Friday, 21 September 2018


I caught opening night of Mamma Mia! last night. I won't repeat what I say every time about the power of musical theatre when it's designed, built, staged and performed by pros. One of them, Stephanie Roth (who plays one of Donna's old pals) listened politely while I babbled on, repeating myself. (I had a serious crush on her Mary Poppins three years ago at Globe.) Ms Roth pointed out that in the course of its run, a show like Mamma Mia! relaxes into itself. I think she meant that once the show has reached its final form, it settles into a mature richness free of anxieties, uncertainties, doubts. Ever so subtle, this relaxing. A slight sag here, lift there. A second sooner or later with the next cue. That these performers do this without letting the show sag into lethargy--well, that's why and how they're pros. 

(I've heard actors talk about getting a show into their bones. Same thing. You don't have to learn it, you don't have to figure out where you're going. You know all that. Now you can let it sing.)

I've almost got my Oak Floors! to the point where it can relax into itself. This has been going on since I finished the first draft, which is why it felt important to get there. The piece is far from where it would be after a three-week rehearsal period with 20 actors, a 5-piece band, a director (and assistant), a choreographer, a stage manager (and two assistants), three designers (set, costume, lights), two operators (sound and lights), several dressers, not to mention the carpenters, painters, technicians, front-of-house and box office staff, and the admin apparatus of the theatre company. But I've got the walls up, at least, before the snow flies, and I can work on the interior details.
One correction from last entry: credit for the book of Mamma Mia! should go to Catherine Johnson, not Judy Craymer (who gets an "originally conceived by" credit.)

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Re Mamma Mia!

The other night I viewed a rehearsal run of Mamma Mia!opening this week at Globe Theatre in Regina. As directed by Stephanie Graham, the show offers more than a staging of ABBA ear-worm material. (But there be worms, nevertheless.) That is, the songs are presented as revelations of character, in keeping with most musical theatre practice these last few decades. 
As songs that are acted as well as sung, they tend to be slightly slower in tempo than we might remember, more thoughtful in delivery. The ABBA sing-along fans I observed in the audience might be disappointed by this approach, feeling that their unbridled enthusiasm for the music has been, well, bridled. 
It might be a concession to such a view that prompted the play's creator, Judy Craymer and company, to give us two ABBA hits, "Dancing Queen" and "Waterloo" (over to you, dear reader, with the ear-worm), after the story of the play has concluded. No holding back of tempo or tone here. ABBA fans can leap to their feet and turn them loose.
I took a notebook to the run, ready to jot down anything I thought I learned. In this case, I'm reminded of yet another Sondheim nugget--that the best songs are those that give the singer something to act. Pros that they are, these Globe actors  can make the songs envelope us, even sweep us away. 
Now I turn back to Oak Floors! with an eye to what its songs must do.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Oak Floors! Where are you now?

First draft finished at the Johnson House in Cypress Hills, I left the piece for 12 days and performed it for my sisters at Mabel Lake.

Wait a minute. By performed, I mean I tried to sing as much as I could in a voice as good as I could summon, forgetting the tune now and then (and without prop, set piece, lights, costumes, choreo, a band, and 500 bodies).

The result was not electric, but the audience was full of sisters (3). They were rapt and, I'll hazard a guess, enchanted for a moment or two.

I'll tell you, if I ever want to try that act again, I've got work to do.

Then I left the piece for a week but, now home, I have returned to it now. To flesh out the music and work on the long process of getting the whole thing out there. Watch this space for details!

Friday, 17 August 2018

A Stop

They'd scattered by the time I glimpsed a pair of ears, a fragment of tawny pelt. They'd been hearing me for 300 metres, no doubt. I saw no more of them, though I knew they hadn't gone far and I looked for them (carefully, I thought) as I walked. I realized that my best chance of seeing more was to stop.
Perhaps the same approach will work for a moment of Oak Floors! This moment--I'm ready to find, should it be ready to appear--will be what happens between (1) the climactic rooftop patio dance scene, and (2) when Patty returns to the Oak Floors, having, with everyone else, left the place for some reason. This moment may be brief or extended.
Other than the paragraph you just read--bless you for doing so, dear reader--I've stopped looking for this moment in favour of lunch, a walk, and a Diet Coke in the commercial core of Cypress Hills, Centre Block. Today, hot again, seems to be Ugly Hat day. I include my own hat, of course, in that snide assessment. 

