I'm getting ready to fly to Boston tonight in advance of the world premiere of my musical adaptation of the iconic children's book Caps for Sale at Boston Children's Theatre. The very moment that rehearsals began also marked the start of ongoing, near-daily communication regarding the script and score with the fantastically gifted artistic team in Boston— BCT Executive Artistic Director (and show director) Burgess Clark and Music Director Austin Davy. I thought of the above Hitler quote when they respectfully requested a new opening ensemble number — and were hoping for it by the time of the next rehearsal. (The one in place was, admittedly, a little too dark and minor-key for this show.) I managed to crank out another number in near-record time, and it seemed to be exactly what the show needed. Other revision requests and script additions followed, some minor and others not so minor, but co-writer Gabe Carbajal and I immediately recognized that virtually all the suggestions that Burgess and Austin made were justified and bell-tone perfect, and will result in a much, much better show than we had any right to expect.
Just finished writing the score for a 30-minute holiday musical, and in record time, at least in my book. Four songs (7 including reprises) plus curtain call music for a project that was just a germ of an idea exactly one month ago. Carissa Meisner Smit and I were presented with a sudden production opportunity for a holiday short —if we could come up with a concept and working draft of a script within one month. She and I hammered out the story; then she went to work on the book and on I on the songs, and after a good deal of give-and-take we realized that we had a lovely little musical on our hands.
It can sometimes take me a month to write a ten-minute play, and anywhere from ten minutes to a couple of weeks to write a good song. So, what was up with this one? How did it fall into place so fast? Of course, there is nothing quite like a deadline to sharpen one's focus. But, more than that, I think we lucked into a nearly irresistible story: a kid with a heartfelt wish who takes us on a compelling journey of the heart, and discovers something wonderful about himself along the way.
This just reinforces for me the importance of story as the foundation of playwriting. Without a fantastic story, it's so easy to spin your wheels and go nowhere fast.
At a recent play festival, a young guy who looked vaguely familiar introduced himself to me. It turns out that the previous year he played Bobby Sinclair, a rookie shortstop, in my one-act play "A Place that Looks Like Davenport".
He told me that he's been using a speech from that play as his audition monologue for the last year. At that moment I felt full of gratitude for having chosen the path of playwriting. In fact, I was so surprised and touched by his remark that I forgot to ask him whether or not he's landed any roles.
Although I don't know for sure, my guess is that this is the speech he used:
"Pardon me for interrupting, but there’s something I need to tell you folks. You seem like such nice people, nicer than I could have ever imagined. And Jeffrey: well, when I saw his picture in the newspaper last month, it nearly broke my heart. The thing is...I ... never should never have taken that pitch in the first place. The count was 3 and O, as you know. We were ahead, five to one. That pitch was high and a bit outside. All I had to do was watch the pitch go by and I would have walked. You could say, ‘Well, maybe he thought that ball might sink into the zone,’ but everyone in the Midwestern League knows that Carl Brandt couldn’t throw a sinking ball to save his life. I had no business taking that pitch in the first place. I only wish I could take it back, ma’am. Sir. Please believe me. "
More often than not I'll have music playing in the background when I write (unless I'm writing a song). I find that it takes my characters to unexpected places; I'll often hear them saying things which take me completely by surprise. While I was writing The Italian Prisoner, a one-act play about an Italian opera singer who may or may not have collaborated with the Nazis, I found this clip, a captivating recording by Magda Olivera of Alfredo Catalani's opera Loreley. I played it repeatedly as I began shaping the story. I think that the lines that resulted revealed more about her character and history to me than I would arrived at through any amount of conscious deliberation.