Caught Up in the Labeling
The desire to feel progressive and productive is a natural one that most writers feel. We want to know that our work is moving towards a satisfying goal. And sometimes that journey can seem a little bit hazy in regards to whether or not a project is going anywhere. But do not worry, I promise that as long as time, energy, and a collaborative conversation is taking place, your project is on a path towards (a form of) completion. However, that feeling of “progress” can sometimes come across as a vague and amorphous position that inspires us to use certain labels for each step of the way. And those labels (more often than not) can hinder the process rather than assist.
I have heard a few of my fellow writers say to me, “Well, we want to finish a draft of the show, and then have a workshop soon after.” But it is an all too rare occasion that a first draft of a musical is ready for a “workshop” or a “reading.” I understand that some projects call for deadlines and requirements from other associates. But the amount of time and energy required to produce a workshop is so staggering that it seems counterintuitive to produce said workshop for a newborn script.
Every writer has a different process, so I will by no means suggest that this is the “correct” way to approach a second draft of a script. But I have one found notable event to be infinitely beneficial in regards to developing a musical in its early stages: the invitation of a few intelligent friends to come over and listen to you play through the show as they read along. Some might call this a scaled down version of a workshop, but I like to it a fun night with friends that are talking about your musical.
This usually, for myself, means the following: (1.) An intimate group of trustworthy people whose ideas and reflections are reliable, honest, and thought provoking. (2.) A bottle of wine or a home cooked meal to emphasize the non-industrial nature of the evening. (3.) Those that are invited can speak the dialogue, while the composer/lyricist sings through the show, not a performer. This way, there is more focus on the text and less on any type of interpretation by a performing artist. (4.) No press releases or public announcements about any type of reading. This way, the focus can be on the work and the work alone, not publicity. And finally (5.) the comfort in knowing that even if you write an incredibly messy first draft, that it’s OKAY! It’s all a part of the frustrating, agonizing, uplifting, and ultimately rewarding process.
We can get swept up in fancy/business-related statements such as “Well, we have a workshop coming up in the fall,” or “He’s going to direct a reading in this studio space.” These things are all fine and necessary and beneficial, but only if your show is at that developmental stage. If you have no outside perspective of your show, then there is no way of knowing whether or not an official workshop is fruitful. And if you’re able to create an outside perspective without the time and money of a workshop, then go for it.
So make a night of it! Bring a few friends over to your apartment, or your friend’s apartment. Hand out a few copies of the script to that select few in which you trust, respect, and rely. Sing through your score, fully aware that there are dance breaks and chorale sections that require multiple people. Pop open a bottle of wine and have an open conversation afterwards. Laugh, discuss, be mildly embarrassed, and take notes. You’ll be doing a favor for not only yourself, but also the actors who will eventually pick up a much more stabilized version of your script in whatever future reading or workshop that will take place. Actors are always eager to get their hands on new material, but save them the work that could easily be done on your own.
And after that night, and after those rewrites, go ahead and start organizing that “reading” or “workshop” or “collaborative-surgical-procedure-on-a-libretto” or whatever label you choose. You’ll have given yourself the confidence, the resources, and the tools you need to move forward. Not to mention you’ll remember that incredible night when you and a few friends laughed and cried after hearing that beautifully imperfect first draft.