The Writing/Composing team of Aryanna Garber and Benjamin Velez are the winners of the Weston Playhouse Theatre’s 12th Annual New Musical Award. The only award of its kind in the country, the Weston New Musical Award brings the creator or creators of a promising new project together with a small ensemble of actors to rehearse, perform, and record selections from the winning score in Weston, in New York, and in the studio with Grammy winner Kurt Deutsch of Sh-K-Boom Records.
Nominated for the award by Di Glazer of International Creative Management Partners, “Borderline” is a deeply personal and affecting musical that challenges the stigma of Borderline Personality Disorder, through one remarkable young woman’s experience with the oft-misunderstood disease and her search for honest connections amidst a revolving door of therapists, medications and a former childhood chess champion. Glazer writes that Garber’s book challenges the stigma of BPD, Velez’s lyrics capture the protagonist’s inner turmoil and the frustrations of the people she surrounds herself with, and his music works as a form of therapy for all the characters. Though seen through the lens of a specific disease, “Borderline” expresses a universal search for honest connections that will resonate with all audiences.
Weston Associate Artistic Director Michael Berresse directed the project with Music Director Daniel Green. With “Borderline,” says Beresse, Aryanna and Benjamin have not only created a stunning new piece of theatre, they have opened the door to a fascinating and compassionate conversation about a largely hidden, misunderstood disorder.
We are incredibly proud, he continued, that our new musical award is able to amplify the voices of these brilliant young artists and along with our phenomenal patrons, to champion the theatre as a vehicle for social dialogue. The Weston concerts were held at Walker which, as Berresse describes, is just beginning to flex its muscles as an extraordinary incubator for the next generation of great American theatre. The space is sophisticated, warm and unpretentious, with limitless potential. Velez told us that after a whirlwind writing process, Weston and Walker were exactly the opportunity he and Aryanna needed to let the work breathe, and be.
The concert cast (pictured below, left to right) included Derrick Baskin (25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Memphis), Margo Seibert (Boardwalk Empire, Broadway’s Rocky) as Anna, Leo Ash Evens (School of Rock), Katie Thompson (City Center’s Pump Boys and Dinettes), and Stephen Bogardus (Bright Star, White Christmas).
And while the new musical is a first-time collaboration between the writer and composer, their accomplishments to date are worth noting. Aryanna is a Barnard graduate with a Master’s Degree from Columbia University in the field of Narrative Medicine. She’s worked as the personal writing assistant for best-selling author Erica Jong and as the executive assistant Emmy-Award winning producer and director Stephanie Laing (HBO’s Veep, Vice Principals). In 2016, she became head writer and a contributing founder of the digital comedy network, PYPO and right now, she’s on staff at Lincoln Center as Writer and Special Communications Manager for President Debora Spar. Benjamin has his own lengthy list. A Columbia grad and member of the BMI workshop since 2010, he won the Harrington Award in 2012. His work has been at the Yale Institute for Music Theater, Ars Nova, NAMT, NYMF, NEO, the Civilians, 4@15, Joe’s Pub, and the York Theater where his musical Afterland had a reading directed by Mark Brokaw. He was a 2017 Sundance Artist at the UCROSS Foundation. His original musical Starblasters will have its first reading this spring at Dixon Place, directed by Daniel Goldstein and music directed by David Gardos.
Everything about our few days in Weston was special, Velez writes. The generosity of Steve and the board members who brought us into their homes for dinner. Getting to meet members of this community who have supported the playhouse and made possible the new Walker Farm space, which is just out of this world. Letting Michael, Dan, and our cast breathe life into what we created on the page. And the recording session — was a dream come true. Working with Kurt, Angie, Michael, and the cast to record this music is an experience I’ll never forget.
“It’s a truly special honor and privilege that Weston gave us and it’s one of those formative experiences that makes the years of no one taking my work seriously feel worth the wait.” — Benjamin Velez
About Weston’s New Works Programs
Weston’s nationally respected New Works Programs reflect a commitment to the responsible development of new plays and musicals in our unique and supportive rural setting. Programs include an annual New Musical Award, Artists Retreat, Workshops and Full Productions including but not limited to world premieres. Support for Weston New Works Programs has come from the Dramatists Play Service; the Frederick Loewe Foundation; Stacey Mindich Productions; Music Theatre International; the Rodgers and Hammerstein Foundation; and generous individual donors.