Allow me to explain.
In the art world - and particularly for musical theatre writers - we are often told that we need to be prepared to “kill our babies.” Obviously this is not meant in a literal sense. ‘Cause that would be bad. Very bad.
For non-theatre or non-artist folks, this idea might be a bit confusing. What is meant by this?
Children and Art
Many people - both regular and non-regular audiences of artists - think that the final product they are viewing and/or hearing simply fell out of the artist in that completed state.
Oh, so very incorrect.
Okay, maybe it occasionally happens that way, but that’s pretty darn rare. Usually, it takes weeks, months, or years of practice, trial and error, editing, starting from scratch, etc. before the final product comes to fruition.
So what are these “babies” then?
Along the creative process, we often come up with something that we like. Sometimes we sort of like it, or think we like it. Other times we really like it. But we have to approach this new creation of ours with caution, for it might not be allowed to stick around in the end.
An actor may come up with an emotional decision for a character at the height of a scene while working with the script at home - a moment they have come to love and are excited to try. However, upon getting into the rehearsal room they may find that the choice doesn’t make sense with the other people on stage and the flow of the scene for this production.
A director may find that they have created a moment of physical or emotional energy on their actors that is sublime, but upon revisiting it they may realize that it doesn’t serve the text.
A graphic designer may create an image or a logo that they believe is absolutely perfect for their client and their client’s needs, but perhaps the client doesn’t like the image when shown. And perhaps the client can’t even put their finger on exactly why.
And these are just a few tiny examples. The list could go on.
These moments of creation are the children. They are pieces of artistry that have sprung from us that we may really like, but due to other circumstances we may not be able to keep them.
Baby With The Bathwater
Sometimes when we throw these ideas out it’s really no big deal. The moment came to us quickly, it was a good thought if it had worked, but it didn’t. So out it goes!
Other times…*shudder*…it’s a great deal of time and effort that you must toss aside. And these moments are the truly painful ones.
I have been writing and rewriting The King’s Legacy for over 6 years at this point, and it has been a long journey of tons of material. Over this time, I have written close to 50 songs for the show. 50. And how many songs are there actually in the show at present? 22. And that’s not even mentioning all of the old lyrics and cut sections that have been tossed out of the songs that still exist! And much of that material was difficult to throw out. I really liked some of the songs that no longer exist.
Bu ultimately, these cuts are a good thing - or should be a good thing. Anything you throw out needs to be because it serves the piece as a whole to do so. The one thing we have to be very careful of though is to not throw out the good and appropriate material with the rest. Judicious cutting is one of the hardest things, especially if it means stripping down material you loved and building something new from the same (and correct) core idea.
Killing your creative material for the good of the art is rough. But necessary.
Art is Editing
Anyone can create things, really. But the artist is the person who sticks with their creations and sees them through to their final conclusions.
I’ve begun thinking a lot about this recently as I have been rewriting (like a madman) for this summer’s production of The King’s Legacy. I’ve killed quite a few children as it is in this show, but it’s so much stronger of a piece than it was before. And many of my original ideas still exist, but they have evolved into something that now works to the benefit of the musical as a whole.
Try not to get discouraged when you throw out good ideas. All it means is that something better is yet to come along.