Reprinted from Community Engagement’s Swept Away Study Guide.
“The reason that I’m a writer today is because of Shakespeare, and falling in love with Shakespeare when I was eight.” — John Logan, playwright of Swept Away
John Logan is the playwright for Swept Away, which first premiered at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and has now made its way to Arena Stage. His ideas for the musical are rooted from the music of The Avett Brothers, specifically their 2009 album entitled Mignonette. Logan’s writing expertise grew from years of studying acting, Shakespeare, and developing his love for words and literature.
At an early age, John Logan moved to the US from Canada, where his family introduced him to the power of art and literature as a tool to change the world. He grew up reading poetry first, and soon developed an admiration for cinema. When his father showed him a film version of Hamlet, he was blown away by the acting and the text. Now, his name is synonymous with gripping storytelling and vivid character development.
THEATER, FILM, AND TV
Logan eventually moved to Chicago, where he studied theater at Northwestern University and jump-started his career as a playwright. His most famous works include the hit Broadway musical Moulin Rouge! (2018), which won 10 Tony Awards®, five Drama Desk Awards, and two Drama League Awards. His play Red (2009) earned him both a Tony Award for Best Play and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play in 2010. He is a multifaceted and highly accomplished writer whose career spans across creative realms. His extensive filmography as a screenwriter and producer includes Gladiator (2000), The Aviator (2004), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), and Hugo (2011), which has also won multiple awards and nominations. Additionally, he created and produced the cult hit series Penny Dreadful, captivating audiences with its rich storytelling and dark, gothic themes.
Logan made his feature directorial debut in 2022 with They/Them, a slasher film following a masked killer at a conversion camp.
In an interview with Berkeley Rep, Logan shared how he got started on working on Swept Away, “One morning, out of the blue, I got an email from someone I didn’t know. Matthew Masten asked if I thought the Avetts’ concept album Mignonette could make a stage musical. I instantly responded yes — and that I’m in! I was a fan. Then a casual fan — now a rabid fan. There is something unique and powerful about their songs: real storytelling and drama I thought would work well on stage. Plus, when you’re writing a musical you live with the music for years, so you have to love it and be continually inspired by it. The Avetts never disappoint and constantly inspire.”
He also shared his approach to writing Swept Away. “My process for creating the story and writing the book (script) was straightforward, if time intensive: I listened to every single Avett Brothers song and took notes on all of them. As I listened, characters began to emerge. The story and characters were built as I was choosing the songs for the show. It all came to life organically as the songs started settling into place within the narrative and the characters began to ‘sing.’”
Logan’s ability to craft engaging narratives across various genres cemented his reputation as a versatile and visionary writer.