Thursday 12 December 2019

Sondheim and Lively (the writers, not the roots band)

In explaining his Finishing the Hat--first of two volumes of complete lyrics, with commentary--Stephen Sondheim suggests that "the explication of any craft, when articulated by an experienced practitioner, can be not only intriguing but also valuable, no matter what particularity the reader may be attracted to" (page xi of his Introduction). Only if written well, I might add, which his book is, though you wouldn't know it from the above quotation.
Delving into Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively, I become that reader. I'd picked up the book, in its pressed-flower jacket design, while browsing the memoir stacks at RPL, between "English fiction" and "English essays" in the Dewey Decimal system.
I'm no gardener, but Lively's literary, socio-botanical tour of a single word, garden, caught my eye and hasn't let go yet.
As in Sondheim's book, it's the writing, of course. So skilled, so beautiful, you can't stop reading. 

Monday 9 December 2019

The Pitch

Felt good to me. I covered my points, kept the energy up, took it to the pair of artistic directors who will decide which shows to run in their series.
One key, I'd say, is the flexibility of my Oak Floors! a Heritage Cabaret in terms of staging, casting, scoring--qualities that would come in handy for this company.
Now I leave it, this musical of mine which isn't one until it plays to an audience.

Stylistically, whiteboard:

Sunday 1 December 2019


In a few days I'll have ten minutes to pitch my show to a professional theatre company. Let's see how the pitch goes with ten minutes of typing. Go!
It's called Oak Floors! a Heritage Cabaret. A chamber musical. Scaled down from two acts, 18 songs, now it's about 60 minutes, 10 songs.
The apostrophe is an homage to Oklahoma!
The play is set in the Oak Floors, a heritage apartment building at the edge of downtown. 
Stylistically, it's a cabaret, meaning a series of songs/scenes with a host who comments on, responds to, and occasionally participates in the scenes. I call him the Flaneur. 
Thematically, it's a play about time. How could it not be. Specifically, it's about the life of a building, which began with high hopes in 1929, endured stock market crash, depression, changes in ownership, breakdown and deterioration, renovation, possible condo conversion, etc. 
The other major theme is love in a time of loneliness, or vice versa. The seven characters--an older couple good at aging, a university student on the delayed degree plan, a janitor who loves his machines, a nurse who's a cat-whisperer, a single guy who complains, and the flaneur--try to locate themselves on the love-to-loneliness scale. Where are they? Where do they want to be? Will it change tomorrow? etc.
In terms of tone, the play is seriously playful. That is, it manifests deep respect both for heritage, which despite its occasional institutional silliness does make cities better, and for any individual's search for, or resistance to, connection.
Though written for 7, the show could be done by as few as 3 singer/actors, one of whom would be the on-stage musical director.
The songs exist as simple piano reductions--melodies by me, with harmonic layering by Carter Powley.
The play would be fun, instructive, flexible to stage.
The one set piece would be a door frame, with door, on wheels. Every scene would begin and/or end at/through this doorway. 

That's ten minutes. When I'm actually talking the pitch, I'd work in a note about resolution: a coming together of the two thematic streams, which interact throughout. Characters will accept or not the effects of time and the scars of love and loneliness. Living in the same building, they're separate but linked.
The company would hire the actor/singers, apply its resources of marketing, design and production, stage management. And a director. I'll provide the script, the charts, the images for projection (which I forgot to mention above--twice in the play historical images are projected, as a way of covering the historical narrative) and any help I can with the rest of it. I'd be perfectly happy to hand over the script and disappear until closing night, however.

Monday 11 November 2019


The play as a whole could be performed by no fewer than three actors, though it’s written for seven. Characters can be voiced by different actors from scene to scene.

