Film, TV and Video Game Composer Michael Gordon Shapiro Is Inspired By…

Michael Gordon Shapiro

Michael Gordon Shapiro jokes that he writes music for film, TV, and video games in order to finance his musical theater habit. He’s written a collection of award-winning short (10-15 minute) musicals called A Feast of Snacks — a collection he describes as “the dim sum of musical theater.” Here’s how live entertainment inspires Shapiro — and how a performance of The Nutcracker changed his approach to Facebook.

Tell us about what you do.
I’m a musical accessory to storytelling. I compose scores for film and video games, pieces for the concert hall and works of musical theater. I usually work collaboratively, with film directors, game developers or book writers.

And you haven’t run off to do something else because…
The muse grabbed hold of me early in life and hasn’t loosened her iron grip. The closest I’ve ever come to a conventional job was being audio lead for a game company — and in that case I was also in-house music guy, so there was still a big artistic component.

What types of live events do you go to most?
I love the Los Angeles theater scene. The tentpole productions at the Pantages are great fun, but there are a lot of hidden gems in smaller venues as well, and I make a point of trying to ferret them out. This is partly to stay immersed in the medium, but also for the unexpected joys that can found off the beaten path. (And even the occasional bad choice has educational value.)

When it comes to music, I enjoy the signature groups like the LA Phil and Opera, the lesser-known ensembles, and even the touristy stuff at the Hollywood Bowl. Apart from music, I also like to visit improv groups like the Groundlings. It’s fun to see writers or performers from television hamming it up a few feet away in an intimate venue.

Has a live show ever caused you to change the way you think or behave?
This may sound like a big associational leap, but after seeing American Ballet Theatre’s recent production of The Nutcracker, I vowed to pay less attention to arguments on Facebook. The ballet, particularly its conclusion, was so convincingly joyous that it made life’s petty annoyances seem trivial, unworthy of my time. I think this is an important function of the arts: re-calibrating us emotionally, and re-connecting us to the big picture.

What’s something you love about the live entertainment scene in L.A.?
I think it benefits from the presence of the film and TV industries. They incentivize talented people to congregate here, with wonderful side effects: a TV actor backing a theater company, a virtuoso studio musician playing in an opera, and so on.

The presence of the recording industry in L.A. — not to mention schools like USC and Colburn — means there’s tremendous musical talent here as well. When my orchestral concerto for Guzheng came to nearby San Gabriel, I was aswim in great players.

What live show excited and inspired you?
A number of years ago the Blank Theatre Company staged a virtuosic production of the musical The Wild Party. It’s a raucous, frenetic show, but musicians and cast both blasted through it without missing a beat. I was blown away by both the material and the sheer skill with which it was executed.

What’s your favorite thing about composing for a live show?
There’s something energizing about being in the same room as a performer, whether musical, theatrical, both, or something else. There’s a sense of stakes and necessity; there may be many performances in a run, but this moment, right now, is the performer’s only opportunity to connect with this particular audience. And from that fragile, once-in-a-lifetime chance, magic happens.

To hear samples of his work, visit Michael Gordon Shapiro’s website, the Feast of Snacks website, and the Identity: Zhongshang Zhuang website.

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