Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Patty

Somebody said Patty was an old name that, therefore, didn't work for the 20-something university student (on the delayed degree plan) in Oak Floors! Maybe so, but Patty is still Patty.
In an hour I'm going to meet an actor/singer to hear her try out three of Patty's songs. This is to check the vocal range and to see what character emerges through the song. 
Carter is working on the music, producing lead sheets (melodies and chords) that notate more sophisticated harmonies than I provided with my simple piano versions (that, no matter how simple, are a challenge for me to play).
There's also a Patty in the Frontenac, where I live, but I didn't know that when I came up with the name.
If Patty becomes a problem, I'll try Abbey.

Friday, 11 January 2019

How Long

I'm always saying how long it takes. As in, "How's the musical going?" "Well, it's a long-term process." 
Last night I met with Carter Powley, a musician who has agreed to convert, for a fee, my simplistic piano versions of 15 tunes to lead sheets--melodies with chords (more sophisticated, harmonically) and tempo markings. Any skilled musician will be able to play the tunes with the lead sheet alone. And down the line, a Music Director for the world premiere of Oak Floors! could use the lead sheets as a basis for full scoring of the tune.
This is the kind of moment that keeps the project alive and moving ahead. Slowly.
Here's another one: I got home from the meeting to find a memo from Frontenac Apartment management. (There is already a song in the show called "Put It In a Memo.") This one offers "rental incentives," which gives me an idea for a song made of monologues in which my characters offer incentives . . . No idea yet how or why they would do this, or when, but it's one of those promising notes for future development and, therefore, another alive-and-moving-ahead moment.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Getting It On

Robert McQueen notes that to build your show, you have to get it on its feet. In the case of Oak Floors!--now somewhere into its second draft with three songs cut, two more written (lyrics only) in the last month--exactly. I can read the thing, let somebody else read it forever. But until I get it on its feet, with music, in front of an audience, it will never reach whatever potential it might possess.
Today I finished listening to the cast recording of Fun Home. Devastating. Worthy of endless study for music and story structure.
That brings me back to McQueen, who directed the Toronto revival last year. He's coming to Regina soon to co-teach, with Globe Theatre Artistic Associate Stephanie Graham, a one-week musical theatre intensive workshop in the middle of Feb. Yours truly will be on hand.
However great that week will be, it's not an on-its-feet thing for my Oak Floors!
What is, is the TicTocTen Short Performance Festival in March, at which I and one actor and one musician will do one piece from the play. A little scene in which Pete, the complainer, goes on about the size of trucks these days, until he ends up driving off in one. (Frivolous, to be sure. Especially after having evoked the wonderful Fun Home.)
Little by little. Thursday I'm meeting with the musican/composer Carter Powley about his work producing lead sheets or piano reductions of 15 or so songs from Oak Floors! Tonight I'll read a chapter or two in Music and Words: Creating the Broadway Musical Libretto, by Lehman Engel with annotations by Howard Kissel. Tomorrow I'll work on Act Two of the play, then drive to my first creative writing class of the semester, the Broadway revival cast recording of Porgy and Bess playing along. 
By all these means--the work, the reading, the listening, the meeting--the cause advances, one hopes.
Of course, every so often (maybe daily, maybe not for a month, maybe in the middle of the night) I wonder just what the hell I think I'm doing. As I've said here before, the answer is easy: I'm digging the challenges, the impossibility, the slow accumulation of clarity re my project, the belief that this is what I've always been  working toward. 
We'll see.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Breakthrough

Since my stint in Cypress Hills in early September, the text of Oak Floors! turned over by about 5% at most. That changed today. It was the middle of last night when I woke up with an idea for a rhythm with which, guided by the Flaneur, we could hear five characters (four individuals and a couple) identify themselves and their stories in about a hundred words each. The scene establishes their isolation from one another. Which is about to change when Patty gets down to business. Jettisoned is the long-time opening scene in a downtown park, where miscellaneous urbanites, busy at their newsfeeds during their lunch hours, sing of the walls--different ones in each case--that tend to hold us but, paradoxically, give us something to sing about. That scene was one of the first ones to get written down, over a year ago. I've long wanted it to work but, for now at least, it's out.
Why I call all this a breakthrough is that the rightness of the new opening derives from emotion rather than analysis. It feels satisfying, and I'm pretty sure it will tomorrow too.
I notice, too, that the new opening addresses some of the concerns I may have been pooh-poohing in previous entries. I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to check back and see.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Workshop

