to be different, but they don’t know how to make that happen. That they WANT to change, and that’s a HUGE inspiration! I’m not sure if you see what I see, or if anyone else does, but that song is one of the most important things in the lives of those students.
And in “Don’t Even” when Riley screams “Have I said everything wrong?” it made me think. It made me wonder about my own self doubt, and as for Riley, by the end of the musical we find out that she really has done something wrong. I do feel that line strong inside of me, a lot, as you do, and it is one of my favorites too.
Me: Is there any chance of bringing the show back to the stage again?
Preston: I hope so! My main goal for the show is for it to have a life at colleges, high schools, and regional theaters. So if anyone is interested, they can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'd love to chat!
My thoughts and comments: I would LOVE to see this show at colleges, high schools and regional theatres, in fact, I know a number of people who run regional theatres and would be more than happy to pass this along, if you’d like!
Me: Do you have anything you want to add? Anything you want to say to our readers or to your fans?
Preston: The most important themes I want people to take away from “Tigers”, I think, would be to take care of yourself as safely as possible, find a team you can trust, and try to do your best without putting pressure on yourself to do the best. I'm still working on those things personally in a lot of ways. It can be difficult, but I think it'll be extremely worth it.
My thoughts and comments: This is some really good advice, Preston! It is VERY important to take care of yourself, to find a team you can trust to help raise you up when you’re down and you don’t think you can rise like a phoenix on your own! And I agree with you too, that this is a journey and doesn’t always happen overnight. Life is a journey, but as you say, it’ll be worth it!
Thank you so much, Preston, for EVERYTHING! For “Tigers”, for agreeing to answer my questions and for being the wonderful, inspirational person that you are! I can’t wait to follow along in any other journey that you are set to start and I can’t wait to read/hear anything else you write and I hope to see “Tigers” thrive all around the country and the world as a whole!