How love letters of the Fitzgeralds allowed the Royal Conservatoire to reach new international audiences

Intimate correspondence between two icons of the roaring twenties, F.Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, inspired Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda, a poignant production performed by RCS students and staff across the Atlantic.

Devised by Principal Jeffrey Sharkey and Stasi Schaeffer, an RCS alumna, the interdisciplinary production was performed at the University of Delaware’s annual concert series, which brings the world’s top musicians to the state. The sold-out performance was also a homecoming for Principal Sharkey, a Delaware native. The production then toured to New York City for a private performance for invited guests and industry professionals at the historic Lotus Club.

“We couldn’t tell the Fitzgeralds’ whole story in an hour-long performance but one aspect of their lives is the idea of enduring love – love that changes over time,” says Stasi, who directed the piece and is a graduate of the MA Classical and Contemporary Text (Directing) programme.

BA Acting students Megan Valentine and Chase Brown portrayed the Fitzgeralds, charting the first flush of their relationship to their painful separation through Zelda’s mental illness and Scott’s alcoholism. They were joined by BA Musical Theatre student Grace Galloway alongside Professor Sharkey on piano and RCS lecturers, cellist Alison Wells and violinist Andrea Gajic, playing pieces by George Gershwin, Claude Debussy and Leonard Cohen.

Principal Sharkey grew up with the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and has always felt a personal connection to the author.

“I lived in Baltimore and knew the hospital system at Hopkins where Zelda was sectioned. I also sent our daughter, by chance, to the same school as the Fitzgeralds’ daughter.

“I discovered more about Zelda’s talent and her mental health struggles, and their lifelong relationship many years after first picking up Fitzgerald’s works. Both Scott and Zelda’s fiction and real lives intertwine and touch upon opposing pillars of love and separation, frivolity and disillusionment.

Taking part in this transatlantic performance was an invaluable experience for our students. We believe in giving our students as many professional performance opportunities as possible during their short time studying with us.

Principal Jeffrey Sharkey

“This was a chance to perform to new international audiences and work in a collaborative, interdisciplinary manner, the very thing that makes RCS unique amongst the world’s leading conservatoires.”

Musical Theatre student, Grace Galloway, says it was a ‘mindblowing opportunity’ to take the production to the US: “I’m so passionate about new, collaborative work and the US audiences really connected with the piece; it was brilliant to get such great feedback.

“I was so honoured to be able to fly the RCS flag overseas and felt proud to represent the school, particularly speaking to people in New York who were thinking of applying here to study.

“It has opened my eyes to so many possibilities, not only geographically, but creatively too. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my time at RCS and something that I will be eternally grateful for.”

She believes such opportunities are invaluable to students’ learning and development: “I learnt so much, even in the short amount of time that I was away, which has helped me move forward in my career and training.”

Without this wonderful institution, and its continued belief in me and my ability, I would never have experienced this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Grace Galloway

Musical Theatre student