Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Today, the Musical, Part Four or So

The minute I turn from composing the piece to talking about the piece--say, for a grant application--the thing threatens to dry up. But today did bring an idea or two. 
1
I'd been thinking of how to move what I might call poems--really just a series of character sketches, not unlike many poems I've written--to what I might call songs. Working the former into the latter. Instead, maybe the song can move to where the poem is. If I have something that works as poem, find a way to sing it.
2
The play involves people who live in an apartment building, a setting that offers potential for both individual and group exploration. I'd been thinking that sooner or later, likely later in Act Two, a meeting of the Tenants' Committee would be a chance for the individuals to sing in duos, trios, etc., maybe even by way of resolution/climax, but don't quote me on that. Anyway, today |I realized that I'll need an earlier iteration of a group voice in some form. A scene writ smaller than the TC meeting, but building toward it.
3
The cast of characters, and their individual developments, must remain fluid at this point. So far, one of them is the live-in janitor who at one point takes the woman in the vestibule to an (imaginary) patio on the building roof. His doing so, and his singing up there, doesn't fit with the "silent one" tag I've stuck on this guy so far. But that's the kind of work I'll have to do with all these characters. Find out who they are, and let them be true to it.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Musical, the Idea

I meant to start sooner in telling you how things are going with the musical I'm writing. Since it occurred to me that as long as I get one useful idea per day, work is moving ahead (unlike, say, construction on Lorne street in Regina) I'm going to try daily entries on the idea of the day.
Today it was the old man and the old woman. I'd listed them with about a dozen others as characters who lived in a heritage apartment in a western prairie city. I came up with an idea for a song. 
He:      Old man.
She:     Old woman. Old man,
He:       Old woman,
is how it begins. This comes from reading Stephen Sondheim's commentary on Irving Berlin about keeping it simple. Hard to do.
Anyway, the man and woman get to a song called "Body Flaws," several verses leading to a refrain, as in,
He:     We've got a lot of parts to our bodies.
She:    We've put a lot of feet in our shoes.
He:     Not wearing shoes.
She:    You should try it
Both:   (with a jump) and diet!
He:     Ah, what the hell . . .
She:    We all hear the bell
Both:   that tolls for our body flaws.
Not sure how to stage it yet. But that's the kind of thing I've been after so far today. 
The man and woman decide to go swimming at an outdoor pool, an obvious golden-tan-mine of body looks and images.
It may turn out by the end of the song that all this has been some kind of dream/fantasy (a stock element in musicals of the past), and we see the two of them in their living room, reading. A tremolo sustains in the score but no other sound, light or action. To black.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Wet

But it wasn't the other day.











I'd stopped in at Tangerine for a coffee. Bless their hearts, they still play satellite jazz, the only place that does. This was quarter to five, driest summer since 1887.

"Hot, the Musical," is how I might say it, given the weather and all these musicals I've been reading and listening to. I'm going for rhyme in pieces I'm writing. I'm aiming for song.

Hot, too, the jazz--contemporary, free-form, with a mix of classics. The musicians push the far edges, both in charge of and carried by the settings they create.

Today's sky, to name one, I was about to finish my americano and crash. For the fortieth day of the last forty-four, the shadows cut sharply wherever they fall.

