Monday, 17 June 2019

Reading

Reading across from Carousel to Oak Floors!--surely words never before written in that order--I feel two reactions. In the case of the Rodgers & Hammerstein's play or, the other day, The Band's Visit, I marvel at the depth and subtlety of the book (by which I mean the story and all text except song lyrics).
In the case of Oak Floors!, I play easy-to-get with the holes in the book, saying, "well, so be it."
Speaking of subtlety, check "Do You Love Me," here from the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof.I
And look! My piece in its current form as "a heritage cabaret" has no Act One break, hence no exquisite conclusion like the last scene in Act One of Carousel, when Billy has become at once more genuine and more doomedWe go to Intermission with the stakes high: we care for his wife, even for him, and we know there's trouble ahead.



Monday, 10 June 2019

Watching the Tonys

This I've done for the first time, though I'd viewed many a YouTube clip. The musicals drew me to the telecast last night.
Hadestown, a show I saw at Citadel in Edmonton two years ago, won for Best Musical, Oklahoma! (and there you see the exclamation mark borrowed by my Oak Floors!) for Best Revival. (Santino Fontana in Tootsie and Ali Stroker in Okla won the individual awards.) It was a fun show, mostly. Way more fun than any Oscar show I've seen lately. Of course, diversity was everywhere, to the point that Bryan Cranston quipped, upon winning in the male non-musical individual category, that "at last, an old, straight, white guy catches a break." That way myself, I wasn't sure whether to laugh or weep.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Oak Floors, a Heritage Cabaret

It might go like this: Flaneur comes on, gets us to Patty in the vestibule, she gets in, Flaneur takes us down that hallway leading to the past, "Citizens of Oak Floors," some of whom lived here for decades, but it didn't go so well for the 4 GM workers once Black Tuesday hit. Who lived in the suite Patty lives now, when she's not padding along the hallways, as she is right now, drawn to that percussion from the boiler room, "Boiler Song for Xylophone" and so on.
The task is to keep it past, keep it present. Believe in, but don't be afraid to tease, the story.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Hairspray

The study and/or simple enjoyment of musical theatre could last forever. Which makes any of the annoyances along the way, like rejection and being stuck and seeing no way through, seem unimportant. 
So says that paragraph.
Anyway, I decided to study scripts more closely, understanding the purpose of every song in its book context. I've started with Hairspray because it was top of the pile. It's a hoot, for starters. Funny in a way that doesn't make fun of its characters. A bare-bones description of this play (based, of course, on the John Waters movie (and Waters apparently digs the adaptation, thank goodness)): a character wants to break through what's holding her back. She does. To a pop score (think 1962) that swings. And the eventual triumph registers on a cultural level (struggle for racial integration) that works on a personal level varying with each character. (Here the stakes include identity, sexual orientation, power, personal freedom . . .). 
It would be a gas to see or be in this show, I'm pretty sure. Because all of the above is rendered--as I imagine it would be--with love.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Oak Floors! -- Live from the Crossroads

I say "crossroads"  because there, maybe, the devil stirs usefully. I dodge saying "doldrums" because there, for sure, the devil has dug in and won't budge.

In one direction (south on Hamilton St.) lies pushing the Patty story. Get more serious about investing my personal elements into her journey through love and loneliness. Pro: gives the audience a story to follow. Con: I'm suspicious of grand narratives, even local grand narratives. (Problem with that: as a musical theatre addict, I'm utterly swept away by them.) 

What to do today: Write Patty's song of loneliness, her determination to reach out to people. Make that determination drive everything that follows. Make my own determination (to get this show before an audience) ride with her.

In the other direction (either west or east on Victoria), lies what in the middle of last night came to me as "Oak Floors! a Heritage Cabaret" which would be conducted by my Flaneur figure. For this I would resurrect the historical material and understate the personal stories. Pro: the archive excites me, and I love the Flaneur. Con: who would care? What would this give an audience?

What to do today: go back into an earlier, longer draft. Re-animate the Flaneur as cabaret MC. Follow his determination to put on a show for his audience. 

