Monday 10 December 2018


Since my stint in Cypress Hills in early September, the text of Oak Floors! turned over by about 5% at most. That changed today. It was the middle of last night when I woke up with an idea for a rhythm with which, guided by the Flaneur, we could hear five characters (four individuals and a couple) identify themselves and their stories in about a hundred words each. The scene establishes their isolation from one another. Which is about to change when Patty gets down to business. Jettisoned is the long-time opening scene in a downtown park, where miscellaneous urbanites, busy at their newsfeeds during their lunch hours, sing of the walls--different ones in each case--that tend to hold us but, paradoxically, give us something to sing about. That scene was one of the first ones to get written down, over a year ago. I've long wanted it to work but, for now at least, it's out.
Why I call all this a breakthrough is that the rightness of the new opening derives from emotion rather than analysis. It feels satisfying, and I'm pretty sure it will tomorrow too.
I notice, too, that the new opening addresses some of the concerns I may have been pooh-poohing in previous entries. I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to check back and see.

Sunday 9 December 2018


Yesterday seven actors came over to the Frontenac amenities room to workshop Oak Floors! I was by far the most scared person in the room. In fact, I wanted to disappear and have the work go on without me. What cheered me enormously was the commitment of the actors, who launched into a run of the script (without music), an hour-long talk about what they'd noticed in their speaking and hearing the piece, and another run. Their insights and questions will fuel my ongoing work on this show for weeks.
Although I'd hauled a keyboard down to the room, we never used it. The actors--none of them known as musical theatre performers--confined their enthusiasm to the words. I was too shy, perhaps too fatigued from a late-night Frontenac Christmas party in this very room the night before, to propose trying out a few melodies.
But that's what has to happen from now on. The piece is a musical. No more readings of text only. No more presentation of the piece without its full repertoire of effects.
Still, insights. One of the things the actors talked about was wanting to know more back story of certain characters so we could understand why they do what they do. Yes, Cec complains about the size of trucks these days (even though he wouldn't mind owning one). But why. Evelyn apparently transitioned in the past from nurse to cat-whisperer. But why. 
I've understated that sort of thing, as a poet would (a poet like yours truly anyway). Somehow, a generalized group dynamic, rather than individual transformation, has been the story of the piece. We see people in a moment of time, then in a later moment. More cross-section than longitudinal. (This would be in keeping, I suppose, with my long-standing poet's take on the work of a poem, which is that its story or extended metaphor or any other version of through-line meaning or intent matters less than what happens where one line breaks to another--a horizontal, rather than vertical, orientation is how I see it.)
So I've composed my little ship of fools, my Oak Floor's worth of characters who suffer their own forms of loneliness and their own attempts at love, who live within their own walls until they come together a little. 

Thursday 29 November 2018

Rhymin Time

Just now on CBC Music I heard the Paul McCartney single "Come On To Me" then, streaming Hit Musicals, heard "Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof.  I invite you to compare rhymes in the two songs. You might find that too many rhymes like McCartney's drive you nuts. If so, you are convinced that precision of rhyming--the search for pure rhyme--is essential for the selling of any song to its audience. A musical theatre audience, that is. If a character has broken into song, it had better work.
Of course, I have nothing against consuming some good Paul McCartney and listening to pop hits. But when I'm writing a musical, I need to work in a different way, rhyme-wise.
A related point, re Oak Floors! Once in a while someone asks me what style of music I've written. I say, well it's a mixture, or some such thing. Not a great answer, I admit, but I can't think of what else to call it. Until now. It's pop--songs that are simple harmonically, rhythmically, melodically (yikes, enough of that list) but work, maybe, if they have the right drive. Maybe I've held the piece back by trying to make the music for it.
The maybes come thick and fast, in the Oak Floors! trip.
Speaking of which, tomorrow I start a week of determined tour though the whole piece, checking scenes, lines, tunes and lyrics and the rest, preparing for the workshop on December 8th (those seven actors I've hired, if you remember, Dear Reader).
But tonight, The Hobbit opening at Globe Theatre.

