Saturday 28 October 2017

Today, the Musical Again

I admit that talking about differs from doing. Nevertheless (a dandy old word to type), talking helps. Though I already knew that this musical, if it's ever finished, will be Book Six in my Man From Saskatchewan series, until this afternoon I hadn't realized what that meant. What it means is that matters of downtown history and architecture, City policies (especially parking and zoning regulations), and development trends in the Transition neighbourhood, must find footing in the piece. These are matters worth singing, the way I see the world when I'm writing, is what I'm saying.
I must have mentioned in a previous entry that "The Key" began with the image of a woman locked out of her heritage apartment and about to see if someone can buzz her in. She consults the list of names in the wooden case by the inside door. She sings a song called "Names." That's at present the second scene, but anyway the names thing was a result of Provincial Archive research I'd done into the earliest days (1928) of the Frontenac, where I live. I listed who lived in which of the 55 suites, and when I wrote up a short essay and gave it to the apartment owners, Nicor and Campbell & Haliburton, who are into heritage, they printed the piece and framed it for display during an open house in the renovated Amenities room (which in '28 and forever thereafter was marked with a metal "A" instead of a number). 
We get along fine, the owners and most of us, most of the time. But in the musical, we'll see!

Thursday 26 October 2017

Now, the It, Part Many.

You might as well know his name--Paleo Joey, a character in my musical. Since whatever I say about him doesn't matter until he speaks for himself, I've gone ahead and noodled around with notions about this guy.
Paleo Joey is the name of his foodtruck business, to be more precise. He runs a honkin' big Kurbmaster with all the trimmings. His idea of exotic is the burger he sells, made the way he's always made them, and his mother before him: beef, an egg, chunks of garlic, green onion, leftover oatmeal, mushroom, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. 
Well that last bit crept up on me. What occurred to me today about character--as I fretted over how all the characters could avoid being versions of myself--was that it was moods I should go for. And figure out later whose they are. 
I think our friend PJ is divorced. He claims he got into cooking when he realized that the ten foods he loved most--tomato, potato, bread, honey, banana, peanut butter, onion (he's partial to walla walla), olive oil, coffee bean, garlic--should not be stored in the refrigerator. From then on, he thought about how food felt.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Today the You-know-what, Part Next

Patty knows she can show up at somebody's door out of time. That is, no "later that day" or "the week before" or "for the third Tuesday in a row" required. 
But the question is, whom will Patty visit? (If Patty's telling it, maybe she'd use "who" in that question.) They don't have to be knock-on-the-door visits. She could sneak past the door, pausing to listen. She could pretend. She could be told about it. She could remember. All that has to happen is that the scene be cued, at which time Patty could vanish until needed.
I'm less enthused about research on condo conversion (which, supposedly, is the issue hanging over all the characters) (condo diversion, I scrawled at first at the coffee shop this aft, as if to escape my task). If people have to come together around this issue, I'd better know how.
It's fine to speculate in this manner because until I find out what Patty, or somebody else who carries the story, wants to do, I won't know.
In the meantime, I'm going to try solo percussion for her hallway dance. 

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Today, the Musical, Part 11

The process of creating this piece is the process of opening to collaborators. To that end, today was the first meeting of our two-person support group. "There can't be that many of us writing musicals right now," he (this person who shall remain anonymous) said. 
We compared notes on scenes, process, timeline, what our pieces mean to our respective artistic practices.
His is a theatre and hip-hop background. He's a director and actor. Everything he does is about how it is for anyone else to experience it. As a poet, I was more private in my pursuit. I know I've got to get with actors and a designer and a composer/arranger and a director.  
Just talking to this guy opens my process a bit.
Meanwhile, back in the opening scene of "The Key," Patty, over the hot opening vamp, animates a bunch of strangers in a downtown park to sing what's on their minds, which turns out to be a list of complaints about matters political, personal, psychic, urban, residential, etc. from which they all want relief. It ends on the button: Patty standing on a park bench, everyone else kneeling with their arms outstretched toward her, ready! This will bring the house down, if it works.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Part 10

To write a musical, I'm calling on everything I know about using and receiving language. Not much, I admit, but a lot, too. 
And the thrill of coming across, during a routine trip to the kitchen, the beat and harmonic guts of an opening number--well I tell you, that's a thrill that 20 minutes later has not worn off.
I'll figure out the words later!

Thursday 12 October 2017

Today, the Musical, Part Nine

I pause from my labours at keyboards to watch some baseball post-season action. That puts me in the path of the irritating SGI "Drive Alive" commercial.
Irritating because its rhyming is so lazy. The four couplets end "hosts/most," "friends/trends," "begins/in," "ride/alive." That's one pure rhyme, two near rhymes, one flat-out impure rhyme.
Dedicated readers of this blog--a fond autumn greeting to you both, Aunt Sneaky and Uncle Pete--will know I've long enjoyed the challenge of formal constraints. The more obsessively I establish them, the more generative they become, has been the prevailing idea these last 35 years, or ever since I encountered this idea as 
Fred Wah's creative writing student in Nelson, B.C.
Pure rhyme is the latest formal constraint I've taken on. The sense such a pursuit makes to me is that rhyme is at the heart of what moves me about musical theatre. 
So I'm going to stay true to it.
PS: Stephen Sondheim speaks also of trick rhyme: like his "personable/coercin' a bull" in "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" from Company. Use sparingly, he reminds us. And only if it fits the character.

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Today the Musical, Part Eight

Today I sat down with The Great Broadway Fake Book. (I pause to tell this story: years ago--50 of them--my friend Terry turned me on to jazz. (I should also credit my sister Fay and her Ray Charles collection, and even dad's big band LP by, a band whose name I can't remember--the Elgar brothers, or something. That band was usually pitched as mellow, but they could really swing when they let it go.) Terry was into the hardest contemporary jazz--Coltrane, Ornette, later Miles and, my fav, the Jones-Lewis big band which was a powerhouse for a few years into the 70s. He was clear by the time we all finished high school that he'd be a jazz musician, which he became. And he used to talk about fake books, or fakebooks, of well-known tunes represented by only title, composer and lyricist, lyrics, melody, time signature, tempo term, and chords. Often they seemed cobbled together from different photocopiers or sheet music scores. Plastic spiral binding. 
I don't know why they're called that. Maybe because if you have the melody and the changes, you can fake the rest.)
Anyway, this afternoon I sat down, at the piano, with the fakebook of Broadway tunes and worked through four or five pages, maybe half a dozen songs, in an hour. I can read music; I know how to play chords. I'm clumsy as hell as a piano player, though. I'll have to practice before I can perform songs, accompanied by myself at the piano. 
I tell you, it's like magic. Play a Richard Rodgers tune from Allegro, you'll hear it as simple, and perhaps (lyrics by Hammerstein) sentimental, but then you're at the end of the song feeling as if you've learned from it. 
That's what I'm after: why this is so. Why I'm so moved.

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Today, the Musical, Part Seven

I think I've figured out how to get Patty, as I'm calling her for now, to get from the vestibule of her apartment building, where she's locked out and buzzing strangers to let her in, to the series of scenes in which we all get to know these strangers. Once the big oak front door opens, which it does after a cacophony (perhaps fugue) of "No" and "bugger off" and "oh yeah? You should hear my problems," Patty does her hallway dance, sometimes chanting a simple verse about "this is how I move" this is where I step," sometimes walking silently. These serve as transitions from one scene to the next. Her chant will have to remind us what progress is being made in these scenes.