Sunday, 15 July 2018

Oak Floors: The Building

Dedicated followers of what I do online--good windy evening, Aunt P and Uncle Q--will recall a thing called "Building Poem Building" in which I tracked, complete with 24/7 webcam, the construction of two residence towers on the URegina campus in the summer of 2003.
Sorry, I just searched to see if there might be a link but couldn't find one. I did, however find this review of Hillsdale Book, my 2015 poetry collection published by NeWest Press. I mention this now because of a realization I've come to about Oak Floors!, this musical I'm writing. 
The realization--which already seems obvious, even before I utter it--is that the building itself, the Oak Floors, is the main character of the piece. I'd been leaning toward the young university student (Patty), or the self-taught janitor, or the wildcard/historian/spirit-of-the-hallway I've called the flaneur [with the triangle over the a] as the figure we care most about. Imagining the physical/historical building as the main player, with characters fit around its narrative, seems a useful way to go. (And, I suppose, would be in keeping with what I've always done in my books, which is to start with the where.)
So the play moves into the vestibule, through front door, along the hallways, into the boiler room and individual suites, into the Amenties room (Amen!) and, in the climax of the piece, up to the rooftop patio one starry night. Add scenes in a downtown park at the top and second from the end, and a scene of straggling back to the Oak Floors, and I've got myself a complete first draft of the piece, when I've got it.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Oak Floors!

I've long enjoyed the word quixotic. From a distance. None of its connotations of flighty, capricious, hastily imagined or luck-based seemed trustworthy. It helped to read enough of Cervantes to appreciate our Don Quixote, from whose name, of course, the word derived. Don Q was an innocent, a pure believer. Delusions? Nah.
So goes the thinking that leads me to/from calling my pursuit of Oak Floors! (which, as you see, I now write with the exclamation point, as in Oklahoma!) quixotic. It truly is the impossible dream, if such a thing once existed. There are so many reasons it won't work that it takes one really good one--my own determination to succeed--to sustain the project. That and the small daily solutions to some self-imposed problem.
These small solutions don't amount to a hill of beans, even a Hill of beans, except that as long as they keep coming, I know I'm alive. Yesterday: instead of finding five or six spots for a series of memos that chronicle the ever-closer conversion of the Oak Floors to condos, I'll put them all in a single song, which I'll have to write.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018


The question I was asking myself about two hours ago--seated near the NE corner of Victoria park--was "What works better for the audience right now? does the audience need right now?" and, "What does the audience need?"
I do not refer here to the audience of taste-makers, critics, peers, world at large. I refer to the people who share the space at the moment of performance. I think the questions are useful ones. A poor answer, one might argue, means a poor show.
A related matter--the matter of the button. In the marching band I grew up in, we called it a shock note. In the jazz big band, we called it a shot. In musical theatre, it's the button--that concluding chord/note/expression that says "it's time to clap--stop the show if you want to." 
If there's anything to the theory, articulated elsewhere in this blog--you might have to dig back to April, 2014, to entries written in the flamenco bars in Andalusia--that the most satisfying performance is one in which the mutual needs of both performer and audience are met, then we need the button. The audience can empty itself of response, ready to load more. The performers, knowing their piece has done its work, are ready to work the next piece. 
Without the button, we're not sure whether to clap or not. The play seems to want to move on. If we clap, we miss dialogue. But that choreo was sensational. We need a chance to acknowledge. 
Of course it's artificial--the notion that after a song or dance we pause for clapping. Except that we need it. Emotionally. 
one in which the mutual needs of performer and audience 

Thursday, 7 June 2018


The piece might end this way: Everyone's trudging, contentedly, back to the Oak Floors, having just finished a big number singing its virtues, and plentiful doubts. One by one, the characters veer off, with a wave to those remaining, and to audience. Patty is the last one.
She looks at the door (twice before she'd forgotten her key), at the audience. A pause. And it opens. She disappears inside, good-bye. To black.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Re The Music Man

