As the world premiere production of Will Ledesma and Braden Hunt's musical version of THUMBELINA was in its opening weekend at A.D. Players, I got the opportunity to speak with book and lyric writer Will Ledesma. We discussed his career as a writer, his process, and the show itself.
Me: When did you get into writing plays and musicals?
Will Ledesma: I first started writing plays in 2005. It was shortly after I had moved to Houston, right after I had graduated from college. Actually, I started writing more or less as an inside joke between some old college buddies of mine and I. I created some characters for them back when we were all in school together. Just for fun, I put a story together that included all those characters. I sent it to a friend of mine that was working with Merry-Go-Round Children's Theatre in New York at the time. He sent me back some criticism that said if you change this, and you change this, and you change this, this would be one of the better new scripts that I've seen for young audiences in the last couple years. That got me thinking maybe I should pursue it a little more seriously. At that point, I started looking for more opportunities to create stories and really focus on how could I make this more practical to be produced or how could I make more productions, more shows. That's really where the playwriting started.
I still worked fulltime with the A.D. Players at that point. And also at that point we were still in St. Luke's Methodist Church, which was in the round and presented all kinds of interesting dilemmas when you were trying to stage a production. You didn't have all the same outs you have with a proscenium space. You had to be really creative in how you got things done. The angle I took at that point was, "well, if I could write a play that we could stage in that space, then it could possibly be done just about anywhere." So, that was how I would try and find plays that I knew people could do. I was like, "If we could stage it, then anybody should be able to." So I worked on some different drafts and different stories from different ideas. Eventually Kevin Dean, Director of Children's Theatre at the [A.D.] Players decided to try one of my scripts. It was actually that first one I had written back in 2005. He decided to go ahead and give it a run on The Children's Theatre stage in the Rotunda [Theater]. I believe that was 2008. From that point one, I've just been writing. I've been averaging another couple of scripts every year. Usually, they'll do at least one with The Players. I got a few of them published as well.
As far as writing musicals goes, THUMBELINA is actually my first stab at it. I'd been pretty intimidated about trying it. I'd dabbled in the idea and would get frustrated halfway through my first stanza of my first song, so this was the first time I had actually gone toward writing anything remotely musical theatre.
Me: What inspired you to adapt Hans Christian Andersen's story of Thumbelina into a musical?
Will Ledesma: It's one of those things where it just kind of happened on its own. It was while I was still with the [A.D.] Players that this idea came. This was several years ago now. I was in a co-workers office, and we were talking about a class I would be teaching. Then she got a phone call she had to take. She had a bookshelf full of scripts, fairy tales, and what not because she was the director of the [A.D. Players' Theater Arts] Academy at the time, so I just grabbed the book Thumbelina off of her shelf because I had never actually read the story.
While she was on the phone, I just flipped through it and saw the potential for a lot of really interesting and entertaining characters. That was my first thought, "You know, this would be fun to adapt some day. This would be a fun one to go ahead and try and write; to go ahead and try and stage. I think there would be a lot of creative theatricality involved in it and some challenges definitely." But I really liked the characters.
I had talked with Kevin [Dean] about doing the show this season when he had asked what projects I'd been looking at. I'd been sitting on it for a little while, so he gave me kind of the ok to go ahead and try it. As I was trying to sit down put the story on paper, these characters were all just so distinct that I couldn't tell their story without music being a part of it. I just felt like these characters were more songs than just characters in a show, so I went back in with that. I was like, "I'd really like to try and do this as a musical," and he [Kevin Dean] said, "Well, Braden Hunt," who ended up doing the music, who currently works at The Players, "he's mentioned he'd be interested in doing a musical with you someday." He was in my Velveteen Rabbit adaptation that they did at The Players last year.