Erik Ransom is among the 69 finalists for the 2013 Knight Arts Challenge, a contest funding some of the best, most engaging art concepts in Philly by the Knight Foundation. This musical theater maestro talks to us about what it’s like playing Off-Broadway these days and how on earth he came up with the idea for – get this – a 9/11-themed drag show.
You are a busy man. What are some of the projects you’re working on these days?
I’m currently playing a supporting role in My Big Gay Italian Wedding Off-Broadway, which is running at least into February – with a possible extension into spring. Apart from performing, I’m still working on some writing projects, like More Than All the World, a musical adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, and Tragic Events, a two-person musical about a 9/11-themed drag show. And I’ve just started writing a sweeping historical epic which is too embryonic for me to reveal, at least at the moment.
What was your reaction when you heard you were a finalist for some serious arts funding?
My first reaction was, “Uh oh! I’d better flesh this thing out!” A few months back, I was at the closing party for Brat Productions’ Eternal Glamnation and everyone was talking about how the Knight Arts Challenge deadline was coming up. The first round is just a 150-word description of your idea, so I figured why not? I know it’s very competitive, so I didn’t expect to hear back. When I did, it forced me to flesh out ideas and forge a few alliances to make a viable full proposal for the foundation.
Do you already have big plans for the money?
As a writer of musical theater, I’ve found Philadelphia to be a fantastic place to develop my work. The audiences and the artists here are excited to be part of something new, and my reaction to Coming was beyond what I ever could have hoped. Unfortunately, since the closing of the Prince Music Theater, there is no company that is consistently devoted to the development of new musicals. I’ve had a lot of challenges in getting my work onstage, so I wanted to give other writers of musical theater an outlet to see their work nurtured from a table reading to a full production. To that end, the grant money would go toward founding The Philadelphia Music Theatre Project.
What would you like to see happen on the Philly theater scene?
Philadelphia used to be a city where Broadway shows got their start. We have a vibrant theatrical community, talented artists and enthusiastic audiences. I think Philadelphia is overdue for a renaissance as a hub for prolific, original musical theater.