by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Planning a wedding is a lot like producing a musical: It’s exciting and stressful at once. Producing a musical while planning a wedding? Doubly so. And when you’ve written that musical with your spouse-to-be? It’s exciting, and a dream come true, squared.
That’s the verdict from Christyn Budzyna ’11, a New York City lyricist who saw her first musical staged at a prestigious festival just two months after marrying her librettist. We caught up with the new bride to ask how she broke into musical theatre and what it’s like when partners in life are also partners in song.
Budzyna knew she wanted to attend Dickinson after visiting campus with her father, John ’74, and she declared a theatre major, with a concentration in acting and directing, in October of her first year.
As an undergrad, she gained experience not only in acting and directing, but also in costume and lighting design and set-building—a benefit of studying theatre at a small college, she notes. And after graduation, she put that breadth of experience to work, directing plays at community theatres and high schools, including her own.
But after a few years, as she recalled her admiration for the great American composer Stephen Sondheim—whose music she’d performed in Dickinson’s production of A Little Night Music—she began to shift gears. “I realized all my heroes were musical-theatre writers,” she explains. “I’d always loved playing with words, and I knew I had good writing training in my liberal-arts classes. So I made the switch.”
Meanwhile, another change: Soon after signing up on OKCupid, Budzyna met Charlie Cohen, a graduate of Goucher College’s theatre program and son of composer Steve Cohen. “It was fate—we clicked immediately,” she says. As she prepared to audition for the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, Budzyna asked her new boyfriend’s father if he’d consider collaborating on a song. He did, and a new career began to take shape.
Christyn Budzyna '11 and Charlie Cohen, at their June wedding, just months before their musical was a hit at the Samuel French Off-Off-Broadway Festival.
The two-year BMI workshop is a top training ground for emerging U.S. musical-theatre composers. Half of enrollees are lyricists, and the other half were composers. At the end of the first year, each lyricist-composer team completes 10-minute musical. After reading a newspaper article about a Girl Scout who’d set up a cookie stand outside a marijuana dispensary, Budzyna knew she had a winning idea. She paired up with composer Helen Park on the musical numbers and asked her director-boyfriend if he’d give the dialogue a shot. Cohen was game.
The trio baked up Baked Goods, a 10-minute comedy, and with funding through Kickstarter, they staged the play at the 2016 Sound Bites festival. It was a hit, and it went on to the City Theatre festival in Miami, where Budzyna was awarded the 2017 City Theatre National Award for Short Playwriting.
Budzyna was planning a June 9 wedding in the Catskills last spring, when she learned that Baked Goods had been accepted into the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival. Just weeks before the wedding, she and her collaborators quickly found a director and assembled a cast. Two months after the wedding, the newlyweds attended the festival. Out of the 39 plays staged, only six were named winners and published by Samuel French; Baked Goods was one of the six and will be available for licensing at the end of this year.
Christyn Budzyna ’11, second from left, with husband/librettist Charlie Cohen, (far left), composer Helen Park and arranger Collin Martin, at the 2018 Samuel French Festival.
With that exhilarating summer in the rearview—along with a 2017 performance of her commissioned poem “The Lights Before Christmas” during the Bryant Park Christmas Tree Skate-tacular—Budzyna is looking ahead. Her BMI capstone project, The Prince and the Wooglefoof, will premiere at the University of Pennsylvania this year. Written with Anthony DeAngelis and Jessica Penzias, it is an adaptation of the children’s book The Prince’s New Pet.
Budzyna’s current projects are BOTS!, a commissioned musical that teaches kids about technology through song; and a musical about the Fox sisters, founders of the spiritualist movement, a collaboration with De Angelis and Penzias. Budzyna is also a web developer at NYC’s The Public Theater, a job that allows her to combine her coding skills with her passion for theatre.
While no further wife-husband creative projects are planned, Budzyna and Cohen are open to the idea, since they enjoyed working together and were on the same page creatively. Asked if it’s especially exciting to see the couple’s shared project take off, she agrees.
“We conceived a story together as a couple, so in a strange way, it does feel a little like our child,” Budzyna says. “We wrote it three or four years ago, and now we’re seeing it go off to school.”
Published September 14, 2018