So goes the Note I'm composing for my Oak Floors! a Heritage Cabaret. What happens, I wonder, when one character is sung by multiple voices in the course of the whole piece. If that works--and I suspect it would, if performed by pros--than my chamber musical could be done by three actors, one of them the music director, all playing multiple characters.
Or have one character locked to one actor while the rest bounce around as needed. That lock would be settled on the flaneur, as this figure is still called (I'll add that circumflex accent before producing some final version of the script.) Her/His role is to take us from scene to scene in the heritage cabaret. An obvious function, I suppose. But to "take us" is not a straightforward matter. Attitude, tease, degrees of complicity with what we're about to see or have just seen--all of these the flaneur will carry. Thus the story we receive, if I'm not off course here, will land with both conviction and light. Light as in suspension, light as in play.

But give me seven to sing the Chorus role. Play the Chorus off against individuals in scenes.

So, somewhere in the above is the genesis of a Note I want to include. I like thinking about this now--the prospect of only three actors to do the whole piece--instead of later in a rush, should that ever happen.

Monday 28 October 2019


I just spent an hour with Carousel, Act 2. For an illustration of the now-standard truth that Rodgers and Hammerstein changed musicals forever, note what has happened at the end of Act 1. Billy, the, male lead, has arrived at both his best (devotion to wife and unborn child) and worst (accomplice to a robbery).
The community is intact, having enjoyed "a real nice clambake." But that robbery scene is coming up.
Anyway, not to give any more away or over-dumb the story. My point it, it has one, and it's powerful.
Eventually we get to the famous "You'll Never Walk Alone," here sung gloriously by Renee Fleming in the 2018 revival.

Do not watch the YouTube vid of RF singing this song, unless you can stomach her dedication to "our armed forces overseas."
Instead, for best results, read and listen to the musical to this point. 
Then play the Fleming version, and its built-in pain, elegy, hope, despair, love, vulnerability, refusal, celebration, and the rest of it.

Saturday 26 October 2019

Walt Whitman

Last night I attended a reading at McNally-Robinson in Saskatoon. From my chair, I had an obstructed view of a book cover that said Thoughts of Whitman. Could be interesting, I noted. I'd have a closer look after the reading. Turns out the full title was Thoughts of a White Man. Not so interesting.
This afternoon I took a seat in the corner of Regina Public Library downtown for a bit of reading and writing. First I scanned the nearby shelves, the American Lit section. There I spotted Walt Whitman, by David Reynolds. 
I mention these random events because I'd already begun to track the notion of Walt Whitman, the Musical. I'm sure he could find a reason to sing "his all-embracing persona, his imaginative vocabulary, and his sweeping catalogs that juxtaposed crisp vignettes of people, places and things" (quoting Reynolds).
There's also the matter of the "inner light" he inherited from his Quaker mother.
And he lived in Brooklyn (circa 1830) when it stood half-way from rural Long Island to urban Manhattan. And he covered baseball for a Brooklyn newspaper. And, oh yes, went on to revolutionize poetry in the western world. 
Just for starters. I'd have to account for his sexual peccadilloes, if that's what they were.
I'd want to go to Brooklyn, which I do anyway. 

Thoreau came down to Brooklyn to visit him. He corresponded with Emerson. Was antislavery. During the Civil War volunteered at a hospital. Was a teacher and printer. Admired painters, photographers, actors, singers. Had troubled siblings. Was pan-spiritual. Loved the city and the land. Loved science and machines. Loved sex. Imagined a life-long poetic project both personal and national in scope.
All of which he'd sing.