Monday, 6 May 2019

Rhyme

Hanging out with Beauty and the Beast, in rehearsal at Globe Theatre (I'm prepping for my live audio description on June 12), I hear the famous "tale as old as rhyme" line. I do believe rhyme is old. In my Artist Lab coming up May 19, I'll propose why.
In doing so, I may employ one or two of these scenarios:
1.
You have ventured far from home until you find yourself alone in the wild, a terrifying place of strange sounds, any one of which could mean great danger. Then you perceive the sound of your mother humming, or your father's footsteps, or the call of Goldilocks, your pet retriever.
2.
You've arrived in a foreign country, surrounded by spoken language you do not understand. Your needs for food, clean water or shelter have become intense. Exhausted, you're not sure how you will solve the problems you face. Just then, you hear a voice in your own language. You connect.
3.
You are chanting among strangers in a yoga studio along 17th Ave in Calgary circa 1973. You were reluctant to take part but got caught up in it. You manage to focus deeply enough for that cosmic hum to resonate through you. You are neither source nor recipient of this energy, just the medium of its passage. For a moment, there is only one sound.
4.
Your car that you bought new and have driven 200,000 km in twelve years begins to squeal, scrape or choke from deep in its driveshaft, engine or wheels. You have no idea how serious the breakdown, or how costly the inevitable repair (your savings thin enough already). You park that night in denial. But next morning, it sounds good as ever.
5.
You stated the question, now you search for the answer. The search takes you far along one line and down several more. You're suspended in doubt re how far you can go, until even coming back seems risky, until you do it.
6.
You're worried about your mother. She stays in bed. She no longer smiles. She goes through the motions unmoved. Then she rallies, up and at 'em like always.
Somewhere in these scenarios, I will suggest, lies (at least an analog to) the power of rhyme. 
I will name and try to explore the Sondheim conviction that pure rhyme is better than near rhyme, though the latter has slacked its way into becoming what we mean when we say "rhyme." (To illustrate this point: see a recent facebook poll that asked readers to pick the "best rhyme" in the Steve Miller Band classic "Take the Money and Run": Is it "El Paso / hassle" or "Texas / facts is." Well, they're both near rhymes, not true rhymes.) It'll be a Broadway vs pop/rock tussle.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

More Light in the Piazza

I came across the PBS version of this show. I should say that I haven't viewed the entire show, and it might turn out to be a hoax of some kind, possibly parody. But check out the transition when Clara's mom leaves Fabrizio's parents' place. She takes a few steps. Lights down on the previous scene, up a few steps away. She's arrived at her bed in the hotel, removing her scarf and lighting a smoke. Her steps must be just right, of course, as must the lighting design and costume elements. The result is supple, subtle, beautiful. And man, the woman (Victoria Clark, I think) can sing.
On top of all that, this musical delivers one of the deepest of the poly-lingual moments that matter so much in the arts these days.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

The Light in the Piazza

book by Craig Lucas, music and lyrics by Adam Guettel. It was just warm enough this aft to sit in the park and read this love story set in Florence, 1953. (I know what you're thinking, dear reader: Haven't I gone on about the fact that musicals need their music, not just their script (not to mention staging, lights, set and costume and, above and below all, performance by some beautiful actor/singer/dancer)? But today, script only. The park bench is my piazza, was my thinking.)
I wonder if Lucas and Guettel needed the period setting to give such full rein to love and how it levels us. That's where the story goes. It ends with the wedding, though how we get there . . . well, that's the whole piece.
And, in a play in which both the literal light of old Florence in summer and that familiar but freshly rendered light-as-new-understanding have been played up throughout, imagine this last moment: The last pair of characters (father of the groom, mother of the bride) "join the wedding party as the lights fade."
In the audience, I'm satisfied.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Next Time I Sat Down at the Piano

Well it went fine, that song demo session I spoke of in the previous post. Some day if I'm brave enough I'll post a link to me singing my song (the flaneur's song, in fact).
I suppose first I'll have to listen to it, which I can't yet bring myself to do.
In the course of preparing for and executing yesterday's session, I learned more about the songs. This is what I love about writing Oak Floors!--the discovery of what movement and voice and music do to text. 
I've been saying for weeks now that as much as I may have accomplished in the work so far, it means nothing until performed.
(A digression: that fact explains why a URegina Theatre teacher's presentation about past work lacks credibility, at least for me. Only the performance matters, not subsequent theorizing, power pointing, video sampling, or academic discussion.)
Continuing in this vein . . .
There can be no finishing of the work until it's put before an audience, which reminds of a point I was trying to make from Andalusia in 2014: flamenco performers and their audience suspended in mutual need. 

