A Dynamic Duo

By: Meghan Kita  Thursday, April 4, 2019 02:55 PM

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In 2018, Max Kasler ’20, a music and Jewish studies double major, and Gwen Wilkie ’20, a music and theatre double major, wrote a collection of musical theatre pieces featuring queer characters.

One of those songs, “Free to Be Me,” about a girl trying to come out to her mother, was accepted by and performed at the New York Musical Festival in July and A Little New Music's winter concert in Los Angeles in December. The song will make its international debut at a concert in Cape Town, South Africa, this fall. Muhlenberg Magazine editor Meghan Kita asked Kasler and Wilkie about the experience of finding success within months of beginning their work together.

Muhlenberg Magazine What was the inspiration behind “Free to Be Me”?
Gwen Wilkie That song was going to have a verse about a coming-out that ended really badly, and then someone else who had a coming-out that ended really well. They were going to talk about it and say, “It is worth it to express yourself and be who you really are, even if it risks losing a part of what your life used to be.” We started writing the good one first, and then it just continued.
Max Kasler It was supposed to be a duet, but then wound up just being this one story.


MM How does that song connect to the other six you’ve written together so far?
Kasler All of our characters are queer in one way or another, and our music is exploring all of the facets of love and acceptance in the LGBTQ community.
Wilkie We think it’s really important to have this kind of representation, because there aren’t a lot of shows or songs that explore these people and their lives.
Kasler Our goal is to expand the repertoire of music for characters in the LGBTQ community, because a lot of people involved with musical theatre identify as LGBTQ.


MM How did you end up submitting your work to these concerts?
Kasler Somebody posted about the New York Music Festival in the Facebook group for the Fishbowl Collective [a group for alumni working in the arts] and one of our friends tagged us in it. They were looking for songs that represent storylines affecting the college-age-student generation. You could submit up to four songs, and we had three selected.
Wilkie We both live in New Jersey, so we got to go to an opening night party, meet the people who were singing our songs, meet the directors and see the performance.
Kasler Then, I think I signed us up for [A Little New Music’s] newsletter, which is why I got an email saying, “We’re looking for submissions.” Both of us would love more than anything to make it as musical theatre composers, and so we’re thinking about, how do we get our names out there?


MM Why was your inclusion in A Little New Music's Los Angeles concert a big deal?
Wilkie A lot of the people who’ve shown their music there in the past have now become bigger names. One of the most popular is Pasek & Paul: They wrote Dear Evan Hansen and The Greatest Showman, and their stuff was performed there.
Kasler We were definitely the youngest composers included. I was looking up the others and there were people with graduate degrees in musical theatre writing, composers for things like Sesame Street, people who have written multiple full-length musicals.


MM How did the L.A. performance go?
Kasler One of our friends [Erin Tiffany ’17] went for us and brought us back a program. [Kasler and Wilkie had just flown back to the east coast from a semester in London when the show took place.] She said it was really well-received. She was sitting next to the producer of the event, and the producer was really excited that we had found them. It’s very strange because we hadn’t even been working together for a year, so to see all of these things happen so quickly is exciting.