In this show, the classic which won the Tony Award for Best Musical ahead of West Side Story in whatever year that was, 1957 or so, much selling occurs. The travelling flim-flammer, Harold Hill, separates gullible townsfolk from their money to pay for a boys' band. Marion the Librarian, who sees through him easily, nevertheless falls in love with him. Shy, lisping kids become confident teens. The townspeople, with no musical training from Hill (who has none either), become a polished marching band equipped with a full set of instruments and brand new uniforms. All petty squabbling and hard times vanish. Contemporary audiences must tolerate the sexist dynamics of pre-World War I Middle America. Not to mention the usual conventions of musical theatre, which require us to accept that people keep breaking into song and ensemble dance numbers. These dance numbers are sensational--true show-stoppers--and most of the songs utter winners. But the show will work only if all the selling works. All the selling, every bit of it. And that job falls mainly to the central performer. Harold Hill has to dazzle us all, has to make us believe it all, has to cast the spell that gets us all prancing through the town to "76 Trombones." On Broadway, and in the 1962 movie, that performer was Robert Preston, who pulled it off. In the case of the revival I saw at the Stratford Festival the other night, however, the performer (whose name I'll look up later) didn't. Why would Marion fall in love with this guy? How did the band come together? Where did they get those uniforms and those horns? How did the spirits of the entire community somehow lift? Why didn't the locals run such an obvious grifter out of town as soon as they heard his sketchy pitch? In our me too moment, why would we bother with such sexist clap-trap? If any one of these questions trouble us, the show won't work. 
This kind of thing highlights for me the stakes of trying to do what I'm trying to do. Anything is possible--you'll all be marching!--but the material (book, music, lyrics) has to be written in such a way, and the performers have to sell it in such a way, that you'll believe, that you'll freely and utterly suspend your dis-belief. 
Good luck with that, I say to myself, taking heart from the many years (and trials and cuts and revisions) Meredith Wilson took to get his show to the stage.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Finish Line

At about the time my students seemed inclined to stop working in the winter semester--around mid-March--I pitched the example of the Olympic sprinter, who must run through the finish line, not just to it. 
Though the context differs, I thought of my sprinter again when I opened my Oak Floors binder at Stone's Throw this afternoon. My first impulse was to find my way back to where I'd already been, more or less, which is where almost every bit of writing I've done in the last year has gone. No wonder the thing is moving so slowly. I'm seeing only one direction: the show. What if I wrote through it to somewhere else?
Nevertheless, I offer for the first time this entirely preliminary sketch of Act Two, beginning with song titles:
"Names." Patty arrives again at the front door of her heritage apartment, locked out.
"Cuts That Won't Heal." In the Amenities Room (AR), someone proposes a talking game, and a few people accept.
"Hey, Janitor." Patty and the Janitor take what might be step 2 in some kind of romance.
"What Kind of Boy or Girl Were You?" Continuation of AR game.
"You Gotta Be a Fan." Evelyn's tribute to professional sports.
"Him and Her." Joe, from the kitchen, and Beck, from the laundry room, sing a duet, a love song.
[no song yet] Continuation of AR game. (Thus, one of the ways people come together in this piece is around the games table.)
"You Have to Believe It Happens." Step 3 for Patty and the Janitor, on the rooftop patio. (Step 1, in Act One, was their visit over coffee in the basement boiler room.)
"Each Other's Song." As in, what they become verses in. 
The End

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

First and Last

Though I prefer the scene I'll link to later, this ending to The Music Man (the movie) is not bad. Being an old marching band kid helps (me, that is).
The marching gets ragged. Sure as shit, Hollywood has fucked up the simple act of people keeping time with their feet. I've always found the song ("Seventy-six Trombones") corny. That a marching band would achieve utter cultural dominance of a community to the point that every single person, young or old, prances along with the band . . .
In Regina today at the theatre, "Big at the start, big at the end," said the director, referring to tomorrow's sing/read-through for theatre staff. The full ensemble having arrived only two days ago, two songs is all we've had time for. Let's make them the first and last.
That takes us to "Fugue for Tinhorns," the smash opening of Guys and Dolls, here presented in its movie version. This scene suggests the voices, styles and times we're about to experience, but none of the central characters. It's a joy of its own, especially as played by these actors, whose names I'll look up later.