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.

Sunday, 29 April 2018


What inspired this musical project, and what sustains it, is how moved I feel by the elements of musical theatre.
A digression: In 1967 or so, Duke Ellington took his orchestra into the studio to re-record tunes written by his long-time collaborator, Billy Strayhorn, who had just died. The resulting LP, And His Mother Called Him Bill, is a classic. It includes one track recorded at the end of one session when Duke sat down at the piano to play "Lotus Blossom." The tape was still running. We can hear musicians chatting and packing up their horns. By the end of the tune, a poignant ballad, they'd stopped as is transfixed by Duke's musical eulogy to their old mate.
I was reminded of that moment the other day when I sat in on the first day of rehearsals for Shrek at Globe Theatre. The actor playing Shrek was working his songs with the Musical Director. They faced each other, the MD at his keyboard. The actor with his beautiful baritone voice was struggling but making progress with "Big, Bright, Beautiful World," Shrek's brave but uncertain claim on something new in his future. As always in rehearsals I've witnessed, everyone else--the other actors, stage management, the designers--was busy with his/her own job. And here, in a corner of the room, was an actor and character emerging and vulnerable. In song. The moment was irresistible. 
(Here's Duke playing "Lotus Blossom." Because he flubbed a note or two, he later re-recorded the piece, but this initial, spontaneous version is the better one.)

Monday, 23 April 2018

Oak Floors, the Musical

I'm back to that title. Not that it matters too much right now. (Imagine writing two sentences like that when I'm in a hurry before the Leafs game to get to the memos.)
Some people, including characters in this story, who rent apartments, worry about condo conversion. Benign apartment owners may brush off any queries with a "don't worry, it's not worth it for us." But when it is, look out. 
Accordingly, I've had the idea to inject a series of memos into the stream of scenes. These would be "read" by the flaneur during interludes--five or six of them?--between scenes. I haven't figured out the best way to do this. Next I'm going to try writing a continuous memo narrative which I'll later break down. The other elements here are the soft-shoe the flaneur performs along hallways, props appearing or disappearing as required. And his chants, as in "This is the way we move here, here. This is the way." And percussion, in one interlude nothing BUT percussion. 
Of course, I'm going to write these memos in memo-ese, borrowing freely from by-laws pertaining to condo conversion. As I say, I haven't yet worked out the tone of voice. 
Anyway, the memo content is meant to inject some real-world stakes to the psycho-social meanderings of the characters.
Oh yes, one of the memos promises the imminent revelation of the Amenities Room, where it all comes together . . .

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Rooms Later

Two or three weeks later, I'm still going with rooms and have begun to build them. Like all ideas, it takes effort every day to keep it alive.
Here's a recent one--ten minutes ago--I like. The show opens with the flaneur. I debated about dropping him, until I noticed the tv listing for the Brier wildcard game and decided to keep the flaneur as wild card.
So he comes out of the darkness first. He apologizes in advance for his shortcomings while implying that everything that is about to occur is somehow, as time's agent, his doing.
As he nears the end of his opening song, he introduces Patty and her situation briefly. She takes over, he fades,

Thursday, 22 February 2018

16 Rooms

The story would come from the place first, then the people. In either case, a series of rooms: the suites, hallway, boiler room, patio, parking lot, park downtown, storage room, vestibule, laundry room and, perhaps in the end, the common room. 
In every room, a song, and anywhere from one to six people to sing it. 
The figure of the flaneur, if he's still around, will cue us from one room to the next. Of course, the rooms would have to be sequenced to hook their audience into the cumulative story.
Yes, with the place comes the song, and the voices leading to and from. As before, the passage of time would be highly fluid, as I suppose it always is.
My room, her room, their room, our room.
In the random city.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018


Lin Manuel-Miranda, main creator of Hamilton, tells a story that goes something like this: He's written his first three songs and sketched a few more. He asks John Weidman, well-known librettist, for advice. What he, LM-M, wonders is whether new songs should  fill out the narrative (re Alexander Hamilton and the first thirty or so years of the U.S.A.) or just go where they will. Weidman advised the latter course, but I think LM-M took both. 
What this story offers me is the notion that if the songs are what I find most interesting about what I'm up to, that's the show. Let them build the story they build. Fill with a spot of flaneur, some wisecracks about aging from Patty's parents, or a twist in the life of the Nurse. And ever in reserve--a trip for two to the rooftop patio of the Oak Floors.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

A Number

If Patty plays Three Questions with the nurse after work (for the nurse, that is) one day, both question and replies, and any related chit-chat, would give us who they are. I can see one of them proposing the game and the other accepting, but I'm not sure how it ends. Could lead to other times and places, other characters. 
(Speaking of characters, today I thought of cutting to six--Patty, the Janitor, her Parents, the Flaneur, and the Nurse--plus a chorus/ensemble of three or four. They could do all the songs, convey all the movement, deliver the stories, create the future, love. Maybe.)
What would happen is that one of them, probably the Nurse, would get distracted and end up looking out a window. Patty should have stopped a question or two sooner.