Tuesday 8 October 2019


On a recent trial of Broadway HD, a streaming service, I watched Gypsy (the 2005 West End revival with Imelda Staunton as Rose), She Loves Me (Harnick and Bock, 2016 on Broadway), and The King and I (a sumptuous 2017 revival with Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe). Wonderful works, all of them.
Of course, in the latter two shows, the principals are at such odds with each other that how could they ever get together. But they do, in their fashion.
Re Gypsy. It's often noted that Rose, the driving force of the show (thumbnail: "overbearing mother") is one of the most complex characters in all musical theatre. I suppose because she can't help creating and feeling such pain. In "Rose's Turn," the powerhouse song/soliloquy at the climax of Act Two, she cries out for her share of success in this life, which translates to the star turn she takes, alone on stage and abandoned (she assumes).
Also on Bway HD, I caught an interview with Stephen Sondheim, recorded in London about ten years ago, in which he recalled the Act One climax to Gypsy (he wrote the lyrics, music by Jules Stein), when Rose discovers that her eldest daughter, and the boys in their vaudeville act, have the left to try it on their own.
Sondheim was writing for a star, Ethel Merman. It had been assumed, Sondheim said, that Merman was no actor, so he wrote a song--the famous "Everything's Coming Up Roses"--to suit her brassy style. (All those years before on-stage mics, Merman never had trouble reaching the back of the theatre.) In the scene, she could just belt out the song. The other characters could do the acting. 
In fact, Sondheim learned, Merman, the Vaudeville vet, turned out to be a very fine actor, especially in comedic bits.
I did cancel the streaming service before the end of the trial but might go back to it. 
They're such wonderful shows!

Sunday 6 October 2019


I caught Globe Theatre's wonderful Chicago again last night. This time I promised myself I'd pay attention particularly to the role of the cabaret host. It's not a role, it's a function shared in this production by whichever actor is available. No need to create the cabaret MC host--here imagine Joel Grey in Cabaret. Just enlist a voice, any voice, to set up the next scene.

If I'm not mistaken (but dedicated readers of this blog--good sunny Sunday to you, uncle Foster and aunt Hewitt--will know I often am), Chicago was originally billed as "a cabaret," though I don't see that billing in the Globe program. Correction: on the vocal score, it's called "a musical Vaudeville." Same thing. A show staged as if the audience is not just implied as usual but is explicitly present just beyond the performance space. If that is so, cabaret must provide the MC function, and may be excused from, or at least take a looser grip on, the task of building that narrative arc a show needs. 

Cabaret as a stage show written by Kander and Ebb, included both scenes in the Kit-Kat club and elsewhere. Bob Fosse, in directing the hit movie, kept the focus on the club, the cabaret. And the slippery, tricky, MC, played by Grey, kept us where Fosse wanted us to be.

Chicago, also by Kander and Ebb (book by Ebb and Fosse), underplays the MC role, as noted above. There's hardly any tease, just straight-ahead intro to what's next.

So, in my Oak Floors, a Heritage Cabaret, I've had my flaneur figure who, in various versions, has ranged from being a hallway spirit (an all-purpose genius loci) who slips here and there as needed, to being your regular ageless, timeless narrator. I've kept him, so far, because he helps undercut the otherwise monumental thematic verities of love and loneliness.

The way I'm thinking now, however, that tease-y function will blend with the straight historical narrator function and the get-me-to-the-next-scene function. Just keep it simple. Get the show before the audience, as those anonymous MC voices do in Chicago.

So I'm back into this show of mine. A new element, pertinent to the above notions, is presenting historical material as a series of captions and projected images. The caption content could be spoken by our MC. The image content could be mimed by a pair of actors in short freezes. 

Monday 2 September 2019


I was reading today in A Ship Without a Sail, the Gary Marmarstein bio of lyricist Lorenz Hart.
Hart and Rodgers wrote a lot of songs and got their musicals up in a hurry. When they became superstars by the late 1920s, they could have 2 or 3 shows running on Broadway at the same time. Hart, furthermore, was notoriously fast as a lyricist--often, as the story goes, scrawling a new one using for a desk the top of the piano at which his younger, sterner partner, Rodgers, waited impatiently. Often brilliant lyrics, of course. Lined with sharp allusions to American speech, to sex, and to the Classics, all at once.
So what's holding me up. I got home a few days ago but haven't touched my piano. I signed out the Broadway Fake Book from the RPL but haven't opened it. 
Here's the kicker: After I told my sister Fay that I was thinking of taking singing lessons, and that they cost $45 a session, Fay kept saying, "Oh, you've got to do that" and, for my recent birthday, gave me $45 in cash and card saying, "Do it. And send a report!"
So I think I have to. 
One way or another.
Get going.

