Friday 28 February 2020

Wilbur and Charlotte: Song for Chapter Three

[outline of content for first verse]
Lonely and bored, Wilbur's got no place to go. "That's where you're wrong my friend," says a goose. Wilbur squeezes past a loose board in the fence. With nothing between himself and the big world, now what? The goose replies with 14 different verbs and a main idea: 
          The world is a wonderful place when you're young.

Wilbur has about ten minutes of free-time. Mrs. Z spots him from the kitchen window. She calls the men. The geese hear the racket. Pretty soon all animals know Wilbur's out and cheer him on. If this is what it's like to be free, Wilbur would rather be penned up.
          The world is a wonderful place when you're young. 

 [action-packed chorus]
A cocker spaniel sneaks up from one way, hired man from the other, ready to head Wilbur off if he broke for the garden. The goose shouts orders, the dog springs for his hind leg. Screams, scrambles, dodges, grabs, cheers.

It is too much. After all, Wilbur is only a very young pig. He wishes Fern were there to comfort him. When Mr. Z approaches with a pail of warm slops, Wilbur feels relieved. He steps back through the fence. They nail it shut. "He's quite a pig," they say.
         The world is a wonderful place when you're young.

Wednesday 26 February 2020


This morning I noticed in the Globe & Mail word of the revival of Oklahoma! coming to Toronto. This would be a touring edition of the Tony winner of 2018. I have the cast recording--a gorgeous acoustic rendering of the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein score. 
The show promises to be popular, says the Globe, with those who like their musical theatre classics given a fresh treatment. What matters in such a treatment is what the singers and musicians do. In this revival, they do beautiful, committed work. Sure, it's stripped down, but the pipes on those singers . . . man, they're trained, they're at peak power, they believe in what they're singing.
I've heard the staging is radically updated--including, eight shows a week, fresh cornbread prepared and served on stage. The original staging (1943) was already radical. Until then, musicals began with overtures. (Who knows, maybe this was because Broadway audiences were notoriously slow in settling into their seats, like Dodger fans or Canuck fans.) Oklahoma! opens with a cowboy, Curly, saluting the day.
Here's a taste of a later song . . . performed by Damon Daunno and Rebecca Naomi Jones.

Saturday 8 February 2020

For the Audience

Dial M for Murder, the stage play, is set, almost entirely, in a single apartment room. For his movie version, an interviewer suggested, Alfred Hitchcock would "open up" the piece, wouldn't he? "No," said Hitchcock (according to the Peter Bogdanovich DVD commentary). "You don't open it up, you just shoot it." Of course, "just shoot it" is something one can do only after thirty years of film-making.
Anyway, how would I stage the ending of my Charlotte's Web. The book is note-perfect: Charlotte and Wilbur are alone the day after the big climax at the Fair. Soon it's time to go back to the barn at Zuckerman's, but Charlotte knows she won't make it. Wilbur is heartbroken but acts quickly when they come to load him into the truck. He gets the rat to snip Charlotte's egg sac from her web and deliver it to Wilbur for safe-keeping in his mouth (the sac is waterproof, we already know) all the way home. Their final good-byes consists of a wink by Wilbur, a weak waving of a few front legs by Charlotte. The truck drives away, the Fairground empties, and Charlotte dies alone.
There's one more chapter. Wilbur cares for the egg sac all winter. In spring the 514 eggs hatch and all but three of Charlotte's daughters drift away on their little silk balloons. (He hears their weak "Good-bye, good-bye," the poor guy.) These three build webs around Wilbur's pen. They pledge friendship to him and he to them, and he tells them about their mother.
There is no reason I can think of, at least for now, to open this up. 
How I'd love to be part of presenting this moment to an audience. 

Friday 7 February 2020

Charlotte's Hour of Triumph

happens to somebody else, of course. She's been moody, tired, "languishing" making an egg sac. In "Hours of Triumph," the last-but-two chapter in the book, we don't even hear of her until after a dazzling sequence involving Wilbur, Mr. Arable, Avery, Mrs. Zuckerman, Mrs. Arable, the loud speaker, Mr. Zuckerman, Fern, and Templeton. Then Charlotte, "silent and alone," front legs embracing her egg sac, taking courage from words of praise for Wilbur she hears over the loud speaker. That's all we get from her in this chapter (except for a brief indignation when she hears that "spiders cannot write").
If it helps to imagine the staging and design of a scene when writing it, then yes, go ahead and try it! 
We're at or near the climax of the piece, or one of them. We're at the Fair, the ultimate moment of joy and release for every character, human or animal. Charlotte is going to die, but somehow her egg sac will make it. Wilbur will find out what comes after the spotlight. Fern and Avery have left/lost their childhoods. The Arables and Zuckermans will go home and put their work clothes on.
I wonder if a turntable would help. To literally bring the voices around for their moments. This might help reinforce or create the sense of order this story implies which is, I'm tempted to say, that things happen again and again for familiar reasons. And that nothing can go on beyond its logical limits. 
Except Charlotte. How would we make this happen in the scene?

Tuesday 4 February 2020


The other day I saw Frozen 2, a Disney animated film that manages to both set its hero a choice for which the stakes are high--she must sacrifice her own city for the greater good, which she does--and let her avoid any actual sacrifice. What's the good of that?
Give me Charlotte the spider any day. While she's waiting for a plan to save Wilbur, she's moody, distracted. She kills a horsefly or two. A second later she's smiling sweetly at Wilbur, singing him to sleep. Charlotte, for all her qualities as mentor, organizer, elder, friend, protector, and magician, is a skilled killer. This troubles Wilbur, but that's just Wilbur.
The rest of us need not turn away from death, as Disney tends to. Whatever joys and education and inspiration we get out of life can be fully realized only when the facts of death are respected and observed. 
That's Charlotte's Web, as I see it anyway.