MusicalWriters Academy Member Lisa Sniderman (she/her) is a lyricist, bookwriter, co-composer, and acting producer from the San Francisco Bay Area. After participating in our year-long Development Series, Sniderman’s most recent work, The Grieving Project, received a staged reading in Dallas, TX.
MusicalWriters sat down with Lisa to talk about authenticity and developing musical proof of concepts in this month’s Member Spotlight.
How did you get started writing musicals?
Lisa Sniderman: I have been battling a rare chronic illness–a progressive muscle weakness autoimmune disease–for more than 15 years. I also began my artist career in 2006 as a singer-songwriter under the name Aoede, which means song in Greek. Aoede was the muse of song, and I wanted affiliation with the muse to remind myself to inspire and be continually inspired-not knowing at the time that “muse” would be such a central theme in my life. Just after releasing my first Aoede album in 2008, I was diagnosed with Dermatomyositis, six weeks before my wedding and Northwest tour to promote the album. In 2010, I had a huge flare that rendered me unable to use any muscles and landed me a one month-long hospital stay, then months of rehab to relearn how to sit, stand, walk, and eventually, how to sing and play again. With my body waging war, all I could do was create-obsessively.
When I realized I could no longer pursue my songwriter dreams in the same way due to my lack of stamina, profound muscle weakness, debilitating fatigue, side effects from intensive monthly infusion treatments, and inability to leave the house and do live shows, I started writing and recording at home…I wrote new songs from home-mostly from bed-for the project, created colorful characters and a fantasy setting, found an amazing illustrator, sang duets, and imagined a whole world of musical stories, complete with dialogue, sound design and effects, full instrumental score, narration and magic.
I got the musical bug, which led to me writing and recording more award-winning full-length fantasy YA musical audiobooks, which I then adapted into stage plays. I had realized I had discovered a new niche: musical theater. Since writing these three fantasy musicals and creating to express and share, I realized I had a yearning for something bigger, and started integrating my illness journey into my art. Since 2020, I’ve been adapting my spoken word musical audiobook I released in 2020 to a stage musical.
The animated music video below shows Sniderman’s “struggle and journey with illness, hospital, and recovery” and will also be featured in The Grieving Project.
What’s a lesson you’ve learned from your writing journey that you’d like to share?
LS: Pave your own path and always be authentic and true to yourself! Don’t be afraid to try things outside of your comfort zone. For me, it was writing my first script and then going on to create three award-winning children’s musical albums, when I was best known for my pop music, that allowed me to grow as an artist. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t strongly believed in myself and my music and allowed myself to be vulnerable and try something new in a world in which I was just becoming familiar. I challenged myself to write for a different audience, which helped me find a new niche and continue creating and recording musicals. There was no template to follow. I didn’t see other artists writing full musicals and recording them on audiobooks, but that was what was calling to me as an artist, and I chased it with a passion. Another lesson: all writing is rewriting! Don’t stress for perfection on the first draft. Be okay knowing you will keep revising and revising. Lastly, get feedback on your writing as you go!
Writing a musical isn’t easy. What’s your “why” in being a musical writer?
LS: Great question! My Why is that I’ve found “me” in the medium of musicals. It is where I express myself most authentically-where my path meets my purpose artistically. I often say music is my lifeline. I’m coming to realize, musicals are my lifeline; I just can’t stop creating them! Once I am inside my musical, I find my characters tell me what they want to say-what they want to sing about. I love the flexibility to play with words and change music genres to fit what I’m writing. Honestly, I just get so much joy from writing the book, lyrics and music–all before sharing with others or sending it on its path to production.
Why did you join MusicalWriters Academy?
LS: I was developing my musical The Grieving Project in 2023, and I knew that I wanted to really invest in rewrites, benefit from music and other coaches, all before getting to a table read and then to a live staged reading. I was so excited to learn about and then enroll in MW’s Development Program Series, and not only was MW Academy included, but it was an amazing opportunity to really get to know MW-staff like Rebecca and Holly and Sam, and to meet and network with and support other members on their musical journeys. As a playwright, it’s so easy to spend my days in isolation-writing. I was seeking a community-one I found in MW’s Academy. I also really had been looking for a writers group-and shortly after I joined, MW also started offering those and I’ve been part of one ever since.
Click here to learn more about MusicalWriters Academy. Membership is open now!
What was your most memorable moment from the Development Series this year?
