About the Composers
Music and Lyrics
Anna DeNoia is a New York based theatre creator as well as a passionate performer, composer, and prankster. Anna has a degree in Theatre and Writing from James Madison University and grew up in the Chicago suburbs, where she worked in the offices of the city's top theater companies, including Lookingglass and Steppenwolf. Her songwriting training includes the 2022 Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriter's Project at Northwestern University, as well as the BMI Musical Theatre Writing Workshop in NYC. Anna enjoys daydreaming about music, language, The Muppets, and one day giving Rachel Bloom a high-five. Other musical theatre works include Grace and the Ghost, a collaboration with Joshua Villa and Gwyneth Strope.
Arrangements and Orchestrations
Joshua Villa is a Virginia Beach native composer, arranger, orchestrator, music director, musician, and vocalist studying Music Composition at James Madison University. While studying at JMU he's shown himself to be a versatile musician in many different genres and ensembles from classical opera to jazz big band and to musical pit orchestras. His passion lies with making music for the stage, and telling meaningful stories in every note and word he writes. Joshua strives to make meaning in his music, creating a voice for the voiceless. Speaking the universal language of music as an audible embodiment of the heart.
Interview with Anna
Open, Stay was featured at the Virginia Theatre Association Conference in October of 2020 as part of "Virginia Voices", a panel highlighting local composers working on new musicals. As part of the panel, Anna had the following conversation with Virginia composer Jason Marks.
So, tell us what your show is all about.
Open, Stay is a song cycle, which means it’s structured a little differently from a conventional musical. First of all, it’s all sung, there’s no book, which is true of some musicals, but with a song cycle, there isn’t a plot or characters in same way you’d expect with a conventional musical. Instead, each song is a separate story, and rather than plot, they’re connected by a theme— in the case of Open, Stay that theme is relationships. Maybe the most well-known song cycle is “Songs for a New World” by Jason Robert Brown, which had a very heavy influence on my writing. His song “I’d Give it All For You” actually directly inspired my opening number, “The Arizona Song”, from which the rest of the show was born.
Could you talk a little about the development process for your show? What inspired you to write it, and how long have you been working on it?
So I'm currently a college student at JMU, and I started working on Open, Stay second semester of my sophomore year (I’m now a senior). Writing music had been a hobby of mine in high school, but I’d more or less left it behind for the sake of time, and leaving the songwriting to the ‘real musicians”, which is so completely ridiculous to me now. No one has more or less or a right to music, no matter your skill level or experience— that’s probably the biggest lesson all this has taught me. The songs began as just a personal outlet for me— I had no intention of sharing them at all, until a dear friend quite literally followed me into a practice room and I agreed to show him what I’d been working on. His excitement and honest enthusiasm made me agree when he insisted I show people this music— that day, we emailed a group of our friends and on November 17th, 2019, we pulled some chairs into a rehearsal room in our performing arts center, invited a small crowd of friends, and performed the 9 songs that made up the show at the time. And I’m so excited to say the live recording from that first cabaret that started all of this is now available on Spotify!
What stage is the show currently in? Is it a brand new work? A concept musical? Has it had a workshop or reading? Where are you and your team on the “journey?”
I anticipate wanting to adjust some things when I finally get the opportunity to put Open, Stay on stage, but until then I feel confident that through the workshops we’ve been through the content of the show has been set— it stands complete with the 9 original songs that were on the concept recording as well as one additional solo, two small reprises and the full cast finale which were written later. I couldn’t be more proud of how far I’ve come on just google searches and a can-do attitude— I don’t know a thing about music theory, when I started this process my piano skills were nowhere close to what they are now, and I never would have dreamed of reading sheet music, let alone writing it, but nevertheless, here we are!
What are your hopes and aspirations for the show? Do you want it on Broadway Do you want it do tour nationally? Regional theater? Tell us— dream big!
I really see no limit to what this show could be and where it could go. One of my favorite things about song cycles is that the context of each song, of the whole show really is more or less the invention of that particular production. I wanted people to see themselves in these stories. My intention when writing the show was that any of the songs could be performed by absolutely anyone, that these could be the experiences of absolutely anyone. I intentionally avoided gendered pronouns everywhere I could to crack casting possibilities wide open. While I look forward to the day when I can safely see a full-scale production of Open, Stay on stage, and I certainly have plenty of ideas of what that will look like, the material itself has translated powerfully even in cabaret format. The material doesn’t demand anything in the way of set or costume— it will be up to each production team to create this world the way they see it, as minimally or expansively as they imagine. Diversity and accessibility will always be top priorities in any kind of work I do, and I couldn’t be more excited by the possibilities I see in Open, Stay.