Saturday 17 August 2019

Love Interest

As I was (not) saying re that love interest in an imagined musical version of The Alchemist . . .
Once we get past the Prologue--containing the business about the writer and his book--we get into the story proper: about a young shepherd boy, tending his flock of sheep. According to his father, the boy's career choices were shepherd or priest, and the boy wanted to travel. So here he is, herding his sheep over the countryside.
They learn his rhythms, more a case of him learning theirs. He tells them about the weather, what's on his mind today, what he's seen. Lately, he's been telling them about the girl, the wool-shearer's daughter, whom he's about to meet again . . .

Tuesday 13 August 2019

A Page of Reading

I got to the end of the first page of The Alchemist (by Paulo Coelho, trans. Alan Clarke) and saw a musical. The speaker in the novel expresses the theme: I never "wavered in my vision" and "in the end, I realized . . .". Imagine the musical of which that is the synopsis.
"Well, every musical every made," you might reply, dear Reader. Yes, so it's not the them, it's the details that have to sell the show.
In the case of The Alchemist--to be confirmed once I finish reading it--the details include a writer whose first book, published twenty-five years ago, "no one noticed." Other characters would be a bookseller, a publisher, and the single customer, who buys the book twice.
Somehow the book itself would be the focus of the opening song, a montage involving all who carry it. 
As for love interest . . .

Wednesday 7 August 2019


The more famous the show tune, the less we remember its context in the show. "Cabaret," for instance. Here it is, the wonderful Kander/Ebb song, aced by Liza Minelli in the '72 movie.

In the play, Sally Bowles--the Kit Kat showgirl, I think meant to be far less polished than Minelli--ignores the rise of the Nazis in pre-war Berlin. Let others resist or, like her American (in the play) British (in the movie) boyfriend, flee. She'll stay working at the club. In fact, she's due at a rehearsal right now.

Politics don't matter, she believes, even when the nightmare looms. They're throwing bricks through windows of Jewish sympathizers, lovers are torn apart, Sally's had an abortion . . .

So in the play she comes on stage and does the song and says her piece. More than a call to seize the pleasures of the moment, the song expresses her fear, defiance, hope, cowardice, fate, force, innocence, blindness, strength.

One measure of how big this song became outside of the show is that later productions moved it to the top. In its original spot, near the Act Two climax of the piece, the song takes us to the heart of the character at the moment of greatest crisis.

Saturday 29 June 2019


As millions know, Oklahoma! begins in light: a bright new morning, one never before seen. A woman described as "buxom" and "about 50" pauses over her butter churn to gaze out over the meadow, a "contented look" on her face. We in the audience are the meadow. Thus, I imagine, we're contented too. Expectant. Something good will come, soon.
It's a voice, a young man, from offstage. "There's a bright, golden haze on the meadow," he sings. He repeats the line, then, "The corn is as high as en elephant's eye, / An' it looks like it's climbin' clear up to the sky." 
Now the young man, Curly, saunters on. You know what comes next: 
     Oh, what a beautiful mornin', 
     Oh, what a beautiful day. 
     I got a beautiful feelin'
     Everythin's going my way.
(Here we might observe that one "beautiful" is enough, two are too many, but with the third we're back to enough. Furthermore, re rhyme, note that only the perfect rhyme works here. Try "Everythin's going to be fine.")
Maybe it will go Curly's way, maybe it won't. The play throws complications our way. But an opening like this one beguiles us, picks us up perfectly for the ride.
Here's Hugh Jackman as Curly in a 1998 London revival.

Monday 17 June 2019


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


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


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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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


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


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?
It's priest. Have a little priest.
Is it really good? 
Sir, it's too good, at least! 
Then again, they don't commit sins of the flesh, 
So it's pretty fresh.
Awful lot of fat.
Only where it sat.
Haven't you got poet, or something like that? 
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


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


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.