Cover Photo Mark J. Franklin
Every time I interview a successful person involved with music, I relive my own path. Since this article is not about me, I won’t drone on about how I became a music journalist/writer, but I will tell you that meeting Laura Schein reminded so much of myself and having a goal, and getting there by using the imagination and never turning down a “reasonably” related job. While Laura started out as an actor, she became a lyricist, a book writer and so much more. Remember the early days of 2020 when we could experience the glory of live theater? Well, “Un-Block The Music” gushed over the off-Broadway show, Emojiland! Laura wrote the book, the lyrics and starred as Smize (Smiling Face With Smiling Eyes).
Remember I am kinda new to theater, so forgive my ignorance. Admittedly, I went into Emojiland, not expecting much, and instead had the time of my life. And, here I am eating crow because I didn’t know the name Kenny Ingram either, and Kenny actually received the New York Musical Festival Award for Outstanding Choreography for his work in Emojiland. Turns out, this well-known prodigious choreographer is one of the reasons Laura found theater in the first place.
“I saw a production of The Wiz in Chicago at 3 years old starring Kenny Ingram, and I turned to my mom at intermission and said…’I want to do that!’” She certainly followed through as she got her Actors Equity Card at 13 years old.
“I always had the flair for the performance. I used to record made up shows on my Fisher Price radio and interview my stuffed animals. My stuffed animals and I wrote songs together!”, Laura said.
However, it was at The Appletree Theater in Laura’s hometown that she started her professional journey. This equity theater was attached to a day camp she attended. The artistic director chose Laura to audition for The Secret Garden when she was 10 years old. She sang “Clang, Clang, Clang Went The Trolley” and got the part. “It was my first Equity show. From that I got an agent. The agent then got me the audition for Ragtime. I joined the union and did the first national tour of that show for 1 ½ years,” she said.
College was where she met Keith Harrison who became her writing partner, and with whom she wrote Emojiland. In college they created several projects and right after they graduated, they wrote a 48-hour musical but, then they moved to Los Angeles for work. After working on other people’s projects for a while, a producer friend said…’when are you going to write your own musical?”
That idea blossomed in 2014, when Laura and Keith were out to dinner and a little ping came on their phone saying that “emoji “was the most searched word on Google. That’s around the time emojis were introduced on the iPhone. “There is something inherently theatrical about them. They are a cast of characters that enhance text the way music enhances dialogue. It occurred to us that emojis could be a wonderful platform for a musical,” said Laura.
The show had quite a journey before it ended up in the NYMF in 2018. “We came up with all different crazy stories. We presented different versions over the course of 6 years with totally different characters. Many sleepless nights.” Eventually the show was performed at the Festival and that propelled it to off-Broadway where it played from January to March of this year!
In the meantime, Laura and Keith were hired for other projects. “We worked on the Ugly Dolls movie. It started as a job helping with arrangements, but lead to writing the duet between Kelly Clarkson and Jonelle Monae, called ‘Unbreakable’! That was really cool!”
“Un-Block The Music” loves to look at the threads that weave a career. Laura’s career proves that you make your own way. Don’t listen to those people who discourage you! “When I moved to Los Angeles, I booked this really silly movie on the Sci Fi channel called Jersey Shore Shark Attack. It was like Sharknado. I played a Jersey girl.When an audition came up for the HBO series Weeds, they were looking for a Jersey girl for the series finale. A friend of mine who was a writer on the show, saw my movie and thought I would be perfect and he brought me in.” While Natasha Lyonne ultimately got that part, they cast Laura in another role. “I probably wouldn’t have gotten that audition if I didn’t do the Jersey Shore movie.”
Then, there was the student film Laura did called Marriage Material. Everyone discouraged her because, for one thing, it was unpaid. She had a small role, but she loved the female empowerment and had a good feeling about the director. It ended up being nominated for an Oscar in the short film category. Then, it was decided to turn it into a musical television series. The team knew Laura when she submitted her music to the project. She got the job. We were supposed to start shooting in June, but it’s on the horizon,” Laura said.
Her creativity goes on and on. Laura is also working on a musical animated series and voicing the character as well. “The idea is inspired by my childhood. We have a whole team working on it,” she said. That’s not all. She is also a long-time health nut and certified health coach. She co-hosts the functional medicine podcast What The Func?!
With regard to the women that came before her and forged a path, Laura said, she most admires Lily Tomlin whose one woman show launched her success. “You always have to trust your gut,” says Laura, and as Lily says…”and that’s the truth!!!”
P.S. “Un-Block The Music” won’t lie. I usually finish up an interview and say to myself,… “Wow…I love that person…best interview ever! I am a very exuberant person. HOWEVER, Laura hit a spot with me when she said she used to interview her stuffed animals and create a show on her Fisher Price radio when she was little. Recently, my bestie, Liliane Larsen, sent me a whole bunch of newsletters and fake broadcasts that I wrote when I was in elementary school. She was a terrific artist and used to illustrate my work. Maybe as we are forced to slowdown during this pandemic, we can also take the time to rediscover what we wanted as children. That can be the light at the end of this very dreary tunnel.