Monday, 29 January 2018

What It Is

To review--
Darkness, light rising. It's a downtown park in summer on a work day, getting toward noon. A man has emerged from the edges. He carries an instrument (which I might ditch later) and jangles a set of keys (ditto) from his belt. This is the FLANEUR, as we will know him, who helps set the scene, then fades. 
By now the park has filled with URBANITES on lunch break--a scattered band of loungers and sun-bathers. Many check their news feeds. Street sounds--engines, calls, sirens, back-up beeps--coalesce into the vamp. "Oh-oh," someone says, reacting to a piece of news, and away we go into a news-that-bugs-me funk piece which, if built right, will bring down the house. 
As that ends, everyone heads back to work. The FLANEUR strolls along and runs into PATTY, who has locked herself out of her heritage apartment. "Love, Damn," she sings at this point, though even the FLANEUR, apologizing for his lack of omniscience, isn't sure what love is doing here.
Such a synopsis for a moment offers the following tack: just follow Patty. Keep track of what she wants . . .
Sure, but if I do, she might not ever get inside her heritage apartment and interact there with the food truck guy, the nurse, her parents, the actor, and the janitor. She might not read those memos and drink all that wine . . .
And whom would she sing with in the end?

Monday, 15 January 2018

Oak Floors, Flaneurity

He's still in the show, this flaneur. He speaks first, emerging from darkness as we all do. "It's getting toward noon," he says, as the light rises. "It's summer, a glorious summer." He carries on, pointing out a bench or two, a tree or two, a sidewalk, lawn, which appear as he mentions them. Urbanites are gathering for a break at noon hour, relaxing, checking their news feeds. A vamp builds out of the downtown noise-track--the engines, sirens, back-up beeps--and away we go with "Song to Sing," the opening number, a catalogue of things that bug us in this world. If I have my way (and whose other way would I have), this opener will bring the house down, and we just started! The flaneur, meanwhile, has faded to the edge of the scene, stepping forward again after the button to guide us into the next scene--Patty locked out of her apartment.
All very neat when I put it that way. Need I remind you, dear reader, of the obvious pitfalls of this enterprise? Nah.
But today's immediate matter is whether the flaneur speaks in prose or verse. So far, it's both. I think I have to go one way or the other. 

Friday, 12 January 2018

Oak Floors, More About The Flaneur

I call him, now, the flaneur (with that tent accent over the a), this figure who hovers before and after scenes, taking us around. Only we can see or hear him, though he's willing to chat with whoever comes along.
As flaneur, he walks, of course. The hallways of the Oak Floors are perfect for that. He's freer from time than the rest of us. He takes his job seriously, for a nut.
I must resist the temptation, however, to make this figure the hero of the piece. He's about audience only. What they need to stay with the show.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Oak Floors, The Musical

Every time I see a rehearsal, I learn something. Today I was able to catch the run for lights of Around the World in 80 Days, opening in two weeks at Globe Theatre. 
There's a narrator, at times. His/Her voice fulfills the simple task of letting us know what world we're living in, in this play. 
In recent days I've been think about inserting such a function into my musical (which is now known by the title of this blog entry). This Balladeer, as I call him, will guide us into and through the world of the piece without, I hope, getting in the way. Until these last few days, a young woman named Patty had the job of animating the transitions from scene to scene. I rather liked the hallway dance she did, and how just by cocking an ear toward a door as she passed she could get us into a scene inside. Now the Balladeer (a name I like less every time I use it) will do it.
As with every choice I make with this work, the pitfalls are plenty. But so far, so good. Patty, I think, will turn out to be more interesting when she's less responsible for moving things along. 
As long as this B. voice doesn't say too much. 
Closing note about one of the characters, whom I'd dubbed Paleo Joey, also the name of his food truck business: His real name is Paolo, from Portugal, and he's heading for a fado session with the nurse, Evelyn.