I met Rori Nogee at a Daphne Rubin-Vega concert in 2001/2002 and we've been friends ever since. When Rori told me she was writing Siren's Den, I said to her, when it's done, we must do an interview. It sounds like a fascinating layered story that we need to talk about. So, Siren's Den is done, our insider's look is below and the show is getting ready for its first public partly staged reading/workshop presentation on April 3 and 4 at 7pm at Under St. Marks in New York City. Click here to support Siren's Den and for more information!
1. This April you are presenting part staged/part workshop of your brand new musical Siren's Den, a cautionary tale about the emptiness of fame, the blindness of love, and the healing powers of writing through the darkest times. What made you write such a powerful piece? I took a class with Stephen Adly Guirgis and he said, "When I go to see a show, I want to know what keeps the writer up at night." That’s when I realized that I HAD to tell my story. While the characters and events in this musical are fictional, it is still a deeply personal and somewhat autobiographical piece. I spent many years being a groupie for a Broadway show and got a firsthand look into how manipulative and jealous that girls could get over receiving attention from their favorite actors. It's a whole underground community that people on the outside know little about. During that time, I fell madly in love with someone who both inspired me to write songs and be the best version of myself, and hurt me so deeply that there was nothing to do BUT write. I wanted to capture that double edged sword of love.
In terms of relevance to today's world, I also noticed that modern day pop stars are churned out like clockwork; they are put through the fame machine and end up resembling each other and losing their musical individuality along the way. I wanted to explore who these icons really are behind the spotlight, and if they truly deserve to be on a pedestal.
2. You wrote the books, lyrics, and music for this show. What was it like to write this show yourself? For an introvert, it was a wonderfully solitary thing! Everything seen and heard in this show came from my heart, my memories and my imagination. Writing it was the easy part. The scary part now is handing my baby over to the creative team, letting go, and trusting it in their hands. It’s also terrifying to finally share this show with the world and watch how audiences react.
3. What do you get from writing that you don't get from performing? Wow this is a loaded question! First of all, I LOVE being on stage. When I am in a favorite show or playing a dream role, little can compare. But often times as an actor I take gigs to make money. While happy to be working, there is sometimes little artistic fulfillment. Also, the business side of acting is very harrowing with all of the rejection and people telling you that you can’t do something.
When I produce my own work…nobody can tell me no. Instead of sitting around waiting for opportunity, I create my own. I get to watch actors bring characters to life that only previously existed inside of my head. I also get to perform and say my own words that strike a deeply emotional chord. Performing in book musicals is a rush, but so far, producing my own written work trumps all.
4. Since this show is about the emptiness of fame, the blindness of love, and the healing powers of writing, how have you felt the emptiness of fame? When have you been blinded by love? How has writing helped heal you? I have definitely felt empty at times while starring in regional shows and looking all glamorous from afar, while at the end of the day, feeling homesick and bored and lonely.
I am perpetually blinded by love. I have a habit of falling for emotionally unavailable people who are often batshit CRAZY, but I overlook their flaws and make excuses because I am certain that the good outweighs the bad. I need to stop doing that…
If it weren’t for writing…oof. For me, writing exorcises all of the demons. It helps me to organize my thoughts, to give me a sense of power over things that are out of my control and to give me closure on certain relationships. Writing is complete catharsis. Siren’s Den is the culmination of all of that.
5. What sets your show apart from others that written on similar themes? It is interesting that right now on Broadway we have Beautiful and On Your Feet, two musicals that feature the music industry and a female protagonists rise to fame. Siren’s Den deals with that, but it takes a look at the dark side of that journey. There is also a romantic relationship between two women at the forefront, which is rare in musicals. The word "lesbian" is never mentioned in Siren’s Den. Instead, there are two fully developed females who understand that sometimes love just…happens. This musical has nothing to do with loving a gender and everything to do with loving a whole person. Think, All About Eve, except it isn't fame that "Remy" is after, it's the love and mutual respect of someone she idolizes.
6. In Siren's Den, one of the characters, "Remy," who is the biggest fan of "Skylar," a seductive indie rock singer, goes down a road into drugs, lust, and empty promises. How have you stayed grounded in an industry that lead others, like "Remy," down a darker road? I am more based in the theater world than the music industry, but regardless, I have a very strong sense of self. I know what I want and I am not easily distracted or influenced. And I know it sounds cheesy, but I live off of the natural highs in life…probably because I am SO addicted to love. But it makes drugs very unnecessary!
7. What singers have lured you in with their songs? Who would you like to sing a duet most with? In addition to showtunes, I grew up listening to angsty female rockers like Alanis Morisette, Melissa Etheridge, Joan Jett and Heart. Every song on the Jagged Little Pill album is brilliant. Siren’s Den has that angry 90’s rocker chick kind of sound. Today, I’d love to sing with Daphne Rubin-Vega. Have you heard her song, "Broken?" You haven’t?? Go download it!!
8. What was the hardest part about writing this musical? What was the most fun? REWRITES ARE HARD. I brought in pages weekly to R.C. Staab’s writing group. Every time I thought the show was done, the group voiced suggestions and constructive criticisms and I would have to go home and revise it all over again. I think the workshop script is actually draft 9. Tracking the music is also very difficult. Ultimately I would like a live band, but for now, each individual track takes 7-10 hours to create in a recording studio. It is truly a labor of love.
Hearing it out loud in readings was probably the most fun; To hear scenes read with full passion and know that they were really working just the way I intended was pure joy.
9. Of the following roles you've played, "Cristal Connors" from Showgirls! The Musical!, "Maureen" from Rent, and "Rizzo" from Grease, who would you want to sleep with? Go see a show with? Spend a night on the town with? HA!!! I’d sleep with "Maureen" because…she’s totes my type (bats hit crazy!). I feel like "Rizzo" could show me a fun night out on the town, all the latest hot spots. I’d want to see a show with "Cristal" because she would be so amazingly bitter, mocking it and all of the performers and how much better she is than them, that it would be hilarious.
10. On "Call Me Adam," I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent everyday. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent everyday? Gratitude. I spend so much time comparing myself to others or wishing I was someplace else or doing more…that I rarely take time to stop and appreciate everything that I have. I need to live in the present moment and just be grateful for all of the good.
Rori has appeared on Broadway (Joseph…Dreamcoat), Off-Broadway (Showgirls, the Musical!), in national and North American tours (Disney Junior’s, Chuggington, Live!) and in regional productions including Rent (Maureen), Grease (Rizzo), Gypsy (Mazeppa), Murder Ballad (Narrator) and Arizona Broadway Theater’s upcoming Rock of Ages (Regina). Rori has also appeared in the NYC Fringe and Midtown International Theater Festivals and on America’s Got Talent. Her voice can be heard on the Love Quirks concept album. She can currently be seen in Truffles! at The Cutting Room.
As a writer, Rori’s play, Down This Road, was selected for readings with Sink or Swim Rep, Chelsea Rep Lap, and Identity Theater’s Self-Aware Reading Series. Her concept musical, Fragments, was presented at Don’t Tell Mama. She also has two completed screenplays and is currently writing two other full length plays entitled Borderline and Aftershocks.
Rori’s training includes The Lee Strasberg Institute, Circle in the Square, and the LAByrinth Theater Intensive. She started writing music at 16, which incidentally, is also the year she first fell in love.