Bret Martin, John Shillington and Robin Eschner began work on A Song For Vanya in the early part of 2002. Their collaboration was one in which the three of them met several times a week, choosing sections with the best potential to become songs and working out details of lyrics and melodies. In-between these meetings it might have gone like this… Bret on his own - writing out volumes of lyrics, Bret and John brainstorming over lyrics or melodies, Robin and Bret meeting to revisit every word and turn of phrase, Robin and John pushing a melodic line to a new place. John was always tweaking the script. Robin worked steadily on the music - adding harmonies for the voices, composing for the instruments, and producing the scores. At the next group meeting they would review everything new and re-work it on the spot. There was always much give and take. It was an extremely successful and exciting collaboration for all.
After the first workshop of A Song for Vanya in August, 2002, Shillington, Martin, and Eschner asked for written feedback from the audiences. People loved the music and wanted more. So the three reworked the piece, trans-forming much of the remaining dialogue into nine new songs, smoothing out transition zones between spoken words and song, and shortening the overall length to just over 2 hours. Following a second workshop presentation in the summer of 2003, the Sonoma County Repertory Theater (voted Best Theater Company in Sonoma County for 2002, 2005, 2006) opted to produce the musical for a 5-week run beginning that October. The last half of the run sold out nightly and the show was held over. After that, Berkeley Repertory Theater backed A Song For Vanya for submission into the NAMT new works competition.