Sept. 21, 2017
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Marco Grob

3-Plus Questions with Danny Rubin

The Groundhog Day screenwriter on why he loves Warehouse 21 and his new Broadway musical

July 10, 2017, 2:20 pm

Warehouse 21, the longtime beloved local nonprofit teen arts center, turns 21 years old on Tuesday July 11. It hosts a week's worth of festivities in a variety of exciting events including a concert, an open house and a special meet-and-greet with some big-name entertainment industry folk (7:30 pm Thursday July 13. $12-$21. 1614 Paseo de Peralta, 989-4423). Included in the event are television writer Ron Bloomberg, MacGyver creator Lee Zlotoff and Danny Rubin, the writer of Groundhog Day (both the 1993 Bill Murray movie and the recent Broadway musical). Rubin also served on the very first board of directors for Warehouse 21, so the birthday is near and dear to his heart. We're pretty big fans of Rubin's work—in film and with Warehouse 21—and wanted to learn how it's going for him these days. And it goes a little something like this:

What is that has made you want to be involved with W21?
For me, it was the prefect idea; first of all, just because when [my family] first moved to Santa Fe 25 years ago, it was coming from Los Angeles, and very much wanting to be part of the community in one way or another. At the time, the Teen Art Project, which was pretty much the proto-Warehouse 21, was a project that I heard about at the Center for Contemporary Arts, and I started getting involved with it at that point. And then maybe a year later, when they were looking for a safety net for the program, I jumped on, like, 'Oh, this is something that chose me.' It’s something I liked, and it said, ‘Come now.’ And I loved just the idea that it’s sort of a natural connection for teenagers to express themselves and to do so through a variety of media and art. It was [and] it is such a great way for them to do that, with the community, with each other. It was something I felt like I could support without any reservations whatsoever.

Can you give us an idea about what you’ll be touching on with this meet-and-greet event?
Whatever anybody wants to talk about. In a kind of interesting way, I feel like I was here all the way from starting the organization to opening the building. And then I left town, and I was gone for eight years. So, for me, from my point of view, this is a chance to rejoin the community and say hello. Whatever anybody wants to ask me about, I’m happy to share tales from my travels.

Was Groundhog Day: The Musical something that you always wanted to do?
Almost immediately. Almost right after the movie came out. I also wasn’t in any hurry to be in the groundhog business. I wanted to do other things and to take my time figuring out how to make it a musical. It was about 10 years after the movie came out that other people started talking about it as well as a good idea, most prominently Stephen Sondheim. I started taking it more seriously, studying up on musicals, figuring out what my role would be, which tuned out to be the writer. Then it was finding the right partners who wanted to do a really rich, exploratory, big reexamination of this story—and music seemed the greatest way to do it, to expand into the characters and bigger emotions. And we were successful, I feel. 

It's a dark story, so was this a way to get into the deeper or darker aspects?
Well, it's dark comedy, kind of profoundly dark. If you take the scene in the movie where Phil Connors is repeatedly committing suicide, that’s pretty dark, and we do it onstage using amazing stage tricks to get Phil from dead to waking up in the morning. In addition to that, it's set to a heartbreaking song called 'Hope' that’s saying basically, 'You’ve gotta have hope,' but the implication is, 'I failed at this suicide, you've gotta get up and try again tomorrow.' 

When you say you were the writer, were you also involved with the lyrics?
I was 100 percent involved in everything creative, but I didn’t write any of the lyrics. It was Tim Minchin, and we worked on this for five years. It was incredible. It was one of the great joys of my life, and I'm not sure how I'll top it. But Tim and I would work together to work out what needed to be sung. What was the nature? What was the personality of the musical? That was all work that we did together. We came to speak in very nearly the same language. I’m pretty proud of the partnership.

So were you one of these high school drama nerds?
No. I knew some of those people, but I never really felt at home there. I was more about sketch comedy and figuring out how to do satire and political comedy through sketch comedy. I think I got to it that way more through formal theater training. When I was living in Chicago during my 20s and deciding to be a writer and committing to that and pursuing various forms of media writing, I said, ‘Oh, I guess I better learn more about what it means to be a writer.' I wrote plays, I started working with some improv theater companies, and I wrote the sketches and sometimes it was things only I could perform in so I could get some stage time. That was my 20s, and it was fun. I was also making short films and writing spec television shows and children’s television shows. It’s been 30 years since I’ve done that, and this theater experience has been so wonderful and it’s made me want to be more collaborative in my work.

What’s next?
That’s the question, isn’t it? I had been teaching for a long time, then was working on the musical. I’m sort of returning to the film world but perhaps with a television series. I’m pursuing some projects with local actors and musicians, which will hopefully lead to more stage work and maybe some radio plays.

 

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