LS: Seeing a recording of my musical performed in full by an amazing, talented cast (and the ever-talented Rebecca) at a live staged reading in Dallas, Texas May 2023! In particular, seeing the humor that the cast brought out, and watching them bring their characters to life.
The clip below shows Lisa Sniderman’s pitch at MusicalWriters pitch night submission for The Grieving Project.
What’s your proudest accomplishment as a musical writer?
LS: Right now… collaborating with a theater company in DC, fundraising, and recently being awarded an artist residency at a performance space for Feb 2024 to produce a “proof of concept” of my musical The Grieving Project.
What do you love about MusicalWriters.com?
LS: Community, opportunity to keep learning and growing through webinars, resources, tools, workshops, festivals–love that we can access the materials even if we can not attend the festival, perks of being Academy members, perks of development series-like pitching at pitch night, opportunities… what’s not to love?
Sound like something for you? Check out the Musical Writers Academy page for more info.
What are you working on right now?
LS: Excitedly, a proof of concept (POC) to bring live, accessible, immersive, comparable theatrical experiences to those (like me) who can’t attend live theater (primarily chronically ill and disabled communities) showcasing four scenes from my musical in development-”The Grieving Project”-a spoken word musical about finding your voice. TGP explores mental health, transformation, identity, grieving and thriving in 14 stages and asks, “How can we live fully and thrive if we don’t grieve?” It integrates a unique concept: four lead characters only speak during songs until each finds her/his voice and sings. I am collaborating with Open Circle Theatre in DC-a disability-focused theater company-to produce the POC. We were just awarded a two-week artist residency at a tech-forward performance space in Baltimore, MD in Feb 2024 and are fundraising and assembling our team. We will use the POC to showcase innovative tech to create comparable live/virtual experiences. (https://thegrievingproject.com/musical)
What is your favorite musical writing (tech) tool?
LS: Masterwriter! And Final Draft too! Masterwriter is a songwriting and creative writing tool/app that I use all the time as a songwriter. It includes features like rhymes, phrases, synonyms, and more all in one place. Final Draft has been essential for the script writing. I love that there are templates for musicals built in.
Check out all MW’s favorite tech tools here.
What’s the best way to get better as a musical writer?
LS: Keep writing! And as I said-keep rewriting. I think I am up to 43 or more drafts of my latest musical. Be open to receiving feedback and making necessary revisions,, but trust your instincts and know what’s important to you as you rewrite.
Do you have a website? What tool or service did you use to create it?
LS: https://thegrievingproject.com/musical I think this is a WordPress Theme. I used the theme, then created all the content.
Just for fun: What’s your favorite “guilty pleasure” album to listen to on repeat?
LS: Child of the 80’s so everything 80s on repeat… and in the musical theater world-lately-Hadestown!
Coffee or tea? Herbal Tea
Cats or dogs? Dogs
Digital or analog? Digital
Fly solo or team up? Team Up
Pizza or Hamburgers? Pizza
Road trip or fly? Road trip
City, Country, or Suburbs? City
Flip Flops or Croc? Neither… but Crocs if I have to choose
Apple or Android? Apple
Most recently used emojis? 🙂
Last thing you texted? A graphic of Cookie Monster that reads, “Just wanted u to know I was thinking about you”
Three things within arms reach right now? Phone, dog, glasses
Any Final Thoughts?
Love to connect! Feel free to reach out and let’s accompany each other on our musical journeys.
You can connect with Lisa Sniderman – and learn more about her work – on various social media platforms using the links below:
Lisa Sniderman, aka Aoede, is a multi-award-winning San Francisco-based artist, playwright, disabled artist advocate who creates art and music to foster healing, elevate, and empower others with chronic illnesses and disabilities to improve their mental health and wellness, grieve and thrive. She’s been honored with more than 100 accolades and awards for songwriting, audiobooks, films, stage plays, voiceover and books against a fierce obstacle-while suffering from a rare autoimmune disease for 15 years: Dermatomyositis, a progressive muscle weakness disease. Says Sniderman, “Music and art are my lifelines, and I just cannot stop creating.” Her memoir: A Light in the Darkness: Transcending Chronic Illness through the Power of Art and Attitude (Sep 2018), chronicles her 10-year journey living with chronic illness while creating to heal. In July 2020, she held a free two-week online summit to help others struggling with chronic illness thrive, attended by 1,800 participants. She released her ninth studio album, The Grieving Project, August 2020, which sets the stages of grief to music, that she is adapting to a stage musical intended to bring live, accessible, immersive theatrical experiences to chronically ill and disabled communities who can’t attend live theater.