USC alumna Kirsten Guenther pens musical Breaking Through

For most actors, moving to Los Angeles is the ultimate pipe dream. For Kirsten Guenther, however, the move made her realize that she did not want to be a performer. After receiving her B.F.A. in acting from USC in 2003, Guenther discovered a new passion for writing. Most recently, Guenther has penned the musical Breaking Through, centered around an aspiring singer-songwriter trying to succeed in the music industry. The musical is set to have its world premiere on Oct. 27.

“I don’t think I probably would have become a writer if I hadn’t gone to USC actually for acting,” Guenther said during a phone interview with the Daily Trojan.

Guenther said that she got her start in songwriting when someone from the School of Cinematic Arts asked her to write a song for a new musical that she would be acting in. At first she was reluctant, but after discussing further songwriting details, she called her fellow B.F.A. actors to collaboratively compose a piece and ended up writing the entire show. Guenther accredits her alma mater for introducing her to her passion for writing that has now been transformed into a career.

“I don’t know that I would have ever done that as a career if it wasn’t for USC being so generous like that,” Guenther said.

From L.A, the USC alumna moved to Paris where she did freelance journalism as a Paris correspondent for USA Today. Her weekly column, “The Sexy Expat,” featured dating advice, but her relationships were not the biggest story Guenther wanted to tell her audience.

“People would ask me what I did for a living, and I would always say, ‘Oh, I’m a journalist,’ but what I really do is write musicals,” Guenther said.

But the real catalyst behind Guenther’s career in musical theatre came when she was reading a biography. The author talked about going to school for music, which sparked Guenther’s interest. Immediately, Guenther researched options to go back to school for programs in writing musicals. New York University, incidentally, was her only option.

Upon returning from Paris, Guenther headed to New York City to receive her M.F.A. from NYU in musical theatre in 2007. Guenther not only cultivated her writing abilities in New York, but also her abilities to interact with her diverse surroundings.

“I don’t really make things up. I will just edit experiences that I have, so I think that living in New York, Los Angeles and Paris, London — places where you have diversity — is key,” Guenther said. “I like being an outsider, so I like going to new environments.”

Gaining inspiration from her urban encounters, Guenther emerged as a skilled playwright who learned to develop novels into musicals. Her latest project, Breaking Through, is an adaptation of the novel. The script slightly deviates from the original plot with Guenther’s new musical compositions.

As the main character gambles the decisions she has to make concerning her career, the outcome is unknown by the end of the musical, as the story revolves around the importance of the freedom in decision-making.

“It was important for me to find why I was put into [Breaking Through] and to honor the work that was already there,” she said. “[The story] is told in the music business, that’s the setting of it, but I think it’s more about finding freedom and the fact that you always, no matter what, have a choice in life. Once people can discover that, they have permanent power.”

Similar to this aspiring singer-songwriter, Guenther has yet to decide the fate of her career as a playwright.

“I am most excited about writing things that seem impossible, but also inevitable,” Guenther said. “The songs in the show are songs that you could hear on the radio, yet they are functioning theatrically. I found that challenge really exciting and I felt like it would be a very cool idea to write something that could potentially reach a lot of people because people are used to digesting content in that way already.”

Guenther hopes to engage herself in projects where she’s intrigued by the topics yet unaware of how to achieve the finished product until beginning the learning process. Her advice for aspiring writers is to craft something meaningful as opposed to profitable because an audience will come with well-written work.

Breaking Through is playing at the Pasadena Playhouse from Oct. 27 through Nov. 22.