EXCLUSIVE: Lisa Loeb Talks Off-Broadway Premiere of New Kids Musical ‘Camp Kappawanna,’ at Atlantic Theater Company (March 21-April 12)

By Logan K. Young on Mar 22, 2015 01:00 AM EDT

It's been more than two decades since we first heard from Lisa Loeb.

And while I need not mention that certain song of hers by name, if you still see Mrs. Loeb as that impossibly twee twentysomething in those tortoiseshell frames pining at the center of Ethan Hawke's continuous shot, well, you're only hearing what you want to.

Nine more stories later, Lisa Loeb's become a bona fide polymath. Singer, songwriter, child lit author, burgeoning eyewear magnate, two-time reality TV star (on two different networks, no less), as a mother of two, too, she's proof that you can indeed have it all.

Latest case in newest point: Loeb's musical, Camp Kappawanna.

A delighftul chronicle of 12-year-old Jennifer Jenkins' leaving home for the very first time, Classicalite spoke with Loeb about the making of Camp Kappawanna, why Jenkins' story is more than a bit semi-autobiographical and the difference between writing songs for kids and mounting a proper children's musical.

Classicalite: Let's talk first about Camp Kappawanna. since it opens this weekend at Atlantic Theater. Specifically, can you speak as to its origin story?

Lisa Loeb: Sure. I think it starts with my 2008 record, Camp Lisa. My writing partner, Michelle Lewis, had gone to summer camp, and the experience of camp, at large, resonated a lot with her. As it did with me. That said, we each had our own separate experiences. For me, I wanted to write about how learning about myself at camp was different from the learning I did at school. Getting good grades is important, of course, but camp was where I learned to play guitar. It's where I learned to play music socially, just standing on tables in the cafeteria or on an inner tube in the lake. Camp's also where I learned to take on challenges, [laughing] like sports. And there's a song on [Camp Lisa] that I wrote with Michelle and her husband Dan [Petty] called "Best Friend." It's about a friend I had in second grade, and it still fits well with the whole summer camp vibe.

CL: Pivoting to process, then, talk about how the show ended up on stage there at the Linda Gross for Atlantic's kids initiative.  

LL: Because I'm in Los Angeles, my first thought was a TV show. But that soon passed. Down in Miami, there's a theater festival for short plays, and they got ahold of Michelle, Dan and mine's "Best Friend." Marco Ramirez, who writes for both the theater and television, well, we all started working together. We wrote several new songs, but we weren't quite there. We needed to revise, especially if we were going to start workshopping [Camp Kappawanna]. From that process, I came to learn that theater happens in action, not just on the page--much less in the studio.

CL: Yes, and while Camp Lisa the studio album might have been the artistic impetus, your Camp Lisa Foundation had to have figured in, as well.

LL: In spirit, definitely. Instead of me just sending a few kids to camp each summer on my own, I wanted to put together an entire foundation that would be able to do so much more than just that. I started Camp Lisa mainly for kids who, otherwise, simply wouldn't be able to afford summer camp. I modelled it after SCOPE, which is based in New York and mainly puts kids in East Coast camps. The great thing they do, of course, is follow the kids after the summer is over. The ultimate goal is fostering a truly well-rounded child--getting them out of the house and experiencing the joys of being outside.

CL: And there's clearly a real-life kinship to the awkwardly adorable Jennifer Jenkins here, right?

LL: Back then [pauses], I definitely had a shy side. I still do. Sometimes. You know, when I was going to camp, I don't know if I ever brought a guitar with me. I was definitely eager to play one, though. But being shy at times, it was good that I could sit and still play it.

CL: As a children's book author, with both classic and original kid's songs embedded into those narratives, how is it writing fiction versus writing for the stage?

LL: No matter what, you have to write to move the story along. But when I'm writing a song that I know is going to be performed live in a production, especially for children, I think about what might be fun to move to on stage. For instance, there's a canoe scene here that references pirates. And another one about climbing up a hill. So, the writing has to make sense for the action. We all wanted something the kids could move to. It's the rhythm, I think, that most influences children's songs. For adults, we tend to think about songwriting in terms of relationships: falling in love, breaking up, etc. Writing for kids, not only do you have more variety in your song topics, but I think in terms of overall experience--where the music and its production are almost identical.

CL: Speaking of experience, how has motherhood changed your writing? Overall.

LL: Now that I'm a mom, but also still an artist, I feel more than ever the need to follow my heart. I want to be a really good example of believing in what you do. Recently, a friend of my own mom's passed away. She was an amazing artist and teacher, and I appreciated her dedication to her art. I saw some emails she had sent my own mom, and they were so inspiring. My mom was a homemaker. She spent her time shuttling us around. As a mom/artist, OK, everyone wants a hit song. Clearly. But I just want to do whatever it is as well as I possibly can.

CL: Finally, thanks to the Food Network, we all know about your relationship with Dweezil Zappa. But your brother is pianist, conductor and executive director of Iowa's Quad Cities Symphony, Benjamin Loeb. Any collaborating growing up? Or, forthcoming?

LL: We've done some big concerts, often playing my music. A few Christmas concerts, even, where we collaborated on a new song by Jay Livingston, the composer of "Silver Bells." Sadly, he's dead now. One of my favorite projects we worked on together was a performance of Stravinsky's A Soldier's Tale, where we then used his same arrangement for some of my music. Also, I'm designing a cello--well, I'm either painting or bedazzling a cello, that is--for Quad Cities.

Presented by Atlantic for Kids, Camp Kappawanna plays Saturday and Sunday mornings from March 21-April 12 (including Wednesday, April 8 and Friday, April 10) at 10:30 a.m. at Linda Gross Theater (336 W. 20th St.)

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TagsEXCLUSIVE, Classicalite Q&A, Lisa Loeb, Camp Kappawanna, Atlantic Theater Company

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