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Freck’s ‘Three Romances for the Unwell’ Wins Playwriting Fellowship

Loosely based on several well-known 19th-century composers, Elena Freck’s historical fiction play won this year’s NewFest Rod Parker Fellowship Award.

Freck’s (’22) Three Romances for the Unwell and Otherwise takes the relationship of Clara and Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Joseph Joachim, to tell the tangled love tale of Los Angeles indie musicians.

  • Man sits on gurney while talking to woman sitting
  • Two people sit on hold hands
  • Two people sit on a bench talking
  • A man and a woman look at each other
  • Man sits on couch showing an object to woman sitting on arm of couch
  • Woman holds book open while standing with man next to her
  • Four people on stage
  • Two people hold hands while dancing closely
  • Woman stands while holding man's hand
  • One person standing and one person laying down

Freck spoke with dramaturg Victoria Isotti about the play on the Emerson Stage Blog, and what drew her to write about 19th-century German composers.

“It’s part classic love triangle and part tragedy about mental illness in Europe in the 19th century. It’s a story that definitely stuck with me,” said Freck.

While thinking about what play to write last summer, Freck was intrigued by the tale of the quartet, but felt she didn’t have time to fully research the relationship.

“I also was thinking about our lives as artists in our twenties, this time in our lives when we’re young and we’re figuring out how to make art and how to relate to each other,” said Freck. “I combined these two ideas and ended up transposing the story of the Schumanns and Brahms to the modern-day, so I could play with it without messing with historical accuracy.”

Senior affiliated faculty member and NewFest Artistic Director Joseph Antoun directed the play that Emerson Stage performed in late March.

Three Romances for the Unwell and Otherwise is a passionate play that not only looks at the human aspects of chasing artistic dreams, but sheds light on some of the realities which I hold very dear as a theatre artist and educator,” said Antoun. “I have long believed that a career in the arts is as much about living life as it is about pursuing gigs. Love, loss, romance, family, and friendships are all deep parts of our artistic selves. And we do not do it alone.”

Read more from Freck and Antoun on

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