Monday 26 November 2018


I caught a cue-to-cue day at rehearsal for The Hobbit at Globe Theatre. "Costume Parade, 4:30" said the schedule. A chance for director, designers, wardrobe people and stage management to see the costumes under the lights. There was much tugging at hairpieces, collars and hems. Many vests and cloaks held open for a fastener check. Show boots tested for ease of movement. All of this happens in a series of conversations in one corner of the stage. When the parade is over, the actors go back to the dressing room. They get the supper break before it's time to get ready for tonight's run of the full show.
I'd learned before that for actors whose aim is to get the show into their bodies, the arrival of the costume--often not until a few days before opening night--is another hill to climb. Imagine working out precisely what your body should do, then tacking on extra weight, re-distribution of balance, wider footprint, more noise, and increased danger of snag. No wonder actors like to get the final versions of their costumes and props as soon as possible in the rehearsal process. 
My introduction to this idea was observing the actor who played Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins in 2015. When everyone else wore all manner of work-out or dance footwear, this actor wore points, as we used to call these long, thin dress shoes that seemed half again as long as our foot. Turns out, these were Mr. Banks' shoes. Might as well start wearing them right now.
During the costume parade the other day, the director wondered if they could try a different wig for Bilbo. Someone from Wardrobe went to get the wig worn by a certain Romeo. As soon as Bilbo put it on, he was inviting the ladies back to the dressing room, etc. All in fun. At this stage in the rehearsal journey, everyone can use a laugh.

Friday 16 November 2018


I'm hearing a director say "find the magic." As in, block it, let it go, find it.
It's what the story needs, what the experience must provide all who build it. Including, as always, audience.
Could be a change of pitch or pace, a move, a new line of sight.
When they do find magic, everybody feels it.

Case in point.
The dragon, Smaug, must die by arrow from Bard, the Master Archer. 
The first idea is to have Gandalf carry the arrow across on its fatal flight to the underbelly. They try this once or twice. One actor tells how they rig it in the circus so that a hard snap of elastic, released from the bow, strikes the arrow home. Probably not enough time to build the rigging, all understand.
This is what they try: Bard the Archer loads his bow, Thrush hovers. Three things happen when the archer lets fly. (1) Thrush whips the bow backwards out of sight. (2) We hear the sound cue: arrow thunking target. (3) Arrow appears from within the massive, five-segment puppet that is Smaug. It works pretty well for first pass or two.
Work continues. The final version may be different. But today they made the killing happen, found the magic that the scene must be.

Friday 2 November 2018


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


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


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


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.

Sunday 29 July 2018

The Other Musical

Today I was biking through Hillsdale, the 50s-era subdivision of south Regina, where I lived from '61-'71 and '95-'11. Ten years ago, as I was recalling, I'd been hard into the research (= roaming and gathering) that fed my Hillsdale Book
Early in this process of writing a musical I thought of re-visiting the Hillsdale material for musical purposes. That didn't last long. But the theme of coming up with ideas for other musicals besides the one I'm writing continues. Just last weekend, after I heard Tom Wayman read from a short story about some environmental activists and other local citizens of the Slocan valley, not to mention a pair of lovers, I told Tom that I thought it would make a great musical. He was no more convinced than my poet friend Suzannah had been when, after I heard her read from her new book about The Bachelor, I told her that I thought it too would make a great musical.
I'm happy with what I've got going. By Aug.21, the end of a two-week stint at the Johnson Cultural Centre in Cypress Hills, I plan to have the first draft of Oak Floors! completed. So I can show the script and the music. Toward that end, I've begun to format everything according to conventional standards so it will at least look finished. 
Speaking of looks, here are some of the companies who worked on an apartment like the Oak Floors.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Amenities Tease

The title says where I am--trying to work out what those two words might mean for each other. In my piece, a room known as Amenities had been promised for many months. Formerly a storage room closed to tenants but originally the janitor's residence (occupied by a fellow named Chris Heathcote), one that opened to both halves of the building, now Amenities would mean common room, equipped with kitchen, wifi and cable, living room, dining room table, library, and vintage photos on the walls. (Also a few bits of heritage bric-a-brac.) The gold "A" on both doors seems to glow--so great has been the anticipation. 
Of course, when the A room does open, the first to use it are the building owners, but that's another story.
When the tenants do get in there, first order of business is to figure out what amenities are, which is where the tease comes. Because amenities could be construed as snippets of conversation, perhaps freeze frames, fragments of song. Whereupon someone has the bright idea to propose that story-telling must have been the first amenity.  Now the tease is on for sure.
But it doesn't matter. Whatever amenities are, people love the room.

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.