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Song Demo

I wouldn't write such a title unless I had to produce two song demos tomorrow. By produce, I mean sing (one of them). People who have heard me sing . . . well that's about as many who have heard me speak Swahili. But I'm at the mic tomorrow morning around 10 for "Flaneur's Song," the opening scene of Oak Floors! 
This guy, the flaneur, comes on, calls himself our guide for the journey ahead, and adds that even when we expected someone else--someone of wit, for instance, or artistry or wisdom--"you got me," as the song goes. 
I should be able to sell it well enough. Why I'm doing this is to apply to a Toronto company for a commission to finish the show. They want to hear a couple of samples.
The second sample, in which we meet our Patty, the principle in that "journey" mentioned above, will feature Sarah Bergbusch, the young Regina actor who played Patty in that TicTocTen Short Performance festival piece we did last month.
Why I mention any of this is to say that what I love about creating Oak Floors! why it's such a frickin challenge, is that I'm doing stuff I haven't done before. Like paint the tree and build the truck for TicTocTen. Like learn to play my own music. Like sing.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Time

It came in at 45 minutes, my private reading of Oak Floors! in its chamber version, which I delivered to my kitchen sunshine this morning. The same seven characters, but one act instead of two, 12 songs instead of 18, scenes re-jigged so that Patty gets the focus that, one hopes, builds throughout the piece. Excised? The historical material, mostly. Good stuff. But it makes the musical about the building, not about a character who might hold our interest.
I've already sent it off to a company whose work I've enjoyed, with a couple of other such moves soon to occur.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Possible Breakthrough

Anyone who has read this far knows that "story" is what we, as audience, seek from a musical theatre piece. I know it's true but have resisted or, as I prefer to imagine it, have tried to adjust the concept of story until it includes what Oak Floors! is doing. (Or would, were it ever produced.) 
The story belongs to a group of people and the building that houses them. We might observe that with both, the adversary is time passing. We might claim love in a time of loneliness.
But that might not be story enough. So as soon as I finish this entry--and head over the gym to watch Scotties curling on TSN--I'm going try giving it all to Patty, a university student on the delayed-degree plan, who after all (or before all) was the image that got me going on the musical in the first place--Patty locked out and buzzing names to buzz her in and chatting for two seconds with five or six other tenants until the door just opens, a slow click, and Patty walks in.
What I mean is, maybe loneliness, if that's what it is, will resonate more widely if expressed through a single character rather than scattered like dust over everything in the play. 

Monday, 4 February 2019

Rhyme

Musicals rhyme. As you know, dear Reader, I've been packing a rhyming dictionary for two years working on Oak Floors! 
When it works, rhyme is beautiful, not to mention necessary for audience satisfaction. As when Eliza sings

I only know when he
began to dance with me
I could have danced, danced, danced all night. 

in My Fair Lady, or when Adelaide laments both her cold and her reluctant boyfriend in Guys and Dolls:

You can spray her wherever you figure
The streptococci lurk
You can give her a shot
For whatever she's got
But it just won't work
If she's tired of getting the fish-eye
From the hotel clerk
A person
Can develop a cold

Let's add this playful but cannibalistic exchange between Sweeney Tood and Mrs. Lovett (best heard and seen, as here in a West End revival):

TODD: What is that?
LOVETT:
It's priest. Have a little priest.
TODD:
Is it really good? 
LOVETT:
Sir, it's too good, at least! 
Then again, they don't commit sins of the flesh, 
So it's pretty fresh.
TODD:
Awful lot of fat.
LOVETT:
Only where it sat.
TODD:
Haven't you got poet, or something like that? 
LOVETT:
No, y'see, the trouble with poet is
'Ow do you know it's deceased? 
Try the priest!
But for budding poets, like the 14 in my Creative Writing class, my advice is to avoid it. If there's anything to the equation I've been pitching--material (one's store of stories, experiences, desires, fears, etc.) + craft = art--the problem with rhyme is that it's a craft issue that diverts beginning writers from going for the heart(s) of their material. For these writers, rhyme is one of those things--like "poetic language," beginning lines with caps, elevated imagery--more to be cleared away than encouraged. 
I suppose that sounds pedantic. It is!


Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Tree-vial

Almost four years ago, writing the history of Regina's Globe Theatre, I came across the story of Florence James. For decades she'd run one of the most oppositional cultural orgs anywhere in the States, her Seattle Repertory Playhouse in Seattle. Inevitably, she ran afoul of the McCarthy-lead House Un-American Activities Committee, the self-proclaimed Commie-exterminators. Hounded out of the U.S., she got a job with the CCF government here in Sask, hired as the first Drama Consultant of the brand new Sask Arts Board. 
For the next 15 years, Florence did everything for theatre in these parts--teaching, dramaturgy, producing, writing, directing, adjudicating, giving workshops, and so on. She knew what the province needed was a professional company. Having heard about Ken and Sue Kramer, she found them some Arts Board seed money to start that company in Regina in 1966. 
A few years later, Florence retired and moved to Ottawa to live with her daughter. Ken Kramer remembers that one day at Globe he got a call from the daughter, saying, "Ken, have you got something mom can do? She's driving me nuts."
Now it was Kramer's time to find some money to hire Florence. She did everything around the theatre--from pouring lemonade at intermission to giving notes during rehearsal. She even acted once or twice. Playing the maid in Three Sisters, Florence, whose vision was going, needed help to move about the stage, so Kramer wrote himself a role that allowed him to be her on-stage caddy.
But the point of my story is this: At one point, somebody said to Florence, "Isn't stuffing envelopes too trivial a job for someone of your stature?" to which Florence, bless her heart, replied, "There are no trivial jobs in theatre."
That's a story that makes me cry. 
And it enables me to embrace a task like the one I set for myself today: painting a 7-foot elm on cardboard. The flats of cardboard I'd retrieved from the Ace Courier dumpster the other day; the paints (tempura, in greens and brown) I'd picked up a week ago. My first-ever gig as scenic painter, and it turned out--take my word for it, dear Reader--pretty well.
It's the tree Pete will carry on stage at the top of a scene we're doing at the TicTocTen festival at Artesian on March 9. Pete's about to sit with his coffee and enjoy the park in summer, once he installs our tree.
Since the tree is made out of two flats, maybe Patty will carry the leaves on and install them, leading to her exchange with Pete . . .

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Patty

Somebody said Patty was an old name that, therefore, didn't work for the 20-something university student (on the delayed degree plan) in Oak Floors! Maybe so, but Patty is still Patty.
In an hour I'm going to meet an actor/singer to hear her try out three of Patty's songs. This is to check the vocal range and to see what character emerges through the song. 
Carter is working on the music, producing lead sheets (melodies and chords) that notate more sophisticated harmonies than I provided with my simple piano versions (that, no matter how simple, are a challenge for me to play).
There's also a Patty in the Frontenac, where I live, but I didn't know that when I came up with the name.
If Patty becomes a problem, I'll try Abbey.

Friday, 11 January 2019

How Long

I'm always saying how long it takes. As in, "How's the musical going?" "Well, it's a long-term process." 
Last night I met with Carter Powley, a musician who has agreed to convert, for a fee, my simplistic piano versions of 15 tunes to lead sheets--melodies with chords (more sophisticated, harmonically) and tempo markings. Any skilled musician will be able to play the tunes with the lead sheet alone. And down the line, a Music Director for the world premiere of Oak Floors! could use the lead sheets as a basis for full scoring of the tune.
This is the kind of moment that keeps the project alive and moving ahead. Slowly.
Here's another one: I got home from the meeting to find a memo from Frontenac Apartment management. (There is already a song in the show called "Put It In a Memo.") This one offers "rental incentives," which gives me an idea for a song made of monologues in which my characters offer incentives . . . No idea yet how or why they would do this, or when, but it's one of those promising notes for future development and, therefore, another alive-and-moving-ahead moment.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Getting It On

Robert McQueen notes that to build your show, you have to get it on its feet. In the case of Oak Floors!--now somewhere into its second draft with three songs cut, two more written (lyrics only) in the last month--exactly. I can read the thing, let somebody else read it forever. But until I get it on its feet, with music, in front of an audience, it will never reach whatever potential it might possess.
Today I finished listening to the cast recording of Fun Home. Devastating. Worthy of endless study for music and story structure.
That brings me back to McQueen, who directed the Toronto revival last year. He's coming to Regina soon to co-teach, with Globe Theatre Artistic Associate Stephanie Graham, a one-week musical theatre intensive workshop in the middle of Feb. Yours truly will be on hand.
However great that week will be, it's not an on-its-feet thing for my Oak Floors!
What is, is the TicTocTen Short Performance Festival in March, at which I and one actor and one musician will do one piece from the play. A little scene in which Pete, the complainer, goes on about the size of trucks these days, until he ends up driving off in one. (Frivolous, to be sure. Especially after having evoked the wonderful Fun Home.)
Little by little. Thursday I'm meeting with the musican/composer Carter Powley about his work producing lead sheets or piano reductions of 15 or so songs from Oak Floors! Tonight I'll read a chapter or two in Music and Words: Creating the Broadway Musical Libretto, by Lehman Engel with annotations by Howard Kissel. Tomorrow I'll work on Act Two of the play, then drive to my first creative writing class of the semester, the Broadway revival cast recording of Porgy and Bess playing along. 
By all these means--the work, the reading, the listening, the meeting--the cause advances, one hopes.
Of course, every so often (maybe daily, maybe not for a month, maybe in the middle of the night) I wonder just what the hell I think I'm doing. As I've said here before, the answer is easy: I'm digging the challenges, the impossibility, the slow accumulation of clarity re my project, the belief that this is what I've always been  working toward. 
We'll see.