Playwriting Altar–an Inspiration Treasure Trove

This past year, my playwriting teacher required every student to fill a shoebox with items that were inspirations or resources for their current plays. She referred to this shoebox as our playwriting altar. It was a place we could turn to if we were feeling stuck or uninspired or confused about our work. These shoeboxes can be built specifically for a single play or musical you are currently writing, or you can compile a figurative “shoebox” of what can always comfort and inspire you. So as a farewell to my writing time on NMT, I decided to give you a smattering from my own writing altar, in the hopes that you might find something new and interesting to refresh your own creative process.

Henry Higgins

He may be an arrogant, misogynistic sociopath (excuse me, my feminism is showing), but Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady has some of the most clever and specific language in his songs that I have ever heard in musical theatre. In “A Hymn to Him” (and we can also note the fantastic wordplay in the title), Higgins ruminates with his housekeeper over why Eliza has left his company so suddenly: “Would I run off and never tell me where I’m going?/ Why can’t a woman be like me!” In “You Did It!” Higgins tells his servants about a linguist from Budapest and says that he has never seen a “ruder pest.” Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics are witty and character driven, and the fact that I actually like Higgins’ songs most in the musical is, in my opinion, a testament to a well-established character.

Tegan and Sara

While I am always a fan of a super tight, sharp lyric, indie songwriters Tegan and Sara remind me that sometimes when you write a song, you don’t need to be flashy with your wordplay, you need to say what you’re feeling. When I listen to Tegan and Sara, their music just makes me feel things. They capture that feeling of being in love and craving another person, and they do that by just saying it:

Stop crying to the ocean, stop crying over me
Stop worrying over nothing, stop worrying over me
So it’s been so long since you said
Well I know what I want and what I want’s right here with you

Lyrics don’t always need to be impressive linguistically, but they do always need to be impressive emotionally, and sometimes that means they need to be simple.

Watch this video on YouTube.

100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write by Sarah Ruhl

I used to joke that this book was my Bible. I carried it with me everywhere I went for an entire school year because when I was feeling stagnant creatively, I could open this book to any page, read a few paragraphs, and be provoked. As the title suggests, this book is 100 essays that Sarah Ruhl doesn’t have time to write, so instead she has filled a book with the beginnings of thoughts and questions. Not only are her ideas fascinating (and her language beautiful and soothing), but also they are incomplete, only the first little seedlings of what could become a book or a play or a musical or a dissertation. There is room to grow with this book, and it has pulled me out of many a creative hole.

The Interval

Subtitled as “The Smart Girl’s Guide to Theatricality,” this website is the home of an impressive collection of interviews with female theatremakers of all kinds: playwrights, actors, directors, composers, designers, choreographers–and the other roles that they are proud to play: mother, sister, insomniac, activist, friend, jellybean addict, spiritual quester. These interviews are beautiful portraits of artists, and while the website is specifically dedicated to addressing gender parity in the theatre, it also give these women a platform to speak honestly about their work in ways that are not always allowed in mainstream publications. There is no fear of being labeled an angry feminist on The Interval–instead you can expect power, truth, creativity, intelligence, humor, and questions. I never cease to be stimulated by the ladies at The Interval.

These are some of my creative comforts. Think about what sparks your interests and gets your wheels turning–once you find them, you can always turn to them in times of stagnancy. Happy thinking and writing, New Musical Theatre lovers.

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