Can I tell you a Story? In an ideal world, that question is what I use to maintain my laser-like focus every moment of the ten hours each day as I write a great piece of new musical theatre. In reality, it’s a bit more like: What kind of song does this character need… Should I have another cup of coffee… Would this be better as a duet… What is that woman on the street wearing… What rhymes with ‘salamander’… Where did I put my iPhone… Does this character really need a song… How is it only 10:30… Why the hell does the one lyric I wrote use the word ‘salamander’?!
Once I manage to silence my annoyingly loud, ADHD-addled inner monologue – or at least jam it into the back-left corner of my brain for a while – I pull myself back to telling the Story. And by the way, I’m not talking about the plot. The plot of a musical is “easy.” Well, it’s not easy, but it’s easy.
With the plot, you can start at Point A and get to Point Z just by making decisions about what your characters do or don’t do. Simple, right? It’s just like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. (If you don’t know what that is, you’re really young… or really old… but regardless…) Making character decisions this way for a musical might not give you a good (or entertaining or coherent or watchable…) plot – that’s the easy/not easy part – but you’ll have a plot and you have to start somewhere.
But, as I said, I’m not talking about the plot. By the time I’m sitting down to write a song, the bookwriter and I… and sometimes the director… and sometimes the producer… and sometimes a copy of the DVD of the movie… have already worked out the plot. I’m talking about the Story. And, the thing is – when it comes to how to tell any given moment of the Story, the possibilities are endless! Which is wonderful! They’re literally… endless… Which is horrible! Both really.
I mean, I’ve already go the caffeine from that second cup of coffee surging through my veins and now I have to pick one direction out of…infinity. It’s like trying to conceptualize the dimensions of outer space. You can’t do it. Try it sometime – your head will explode.
But now is the time when that insane (or at least, 48-hour hold) inner monologue of mine should come in handy! So I let that scattershot, random access, free association voice out of its corner and turn it loose! But somehow, during its brief timeout, it has turned into less of a creative force and more of…an avoidance machine.
So while the ideas are flowing fast and furious, they tend to take the form of… well, here is an extremely abridged version of the options I present myself with as to how to tell this moment of the Story:
- Meaningful Solo (aka: Yeah, but what rhymes with ‘salamander’?)
- Big Group Number (aka: Ha! It’s Gattelli’s problem now!)
- 2-Page Monologue (aka: Shut up, I know it’s not called a book-i-cal!)
- Second Intermission (aka: Time to sell more noisy candy!)
- Montage! (aka: Ha! It’s everybody’s problem now!)
And the list goes on and on – believe me, it goes on!
But, eventually, I finish my third cup of coffee and, much to my surprise, a tiny kernel of an idea jumps out of this roiling stream of consciousness and into the boat of my brain like a suicidal salmon. I consider this tiny idea and, hesitantly, the little (sane) voice in my head says “that just might work.” So, quickly, before I lose it (the idea, smartass!), I banish the inner monologue again, erase the lyric with ‘salamander’ in it and start to write.
Back and forth I go between the piano and my lyric pad – trying to strike the right balance of ‘demanding better of my first drafts’ and ‘not beating them to death with the perfection stick.’ And gradually, that fragile little idea kernel turns into a verse! And then, the skeleton of a song – sometimes even a whole musical sequence!
And when, in an hour or a few days, I, with sweat-soaked brow, lay down my pencil and deem it “written,” a great sense of contentment and satisfaction washes over me. It’s not the end of the journey – not even close! In fact, 95% of the time it’s not even the end of the journey for the song in question. But, for now, for right now, one more moment can be moved from the “to be written” to the “written” column and the quest to tell the Story is one step closer to fruition.
Of course writing a song isn’t always like that – sometimes it’s difficult.
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