As a playwright, Lawrence has always been drawn to creating strong female roles. Liberty, her first award-winning play was about Sarah Henry, wife of the American orator Patrick Henry. This play was a recent semi-finalist at the O’Neill and a Top 10 finalist in the Screencraft Competition (April, 2020).
A longtime resident of Texas, Lawrence stumbled across the legend of Emily West on a business trip to San Antonio, where she stayed in the Emily Morgan (really West) Hotel—across the street from the Alamo. For years, the idea festered to create a play about Emily set against the backdrop of the Texas Revolution. The subject matter cried out for a big musical treatment: Les Miz meets The Alamo!
Lawrence spent several months in 2013 researching the Emily West story, combing through original archives, visiting where she lived as well as key battlegrounds of the war. Much of the work was separating fact from fiction as not much is known about her real story—only snippets in Texas history books, many of which disagree on the basics of her involvement with Santa Anna and the war. The research allowed Lawrence to tell Emily’s story in a way that respects history, yet expands upon the known facts to create a story as big, as—well, Texas!
Another important aspect of the play development was to research the music of the time, and the confluence of cultures from which modern Texas was born—Hispanic, African-American, and Caucasian settlers. Santa Anna came from Veracruz, birthplace of a type of music rarely heard today outside of Mexico or Los Angeles—jarochomusic. Distinctly different than mariachi music, jarochois an interesting blend of European-style instruments and African rhythms with a Latin flair. The music also includes a spiritual and gospel-flavored piece honoring the African-American contribution to the cultural mix of the day.
Although Lawrence had developed many plays on her own in the Dallas area, she felt a need to expand her mentoring network to create such an ambitious piece. In January of 2014 she began a low-residency MFA program, Writing for Stage and Screen, at the New Hampshire Institute of Arts—primarily to work on this Yellow Roseproject. During the first six months, she worked with a seasoned mentor and advisor—Karen Sunde and Kate Clark, both well-established playwrights serving on the faculty. In June of 2014, the musical received a table read with professional actors. It was extremely well received, yet needed further development. Plus, the most important part of the project was missing—music!
In July of 2015, Lawrence discovered the Dallas-based team of Paul Gandolfi and Terry Langfitt who had worked for years together, creating musical theater works as well as scores for TV and film. They both had extensive experience not just crafting lyrics and songs, but also with studio mixing and recording. Since then, the three have been hard at work polishing the script and lyrics and creating the music to submit to the O’Neill.
In September of 2017 the first complete script with songs was presented in a table reading. Major changes were made based on actor and audience feedback. In 2018, Yellow Rose received a major development grant from the City of Dallas for a public staged reading. The grant allowed them to hire a seasoned director with significant experience directing multi-cultural projects, David Lozano—Artistic Director of Cara Mia Theater. Prominent musical theater artist and dramaturg Cheryl Coons also consulted on the project both before the public presentation and afterwards during the revision process.