Saturday, 11 August 2018


is what I say when anyone asks how it's going. You know how it is. You get to the end of a thing, and now the real work begins. My objective for these two weeks in Cypress is to finish the first complete draft of Oak Floors! With some scenes, I've already pressed ahead.
By "press," I mean narrow the focus to individual lyric or dialogue choices. This has gone on the whole time, of course, but somehow now, at this point, there's time to give even the smaller elements their moment of deep inspection.
I say "deep," but I'm well into a pint of IPA in a Cypress bar while checking my Blue Jay feed and keeping an eye on the PGA Championship. After an aqua-size session at the pool and a couple of naps, and much fly-swatting.
Such lollygagging might help, if it contributes to this "time" I claimed, a moment ago, I was taking with my musical. Seen another way, I'm stalling, for the closing number needs serious 
fleshing-out. Forget details, I'll settle for a complete scene.
In fact, I've imagined a doozy. Everyone has left the Oak Floors--their conversation carries them after a climactic dance scene on the rooftop patio--until talk turns to going back to the Oak Floors. They sing their reasons. But only Patty gets there. The others have drifted off. For the third time in the piece, she's alone in the vestibule, locked out.
I really shouldn't reveal if the door opens or not.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

A Digression

I'm retreating at the Johnson Cultural Centre in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. The Johnsons (whose custom-designed, fieldstoned, Danish modern, skylit house--bequeathed to the Friend of Cypress Hills Inc. as an artist retreat--contains hundreds of books) believed in reading about everything. From a Casey Stengel bio through bestsellers, encyclopedia, books on birds and wine and Napoleon, classics of English and American lit, how to win at backgammon, railroads of western Canada . . . to John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley, a book I love. 
It's graceful and potent, funny and sharp, supple as the swat end of a flyswatter. That last bit I just threw in. Here in the Johnsons' kitchen (through the two windows to the right of the front steps in the photo) a couple of flies are going at it--and they're gonna get it--between the blind and the window.
I took a break from Oak Floors! to walk and do this entry. And read--how good to read the Steinbeck again.
I might even borrow this nugget: that the only cure for loneliness is being alone (or words to that effect). Not about myself, mind you, but the janitor, in Oak Floors! (through which I've been progressing a scene at a time by moving around upstairs, in the mornings before it gets too hot up there). 
Completion of first draft, here I come.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Why Me, Rhyme?

I hope I'm cautious enough not to fetishize--an incautious word--the ideas of Stephen Sondheim, the legendary Broadway lyricist and composer. (But for one thing, his two volumes of annotated lyrics--Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat--contain some of the best writing I've seen anywhere lately. I refer to the commentaries.)
For Sondheim, rhyme matters. "True" (bone/phone) not "near"(bone/home). "A perfect rhyme can make a mediocre line bright and a good one brilliant," he writes. "A near rhyme only dampens the impact" (Finishing xxvi). (I should point out that he's talking about song lyrics, not poems.) He says it another way: "A perfect rhyme snaps the word, and with it the thought, vigorously into place, rendering it easily intelligible; a near rhyme blurs it" (xxvii).

In this, as in other ways, Sondheim inspires my work through Oak Floors! and my habit of packing my Merriam-Webster's Pocket Rhyming Dictionary wherever I go. "The sounds we rhyme with come at the end of the word, beginning with the vowel sound in the word's last syllable," notes the PRD, a tad clumsily.

Here's my latest--an observation to a cat-owner at the end of his/her rope:
Whiskers was fun, then a nightmare
of fits and spits and kitty-snits galore.
Matters had sunk to the point where
to get some sleep you'd seal your bedroom door.

Out of context, maybe also in context, such versifying seems silly, unless the piece works out. People come to Evelyn (the observer) with their cat problems. Which she can solve. What Evelyn discovers, however, is that dear Whiskers, in the end, doesn't matter. What matters is the human connection between cat-owner and what Evelyn becomes: cat-whisperer. "It's you feelin' the feline blues," as she says.

Anyway, I've spent more time on that verse while writing this blog entry than I'd spent on it before. My point is that rhyme is hard as hell to pull off if development of story and character is the objective, not chuckles or wit. Evelyn in this scene, if it's to remain a scene, must get us from cat to cat-whisperer to whisper. That intimate.

This kind of thing is fun, if you like puzzles.

Oh yes, then the music comes in.