From The Ground Up

The term “Devised Theatre” tends to elicit strong reactions from people - whether that be eyes lighting up in excitement, a shudder in remembrance of the ghosts of devised theatre past, or questioning looks from those who aren’t exactly sure what it means.

Essentially, devised theatre is a theatrical piece including any performance elements (dance, music, lights, speech, sound, movement, etc.) that was built from the ground up by an ensemble of people without a physical, linear-plot script.

Often these types of piece are made to be experimental and off-the-beaten-path, and audiences aren’t necessarily expected to feel a sense of familiarity in experiencing the performance.

But then, other times that’s exactly what they are meant to feel. And that’s where it gets super tricky.

Tonight is the official opening night of So Happy Together: The Music of the Swingin’ 60’s at Bristol Valley Theater - for which I am the Musical Director - and that’s precisely what this show was built to be: a devised musical revue show meant to be a delightful, familiar, and joy-sparking experience for the audience.

And folks…I think we did it?!?!

But how?

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Love The Art, Hate The Artist?

Society - particularly American society - loves to demonize or to “other” art and artists.

We deride people who create:

  • Oh, you’re an artist? You’re one of those.”

  • Oh, you’re a writer? I wish I could sit at home all day.”

  • Oh, you’re an actor? You must love starving.”

These are of course specific examples using common ideas and tropes, but these kinds of reactions are common and probably sound familiar to you.

We tell people who want to go into the arts:

  • Why would you to throw your life away?”

  • But you have so much potential!”

  • But there’s no money in the arts!”

Being a creator is clearly seen as being *less than,* but why? Less than what? Why would we consider becoming an artist or writer or performer or designer a path that is throwing your life away or not using your skills and talents?

Well, Capitalism.

But this type of thinking and behavior not only can be unlearned, but it needs to be unlearned. Art and the products of creation are everywhere, but we’ve been conditioned to have a blind spot for most of it, and what we do see we are told to feel contempt for. Let’s just see how pervasive art is, shall we?

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"It's An Old Song" Yet Somehow New

Last night I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Hadestown on Broadway, and there is so much I would like to say about the show and the experience.

Now, when I first began this blog I had promised that one of the things I would occasionally write is theatre reviews. However, I am not a reviewer or critic (well, everyone is a critic, aren’t they?) and I personally do not feel that the world needs another small-time reviewer to muddy the opinionated waters.

So what I am going to do is occasionally write about a show or theatrical experience that moved me, and then try to speak to why. What is it about this show? What in particular was enjoyable or exciting? What was new and/or different?

***This does mean there may be mild Hadestown spoilers today - but since I am including no pictures, video, or music, how spoiled could the experience really be? (Another question for another day?) Plus - well - the Orpheus story has also been around for a couple millennia, sooo… ;-)

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Don't Bring Around A Cloud...

…to rain on my paraaaaaaaade! (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

For those of you who read last week’s blog post - welcome to Part 2! For those of you who didn’t, check out the first part of the post here: As We Stumble Along…

Last week’s post focused on the more negative aspects of the risk-taking and the learning processes in this business. The journey is often imperfect and difficult and involves a great deal of trial-and-error, and that’s totally okay. But what I skipped over were all of the positive steps and outcomes that can result from this journey.

Every single success or accomplishment that is presently in my life can be traced back to either a risk I took, or a moment where I enhanced my personal education through non-traditional (aka classroom) means. And I am not unique in this regard.

So, the question becomes - how? Well, there are many routes, but I’ll tell you about some of mine.

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Hey, Old Friend

What is a theatre writer’s best friend and worst enemy?

You might think: Writer’s block? The blank page? Technology? Caffeine? Sleep? Outlines? All good possible answers, but…nope. What applies only to theatre writers and to no other form of writing?

Readings.

DUN DUN DUN! *Insert dramatic zoom here*

But why, Michael? Why are readings both potentially wonderful and oh-so-evil at the same time?

An excellent question.

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Why Is *THAT* A Musical?

If I had a nickel for every time I was asked this question, or even asked this question myself, I would have a very large number of relatively heavy and annoying coins.

But I do wonder - How often do people hear about a new musical or see a marquee and think this question to themselves? I mean, what makes a story ripe for adaptation into a musical? Why do some musicals seem like no-brainers, while others make us scratch our heads and think, “Huh. Really? That one?”

The Lehman Engel BMI Musical Theatre Writing Workshop answer to the question of what type of stories should be adapted into musicals is a relatively simple and subjective one: If you think there’s more within the story that should be told, and that music will enhance that storytelling, then it is likely adaptable into a musical. But if the story feels complete in its current form, and it doesn’t seem like music will enhance the piece and its purpose, it should probably be left alone.

Despite the subjective nature of this statement, I do think there’s truth to it. If you look at the types of stories that have been most successfully adapted into musicals (and most musicals are adaptations), the use of music in the storytelling has heightened the plots and characters, and filled in some invisible hole that helps the audience interact with the material.

This is the reason, I think, that certain stories see multiple attempts at musical adaptation. For a couple of examples, we have 2 adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera, 2 musicals of The Wild Party, and countless musical versions of Shakespeare’s plays (most of which have not worked well). Some stories feel as though they could be told well, or better, in musical theatre form and therefore multiple adaptations appear. Some are good, and some aren’t. Some use the original author’s intents, and some leave them behind.

Successful adaptation is a tricky process - and I know this from adapting one of the most-adapted stories in musical theatre, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow. Approximately 5-6 musical versions of this story exist, but none of them has had great mainstream or commercial success. Yet. But why? What goes into this process?

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