Friday, 2 November 2018

Readers

I blurted out at the Smith-Robinson "Affirmation Station" session at the SWG conference recently (oh my god, syllable overload), "Right now two people are reading my new work. They haven't said anything yet, but I'm thrilled."
Truly a writer's best friend, dear readers.
Yes, and then they spoke. Both theatre pros, one provided serious notes on structure, rhyme, purpose, story, musical theatre conventions. The other spoke at the level of feel.
I was grateful for both. Together they found the piece worthy of serious commentary, and affecting.  
Their responses may hinge on what they want from a story in a musical. Every song must move the story along by wrenching one or more characters in a dynamic of wanting and/or not getting. Or the story accumulates rather than systematically builds. (Already these words are hopelessly inadequate. If those two readers read this, they won't recognize the ideas.)
So I'm back to the beauty of having readers. I've noticed--it doesn't take many, especially in the long-term route I seem to be taking with this work, when a single response from a respected source fuels the next chunk of work.
To close on a more specific note, I want to write one more song before I send the script to those actors early next week. I want the song to do some persuading. (Note to self: I'll leave the music out of it for now. Maybe the music dumbs me down!)

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Workshop Pitch


I sent this out to seven actors this morning . . .

Hi ______
I’d like to hire you to join six other actors and me to a table read/workshop of my musical called Oak Floors! The session will happen Saturday, December 8, 1:00-5:00 at the Frontenac apartment, 2022 Lorne Street. I offer you $75 and my hospitality (snacks, beverages) for your work.
Some background: I’ve become addicted to musical theatre and for the past 15 months have been writing a musical as a way of understanding why I love them so. First draft is now completed. It needs to get out of my head and into the voices of talented actors like you. So we’ll run the piece, stopping as required. Spoken only, no singing (though I’ll have a keyboard on hand in case you want to hear what I have in mind for melody and groove—yes, groove!—of each song).
I’ll be a host and guide, not a Director. What I want to find out is how the characters sit with you when you play them, what your sense is of who they are.
Of course, I’m terrified at the prospect of showing the piece to such vets as you guys, but it will be a great help in moving the piece along past this first draft.
A word about the piece itself. It involves seven people (actually six and a kind of spirit figure) who live in a heritage apartment. They seem to be exploring love in a time of loneliness, or the other way around. The building itself is like a character with a past, present, future, like its residents. It’s a light-ish piece, at times playful, at times more serious.
I hope this invitation interests you. If it does, please let me know and I’ll deliver a script. Then we’ll meet on December 8 and go at it.
Thanks very much for considering the invitation. I’d be happy to answer questions if you have any.
With best wishes for the autumn and beyond,
Gerry Hill


So far, three enthusiastic "yes" and one enthusiastic "I'm in a show in Saskatoon but I'd drive down if you switched the workshop to a Monday."



Sunday, 14 October 2018

An American in Paris, the Musical

I saw it last night but nearly didn't bother, remembering the Kelly/Caron film I could never quite get through. This stage musical, filmed in the West End 4 years ago, was something else--its book based on, but so much richer than, the 60+-year-old movie.

Every scene was symphonic in scope. For instance, the iconic "I Got Rhythm"--I forgot to mention, songs by the Gershwins--swelled and subsided over and over, each peak surpassing, unbelievably, the one before.

Remember after viewing La La Land and thinking, Yeah, nice movie but I wish they'd used real dancers? Well this show had real dancers. And 200 other people at the top of their games. Watch those set pieces, panels and projections ease us swiftly from moment to moment, to name just one brilliant element of this work.

And you can see the dancers sweat.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Music Direction

Imagine my thrill, dear Reader, as I sat across from a young composer/arranger/musician in the pub last night while he perused the 19 songs of Oak Floors! Being a pro, he was able to pick up melodies with a quick scan. I heard his faint whistle under the pub din.
He's going to orchestrate one song of his choice (from the show) so we can each see/hear how it works. He might be prepared to take on the total score, which would take several months, at AFofM scale, amounting to a thousand or two dollars.
I'm not worried about the money at this point. The fact that he's working with the material is enough. That's just my perspective, of course. Unless/Until he falls in love with the show, he'll expect payment for his work, which is the way I want it too in the long run.
It will be fun to see which song he chooses. I feel great about the chances of work we both dig. He's jazz guy, composer, and experienced sideman, and he's played in the pit band to touring musicals like Chicago and Gypsy.
So I'm on hiatus for a week or so from Oak Floors! except for, oh yes, plans for hiring seven local actors for a table read, no singing, of the show. We could do that right here in the Frontenac.
I've got the RPL keyboard out on loan for another week. "Broadway Musicals, Show by Show, 2006-2013, A Musical and Historical Look at Broadway's Biggest Hits" here I come.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Creating

In an obit for Arthur Mitchell, whom I'd not heard of (he'd formed the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the first Afro-American classical ballet company), a story caught me eye. I paraphrase it here:
The New York City Ballet choreographer and director George Balanchine created a pas de deux for Mitchell and white southern ballerina Diana Adams. This was 1960 or so. Everyone was against Balanchine for putting together on a stage this Afro-American dancer and "the essence and purity of Caucasian dance." Balanchine knew what he was up against. "You know, my dear," he said, "this has got to be perfect."
I feel the same way about my musical, if I may say so, when so many reasons for failure lurk.
Something else along these lines. The other day I ran into a writer friend I hadn't seen for a while. "Should I know what you're working on?" she asked. "No," said I, adding, unnecessarily, "No one should know, no one wants to know, no one cares, etc., etc. Except the one person who matters. Me." (And you, dear Reader.)



Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Windmills

It's a sobering thought (say I, here in the pub), that no one has any obligation whatsoever to Oak Floors! except yours truly.
No one wants the piece. Yet.
No one has heard much of it. Except my sisters, and the Artesian fundraiser audience last May 1 (whom I didn't tell that three pieces I recited were in fact songs from a thing called Oak Floors!). And maybe a neighbour. (Speaking of which, one way ti plan to address this matter of no audience is to do a Frontenac block party in the Amenities room. Because, let's face it, without the Frontenac there would be no Oak Floors!)
No one expects to ever see or hear it. Except Sask Arts Board, bless their hearts, who gave me a grant to write this first draft, now completed.
No one's bank roll is at stake. Yet.
No one has any reason to believe that my musical will ever see/hear the light/sound of day.
Given all that, I take heart from a facebook thing about the composer, John Rutter, the part that goes (I paraphrase): Never mind anyone else. It is your belief that will drive the process. He added: Make sure you get the work out there. And listen to how they do it--cue my list of ways to work on the music.
Wouldn't you know it, that very night I have a conversation with my daughter about the phrase "tilting at windmills." The gist of my commentary was that I seem to identify with the Don in Cervantes' novel.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Relaxed

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.)