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.