Yesterday seven actors came over to the Frontenac amenities room to workshop Oak Floors! I was by far the most scared person in the room. In fact, I wanted to disappear and have the work go on without me. What cheered me enormously was the commitment of the actors, who launched into a run of the script (without music), an hour-long talk about what they'd noticed in their speaking and hearing the piece, and another run. Their insights and questions will fuel my ongoing work on this show for weeks.
Although I'd hauled a keyboard down to the room, we never used it. The actors--none of them known as musical theatre performers--confined their enthusiasm to the words. I was too shy, perhaps too fatigued from a late-night Frontenac Christmas party in this very room the night before, to propose trying out a few melodies.
But that's what has to happen from now on. The piece is a musical. No more readings of text only. No more presentation of the piece without its full repertoire of effects.
Still, insights. One of the things the actors talked about was wanting to know more back story of certain characters so we could understand why they do what they do. Yes, Cec complains about the size of trucks these days (even though he wouldn't mind owning one). But why. Evelyn apparently transitioned in the past from nurse to cat-whisperer. But why. 
I've understated that sort of thing, as a poet would (a poet like yours truly anyway). Somehow, a generalized group dynamic, rather than individual transformation, has been the story of the piece. We see people in a moment of time, then in a later moment. More cross-section than longitudinal. (This would be in keeping, I suppose, with my long-standing poet's take on the work of a poem, which is that its story or extended metaphor or any other version of through-line meaning or intent matters less than what happens where one line breaks to another--a horizontal, rather than vertical, orientation is how I see it.)
So I've composed my little ship of fools, my Oak Floor's worth of characters who suffer their own forms of loneliness and their own attempts at love, who live within their own walls until they come together a little. 

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Rhymin Time

Just now on CBC Music I heard the Paul McCartney single "Come On To Me" then, streaming Hit Musicals, heard "Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof.  I invite you to compare rhymes in the two songs. You might find that too many rhymes like McCartney's drive you nuts. If so, you are convinced that precision of rhyming--the search for pure rhyme--is essential for the selling of any song to its audience. A musical theatre audience, that is. If a character has broken into song, it had better work.
Of course, I have nothing against consuming some good Paul McCartney and listening to pop hits. But when I'm writing a musical, I need to work in a different way, rhyme-wise.
A related point, re Oak Floors! Once in a while someone asks me what style of music I've written. I say, well it's a mixture, or some such thing. Not a great answer, I admit, but I can't think of what else to call it. Until now. It's pop--songs that are simple harmonically, rhythmically, melodically (yikes, enough of that list) but work, maybe, if they have the right drive. Maybe I've held the piece back by trying to make the music for it.
The maybes come thick and fast, in the Oak Floors! trip.
Speaking of which, tomorrow I start a week of determined tour though the whole piece, checking scenes, lines, tunes and lyrics and the rest, preparing for the workshop on December 8th (those seven actors I've hired, if you remember, Dear Reader).
But tonight, The Hobbit opening at Globe Theatre.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Costume

I caught a cue-to-cue day at rehearsal for The Hobbit at Globe Theatre. "Costume Parade, 4:30" said the schedule. A chance for director, designers, wardrobe people and stage management to see the costumes under the lights. There was much tugging at hairpieces, collars and hems. Many vests and cloaks held open for a fastener check. Show boots tested for ease of movement. All of this happens in a series of conversations in one corner of the stage. When the parade is over, the actors go back to the dressing room. They get the supper break before it's time to get ready for tonight's run of the full show.
I'd learned before that for actors whose aim is to get the show into their bodies, the arrival of the costume--often not until a few days before opening night--is another hill to climb. Imagine working out precisely what your body should do, then tacking on extra weight, re-distribution of balance, wider footprint, more noise, and increased danger of snag. No wonder actors like to get the final versions of their costumes and props as soon as possible in the rehearsal process. 
My introduction to this idea was observing the actor who played Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins in 2015. When everyone else wore all manner of work-out or dance footwear, this actor wore points, as we used to call these long, thin dress shoes that seemed half again as long as our foot. Turns out, these were Mr. Banks' shoes. Might as well start wearing them right now.
During the costume parade the other day, the director wondered if they could try a different wig for Bilbo. Someone from Wardrobe went to get the wig worn by a certain Romeo. As soon as Bilbo put it on, he was inviting the ladies back to the dressing room, etc. All in fun. At this stage in the rehearsal journey, everyone can use a laugh.