Jess Godwin, the songwriter, creator, and star of the show Dear Finch, took some time to talk to us about the process of creating this empowering show that features original music inspired by anonymous, handwritten letters. Continue reading to find out how Jess was able to take these letters and turn them into a work of art. Join us for Dear Finch on May 18! Get a preview of the show by watching the music video for Heroes and Villains above.
Arts Center: How did you come up with Dear Finch?
Jess Godwin: I became intrigued by the concept of free-writing when I started working with middle school and high school students on transforming shame into vulnerability and strength through songwriting. Something really powerful happened when I gave the students the time to write whatever they wanted…uncensored…whatever was on their mind. I think the written word is an art form and a means of expression that we are losing, and I wanted to encourage more people to remember what it was like to sit down and write something that might be a little too hard to say out loud. In the hopes that they might find the courage to actually say it out loud someday. I think it was necessary for me to bring other women in to this project because a) I like a good choir and b) I think I was at a point in my life when I really needed to work with others. I did a lot of research on songbirds – finches – to find that they become physically and mentally ill if they don’t have a companion. Bringing these women together…along with our anonymous letters…helped me to remember that we can’t do it all on our own. We need each other so we can be better for ourselves and better for others.
Arts Center: What was the process of writing and developing this show?
Jess Godwin: We made an all call for letters, and I started writing the songs as they started coming in. We rehearsed in my not-so-good-for-rehearsal apartment over pizza for several months (we’ve moved since!), and did a few trial shows to feel out the music and tone. The week before the premier, we put the show on its feet with staging, lighting, and a little bit of movement. We had no idea what it was going to BE, but it ended up being pretty special. We released the album on iTunes a few months later (oh yeah, I was recording all of the singers in various studios, basements, and bathrooms in the midst of all of this rehearsal). I feel so grateful that they were on board for such an experimental process, and I feel even MORE grateful that we get to do it again in May! It will be so exciting to come back to it fresh.
Arts Center: What was the most interesting letter you received?
Jess Godwin: Oh my goodness. I love them all, I can’t choose! There was a beautiful one written in Spanish about a woman struggling with her move to Chicago. A young person wrote a particularly angry letter signed “MR.MAD” that still cracks me up. I still think about one person who asked Finch if they should cheat on their wife or not. The letters written by teens are beautiful and all heart. All in all, I’m so touched by the fact that so many people said the hard thing and put themselves out there.
Arts Center: How did you get these letters back to you to form this show? Did you reach out to your fan base or elsewhere?
Jess Godwin: We have them mailed in! We reached out to our bases, but we also gathered a lot of letters at shows! We were still testing out Dear Finch a few months before our premier at Steppenwolf Front Bar. We brought a bunch of blank letters and pens, and were so happy to find out that audience members were game to write their own! A great deal of those impromptu letters made it into the final show! I’m excited about the next batch of letters for our next show – I can’t wait to hear what is on the hearts and minds of the Elgin community!
Arts Center: Where did you find the other women you perform with during this show?
Jess Godwin: Khloe and Moira used to be two of my favorite students! Khaki did my makeup for headshots years ago and I had to keep her in my life…Sophie and I used to sing at church together and became fast friends…Robin and I sang at a benefit and I fell in love with her voice…Lucy and I did a production of Pippin together and have done “friend cry brunches” for years together. Just all around good company!
Arts Center: What do you most want people to know about this show?
Jess Godwin: The unspoken things you feel strongly about – things that you feel on your own a lot of the time – you’re going to find that a lot of us feel those things, too. You’re going to walk out feeling less alone. It’s not all that serious, though! You’re going to laugh, dance, sing, and rejoice in being human with us, too. I really think you’re going to like it.
Thank you so much, Jess, for taking time out of your day to talk about Dear Finch! Jess and friends will be performing this inspiring show here at the ECC Arts Center on Saturday, May 18 at 7 p.m. Learn more and get tickets online or by calling the ECC Arts Center box office at 847-622-0300.