Take Five with Goddesses Ciana Proto and Haley Pilkington

Photo by Erika Lynum

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 21 – Fall 2022

Hello! We are Ciana Proto and Haley Pilkington, a writing and performing duo currently based in NYC! We first met at Drew University and spent four years sharing classes, late-night rehearsals, silly misadventures, and many, many soul-bearing conversations. Since we graduated, we’ve stayed connected, collaborating on various projects as well as encouraging each other’s individual journeys! Haley went on to complete her Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Essex in England, and Ciana continued to write and develop her own artistry in Colorado and all over the US during that time! 

Reconnecting in our work over ‘The Goddess Project’ has been an incredibly fruitful and encouraging collaboration! We enjoy such a wide breadth of music from Joni Mitchell to The Chicks, Nina Simone, Hozier to Rihanna, and of course, the Practical Magic soundtrack! (It’s excellent!) We also love the music that comes from the people close to us. Michael Manzi and Hearts Open are out here doing some really great work! 

Currently, ‘The Goddess Project’ has the lion’s share of our attention. We’ve been developing it for over a year, and we are just getting started! We’re exploring friendship and femininity and the stories of these magnanimous Goddesses who live in and inspire us. It’s been such fun to play the music from our show at various places on the Lower East Side, and we hope to continue to do so! However, the upcoming premiere of our full script at The New York Theatre Festival this November is hopefully the beginning of a long life for our story.

“All the music in ‘The Goddess Project’ has grown to support a play and a story about two young women discovering their divine femininity as their strengths and vulnerabilities come to light. Come see the first ever full production this November.”

You describe The Goddess Project as “a metatheatrical rock musical about friendship, feminism & Greek Mythology.” Tell us about the inspiration behind this project and how the two of you came together on this collaboration.

C: The songs came first. In a period of disillusionment, I found myself wanting to create; I didn’t care what medium. I heard a quote about directing that said, “Find a story you love, and tell it.” Simple, I know. But it struck me. I went out the next day and bought a book of Greek Mythology; I‘d always loved those stories. The songs sort of fell out after that. The project seemed to have a natural theatricality about it, and I wanted to explore that aspect, so I brought it to Haley.

H: I have always been a big fan of Ciana’s music, and a little over a year ago, when I was in London, we would talk over Facetime, and she started playing me these incredible songs. I remember her playing “Athena” for me, and I thought, “this has to be something.” Each song has its own energy, its own character, and we discovered that there was a larger story waiting to be told. So, we started writing it! I left London and stayed in Colorado for a while, and we spent our time writing and rewriting, and letting those vast Mountains inspire us. Our play has evolved to center around a friendship, not unlike ours, and a writing process that helps each character connect to the Goddesses within her. We recognized that this story and this collaboration were going to be magic, so we made plans to bring it to New York!

What was the songwriting process?
Different for each one, honestly. Some just fall out in 10-20 minutes. You know the whole thing, you’ve got the right words… It just happens. I love those quick, magic songs, but more often than not, they take more time and a little necessary aggravation! I wrote “Persephone & Demeter” in 10 minutes. But “Athena” had like 20 different verses before I found the right story arc and the right rhythm, and that took weeks. Other songs take months. Sometimes I’ll find part of the song: the chorus or a verse or two, and a good chord progression for one but not the other. Or just a little chunk that sits in a notebook for ages until the random day I figure it out. It’s unpredictable and challenging, but there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finishing a song and really loving it.

What do you hope your fans/listeners take away with them when they see and hear the music from The Goddess Project?
All the songs are based on a different Goddess or mythological character, and they revel in their individual stories, each embracing their own power. As we worked on this show, we took hold of the notion that each Goddess lives and exists within every person too. Some characteristics may be more prominent than others, but every Goddess has a presence in each of us. Our rage, our strength, our sensuality, our grief… and we hope the Goddesses help our audience celebrate the totality of who they are. Every strength, every flaw.

Ciana, this question is for you. When did you first pick up the guitar, and what drew you to that instrument?
I first picked up a guitar when I was 13! I was looking for a way to express myself, and there were songs I wanted to sing! I always loved telling stories, and music was always a big part of our family life, so I don’t think songwriting and the like were too much of a stretch. And guitars are cool! You can’t be an angsty little Avril Lavigne if you don’t have a guitar to strum furiously!

And lastly, here is an open-ended question for both of you – music to me means . . .

H: Music to me means connection and expression. My musical journey started on piano, then transitioned to voice, where I was able to find my own little escape. Now, I view music as a way to relate to others and go on a different type of journey. I love the moments where your musical expression matches or compliments another person’s, and you are able to connect in a deeper way. That’s where the magic happens for me.

C: Haley said it right just then. It’s where the magic happens. Music tells stories; music helps you cry or dance… It sends shivers and goosebumps. Sometimes a really good guitar solo, or the quality of someone’s voice, it just gets under your skin. Music brings us all a little closer to each other. You don’t have to know it or understand it technically or perfectly to ‘get it.’ Music is for all of us… it’s a natural, magical occurrence.