We had the good fortune of connecting with Marian Partee and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Marian, what inspires you?
My collaborators inspire me. Writing can be a solitary endeavor, so I work with others whenever I can. It’s exciting when other writers present ideas that never would have occurred to me. It’s especially rewarding when I find long-term collaborators with whom I can work on multiple projects (like composer Christina Whitten Thomas). I love writing for specific performers, too. The characters become multi-dimensional to me, and the performers give helpful feedback on what is working or not for them. Christina and I recently wrote a song cycle for soprano Rebecca Sjöwall, and the process was a joy.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I write text for live performance: plays, musicals, operettas, choral pieces, and song cycles. I started writing poetry when I was a child and turned to playwriting as a teenager. My father is an English professor who specializes in Shakespeare, and our family frequently attended live theatre and opera. My sister and I both fell in love with performing. We’re very grateful to our parents, who have always been supportive of our dreams, and to mentors who guided us in our training. I majored in Theatre at Northwestern University with a minor in Creative Writing for the Media, and I earned my MFA in Acting from Cal Arts. At both schools, it was wonderful to immerse myself in classic plays. I traveled around as a nomadic actor for several years before settling in Southern California and focusing on writing. My experience as an actor and singer helps me write believable dialogue and singable lyrics. I enjoy exploring characters from history, scripture, and folklore, encouraging audiences to see ancient stories with fresh eyes. It’s been difficult for me to write this past year since all live performances have been canceled, and I’ve been helping my two kids with remote learning. But I’m excited about starting a new choral piece with Christina Whitten Thomas.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Since I live in La Canada Flintridge, we’d start with local haunts. We’d have brunch at Dish, then visit Descanso Gardens. Descanso is such a beautiful, restorative place. The camellias are glorious in the winter. We’d have dinner at Taylor’s Steakhouse. I don’t eat steak, but they have fabulous salmon. The next day we’d go to the Huntington in San Marino to take in the art, gardens, and afternoon tea. I love the two campuses of the Getty Museum, as well. And if live performances have resumed, we’d go downtown to the Ahmanson, the Mark Taper Forum, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and Walt Disney Concert Hall. I also really enjoy the classic plays at Noise Within in Pasadena.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
New Musicals, Inc. in North Hollywood (nmi.org) gave me excellent training in the craft of musical theatre writing. Founding Director John Sparks, Artistic Director Elise Dewsberry, and Executive Director Scott Guy are brilliant instructors with extensive experience in the business. They taught me great lessons in how to write the book and lyrics for musicals, and they connected me with collaborators and producers. I also want to give a shoutout to my husband, David Lamb, who does a wonderful job on the tech team of our local school district. He shares my passion for live performance, and he has always championed my work.