Playing Sweeney Todd

Tonight I'm playing Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and reading Stephen Sondheim's lyrics. Act One is just over and I've leapt to my feet.
I can say I've always loved Broadway show tunes. I heard them at home as a boy. Dad had joined the Columbia Record Club, or one like it, and the Rogers and Hammerstein sang out from our mahogany living room in Herbert.
Musical theatre as an art form, however, didn't sink in until I got hooked on Mary Poppins at Globe Theatre two years ago, when I was retiring from Luther, launching Hillsdale Book, and writing A Round for Fifty Years: a History of Regina's Globe Theatre. Working on the book during the rehearsal period of the show, I became so inspired by the excellence of cast and crew that I built in a Mary Poppins diary into the book, making of point of finishing the first draft of the complete text on opening night.
Something like that happened again during the recent run of The Little Mermaid at Globe, for which I was hired to do a live audio commentary, delivered via mic and earphones to vision-impaired patrons. I felt as if I had a small stake in the delivery of the show. But more than that, I fell in love with the cast--the brilliance of their work as singers and dancers and actors, the genial hand of Stephanie Graham as Choreographer and Director.
Here's the kicker: I was deeply moved by these performances. As in, to tears. Such shows are products of the Disney musical theatre machine but high-end products, artfully composed, that sent me trembling into the night, wondering where I'd been.
So I've decided to write a musical. I might as well say it. It will take a long time. Lots of time to listen and study and write. 
Hence my viewing of Newsies (Broadway hit, 2011, also a Disney product) on film at the Cineplex last Saturday. Original Broadway cast. It was stunning. Think Brando, think Baryshnikov. And they could sing.
And kicker of kickers, tonight I played Act One of Sweeney Todd, with Len Cariou as the barber and Angela Lansbury as his co-conspirator. (Spoiler: he slits their throats upstairs, she serves them in pies downstairs.) Unfuckinbelievably good, this show. 
I'm trying to learn why all these shows--and a shout out to Kinky Boots, which I saw in Toronto in '15--move me so. I'm teaching myself. 

Monday, 24 April 2017

Day After

I wonder how a writing moment full of motion is like any in a game you're playing. Hockey or ball, I mean. Waiting for the fly ball to come down. Or a split second from crashing with boards, puck, and back-checker who may or may not be taking a run at you, at the same time. ("If it feels so good, it ain't ever going to lie," I heard just now in a song lyric on CBC, but that's not what I'm saying.) 
The word time doesn't quite apply to any of those moments. So why use it. Ok, deleted. 
Hitched as it is to the past, now has no meaning except more of it. 
I think that's what athletes love about play-offs. They get pure, the players do. Beyond language, my cue to end this entry. 
There's nothing I need add about the Maple Leafs. They're out. 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Sight of Day

        Can’t stand the sight of day is a claim I cannot make. At any gas station along the Trans-Canada or highway 3 west of Medicine Hat, “half-decent out there” / “gettin’ there” is conversation anyone can do. Not even the light industrial landscape of southern Alberta, with its canals and irrigation rigs and wires, can take away a day like this, +15 at times, highway dry.
Dry as a bone, I’d thought, pulling into the graveyard in my home town four hours ago. I have a photo from there, three sisters around the grave of a fourth, baby Jennifer Donna, as the headstone says. She’s buried near a pine tree up the south slope. Up on the flat, the newer graves—Jennifer died in 57—spread east as if about to re-occupy the town.
What I remember of the day she was buried is not being allowed to go out to the burial. The kids don’t need to be there, is the kind of thing dad would say. I don’t remember grief, just the pantlegs of the adults back at our house afterwards.
Beyond the graveyard and the CP mainline next to it, the old #1 highway crumbles along east-west, what pavement looks like left for forty years. Readers of that text called “To Be Opened In the Event of My Death” will know that I’ve asked for my ashes to be scattered along that stretch of ex-highway through Herbert forty years ago replaced by the four-lane south of town.
Well I’ve changed my mind. Plant me on the flat above Jennifer Donna. And come on out and say hello some March 15th years from now, there by the tracks and highway, when winter shows signs of letting go.
















Friday, 10 March 2017

Nelson, BC

I lived in Nelson in '81-82, a student at David Thompson University Centre (DTUC), where my first three creative writing teachers were Fred Wah, Tom Wayman, and Dave McFadden. I felt lucky to be learning from them, and have remained so ever since. It's not much of a stretch to say that everything I do as a writer carries a grain of what I learned. Not just individually, Wah-Wayman-McFadden as a group made for a vital blend of approaches to pretty much everything. 
So, in Nelson on March 17 I plan to read poems from my first and last books (a span of thirty years) which shimmy with residue of my first three teachers. 
More on this later.