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Meet Bess King, a uniquely talented performer struggling to fulfill her dreams while handling rejection, dating drama and family issues. Featuring original music by Grammy-winner Sara Bareillies, this is a story about finding your authentic voice and having the courage to use it.
Above: Sara Bareilles shelved a song to please executives and now, 15 years later, it’s the inspiration of her new TV show Little Voice.
The show Little Voice is named after a song that came to Sara Bareilles in a dream years ago. She woke up and wrote down the lyrics in her journal, with an urgency and purpose she’d never felt before. “It felt like my mission statement to myself about my first record: ‘I am here to listen to this little voice,’” said Bareilles. But the music executives overseeing her debut album thought otherwise and persuaded her not to include it.
“I was devastated at the time, but I love the poetic justice that 15 years later, it’s the theme song for a TV show all about a young artist finding her way. It’s perfect,” she said.
Bareilles created Little Voice with Jessie Nelson, with whom she wrote the 2016 Broadway hit and Tony-nominated musical Waitress. But unlike many TV shows about the music industry, which portray greedy executives or disapproving parents, this series zooms in on Bess (played by Brittany O’Grady) and her most insurmountable antagonist: her self-doubt.
Above: Sara Bareilles, Brittany O’Grady and Jessie Nelson behind the scenes of Little Voice.
In introducing Little Voices to the press, collaborators Bareilles and Nelson responded to the reporters’ questions;
What’s the biggest difficulty making a show about songwriting?
Bareilles: Well, the act of writing is a very internal process. It’s not particularly interesting to watch someone make a song. It’s repetitive. But Jessie has such a gift for teasing out those internal ideas and emotions into something you can visualize and shoot.
Nelson: While writing Waitress, I loved working with Sara and seeing how a germ of an idea could evolve over the course of a day and turn into this full-length song. It was so fascinating. We tried to pay tribute to this very subtle but wonderful craft by following this young woman who is stuck playing covers. She’s struggling with such paralyzing self-loathing that she can’t even perform her own music and get to the point where she says, “I love this, I want to do it no matter what.” That’s so important, and that’s not about anything beyond your relationship to yourself.
So many moments put Bess at odds with her own self-doubt. Why?
Nelson: If you’re a creative person, oftentimes, you are your own internal antagonist. I had that experience: I wrote my first movie, Corrina, Corrina, and then put it in a drawer for three years. I was just so self-critical that I couldn’t let anybody read it. The littlest rejection becomes so big in your mind.
Bareilles: That has been my nemesis my entire life. There’s nothing any critical person has ever said to me that I haven’t already said to myself. I have been so much meaner to myself than anybody could possibly be.
Even now, making this show…Jessie and I are grown women, and constantly throughout this entire process, we had to remind each other: “Let’s use our little voices here, let’s trust our instincts that you make so quiet over the years because you start to give more value to outside perspectives than your own intuition.”
Above: Brittany O’Grady portrays the role of Bess in Little Voice.
What made Brittany O’Grady best for Bess?
Nelson: She was doing a movie in New Zealand, so she was going to read some scenes and sing over Skype from her tiny hotel room. And the Skype call kept going down, as Skype does, and we had to keep getting it back up again. But she didn’t let it get her down. She kept her sense of humor about the whole thing, even when she was getting more and more discombobulated. It was so endearing. Like, there she was: Bess.
Bareilles: Brittany has a beautiful singing voice as well as this bright, inquisitive spirit about her that we felt immediately. I also found her to be so deeply kind. That was the thing that felt important, because that’s Bess’ downfall as well; she’s so careful about taking care of everybody that she often falls down on the bottom of her priority list. That’s part of what she has to grapple with in order to take steps forward on her own behalf. The fact that that lives really brightly inside of Brittany made a lot of sense.
What words can you share with other creators who are struggling with self-doubt?
Nelson: I think the most important thing is to be authentic to whatever you’re feeling. If you’re feeling like you can’t create right now, that’s totally fine. Release any judgment of how you’re getting through this period.
Bareilles: It is so big, what we are being asked to put on hold right now, this profound part of the human experience. If you’re not ready to turn this into your next great work, I wouldn’t be critical of that. This is a time for us to be really gentle with ourselves and get to the root of it all. Dig in and be patient.