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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There's A Place For Us...

I was at a networking event earlier this week and got into a conversation - one that I’ve had countless times with theatre professionals and audience members alike - where the central questions are:

Should Broadway shows be about the art or the money?”

Is there a place on Broadway for shows that are only light and feel-good? What about dark, depressing shows?”

How do you expect to get new audiences if all shows look, feel, or sound alike?”

Now, I don’t find the mere asking of these questions to be problematic, but I do find the heart of this oft-had conversation to be problematic. Whichever side you fall on - and yes, there do ultimately seem to end up being two sides to this conversation - there is an insinuation that one type of theatre should exist on Broadway and another type should not.

But my big question is: Why?

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"Snow Day (A Day Off)"

As a high school student, I had a fairly constant refrain:

We need a snow day. Give us a snow day. Please.”

Now, this was not me praying or placing a sock under my pillow or attempting to bewitch the skies to make storms appear, this was me on days when school should have been cancelled due to inclement weather even though it had not been.

Some context:

I grew up in Binghamton, NY where most of our snow came from major storms across the interior or from large Nor’easters. So when we had a big storm - even though we knew how to move snow well (it’s upstate NY after all) - we had a snow day.

In high school I moved to Rochester, NY, which sees more snow each year than Binghamton does, mostly due to constant lake effect snow. Because of this, Rochester (for some reason) prides itself on moving snow so well that there’s no reason to ever have a snow day.

Um. What?

Let’s even put aside the obvious fact that big snow storms or large amounts of black ice are dangerous and potentially life-threatening, especially when you have students driving themselves and their friends to school. There’s another big reason that Snow Days are crucial: Mental Health.

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You've Got To Be Carefully Taught

One of the most eye-opening tips I’ve ever casually received in my career thus far came while doing a show called My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding. It’s an absolutely delightful, folksy, and heartfelt autobiographical musical written by the Canadian husband-wife writing team (and the kindest people) David Hein and Irene Sankoff - yes, the same people behind the international smash hit: Come From Away.

It was October of 2010 and we had been rehearsing the show at JCC Centerstage in Rochester, NY in a setting where the show was being workshopped with David and Irene as we went through the script. For a new writer like me, this was an incredible experience. The show’s director and a wonderful mentor of mine - Ralph Meranto - told David and Irene after one rehearsal that I was an aspiring musical theatre writer. They immediately showed interest and asked questions. As I said, kindest people ever.

At the end of the conversation, Irene asked, “Do you follow Ken Davenport’s blog? If you don’t, you definitely should. There’s a lot of great information. We read it religiously!”

This one suggestion set me onto a path over the next few years of attempting to acquire and consume every bit of knowledge that I could about writing musical theatre. And that is why this tip was so important.

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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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"Get Your Education, Don't Forget From Whence You Came"

Lin-Manuel Miranda has often spoken about origins: His own, his family’s, his musicals’, Alexander Hamilton’s, etc. He has written about them in lyrics, including the one above from “Alexander Hamilton” and his well-noted “we were that kid” rap in the 2013 Tony Awards opening number: “Bigger.” It’s a common theme of his interviews, whether he is the interviewee or the interviewer. Clearly Mr. Miranda seems to think our origins are important.

And I agree.

Particularly when it comes to the arts and educating young people. I firmly believe that our experiences and exposures as children have an incredible and lasting impact on how we interact with art for the remainder of our lives. And this includes formal and informal educations, extracurricular activities, time experiencing art with family and friends, exposure to all forms of entertainment, financial abilities, general access, community practices, and much much more. Every experience in life involves art in some way, and every exposure is another puzzle piece in a child’s education.

So how do we best serve young people? What kind of education do they need or should they have? What if some want to pursue the arts and others just want to enjoy them? What about those who have fewer resources available or greatly reduced ability to access art? Where does it all begin?

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No Rest For The Wicked

(…and I’m not talking about our green friend over at the Gershwin!)

January 2 - March 10:

  • 67 Days

  • 3 Days Off, working 7 Days/Week

  • 2 Shows as Musical Director (Bring It On, Legally Blonde) and starting a Third (Rent)

  • 5 Casts (Bring It On) over 2 weekends

  • 70+ Cast Members (Legally Blonde)

  • 33 Weekly Voice Lessons and 3 Classes (regular work schedule)

  • I Repeat - 3 Days Off

March 11 - April 14:

  • 34 Days

  • 5 Days Off, working 6 Days/Week

  • 1 Show as Musical Director (Rent)

  • 2 Casts over 1 weekend

  • 33 Weekly Voice Lessons and 3 Classes (still)

  • I Repeat - 5 Days Off

For those of you playing at home, that means in the first 101 days of 2019, I am scheduled to work for 93 of them with a total of 8 off days.

We need to discuss work and overwork in the artistic world.

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Shut That Window 'Cause...

…it’s getting DRAFTY IN HERE!!

Yes, okay, I hate myself just a little bit for that one too. But I thought it was cute. Anywho…

Today I want to talk about the [grueling] process that is drafting. And I don’t mean in a graphic design sense (drawing is not a strength of mine). I mean it more in the sense of: sitting down to write a thing that you’ve been thinking about for a long time and have really wanted to write but haven’t had the time and/or motivation to do so but you’ve finally found the time or at least have now cleaned the entire apartment four times and done your taxes and solved world hunger so I guess now there’s nothing left to do but actually write the thing which you should want to write anyway since it’s your passion and you chose to do this with your life so why are you stalling oh wait Facebook is calling and oh look that rhymed and so I can get into a pointless argument with someone whose face I can’t see instead of forcing terrible first draft dialogue on unwitting characters oh wait they blocked me so I guess I really do have to write now. Darn.

You know. That kind of a sense.

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Sometimes I'm Down, and Sometimes I'm Up

New Year. A time of celebration, reflection, planning, and new beginnings…right?

For some people, I do believe that is the case. But it’s not the case for everyone, myself included.

Personally, I’ve never really been a fan of New Year’s Eve and all of the traditions that go with it. It seems a bit much to party and eat and drink so close to the holiday break, and the idea of “resolutions” always gives me a feeling of dread like I’m just going to fail all my new endeavors. Perhaps not the best head space to enter into a new calendar year with.

So what to do?

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"But I Can't, I'm So Busy!"

Busy-ness (not to be confused with the Business) is - if everyone is to be believed - the Number 1 Cause of Nothing-Ever-Happening. That’s right, simply being busy.

But Michael, everyone I know is busy. I mean, I know I’m busy. All the time!

I hear you and I understand what you’re saying, but I’m going to let in you on a secret that I was given which has truly changed the way I think about time and productivity. You ready?

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"Survival Is Paramount!" ***DUN DUN DUN***

Alright, a touch dramatic, I agree. But it’s true, isn’t it? We really can’t pursue any kind of career or interest if we aren’t living. So perhaps the drama is warranted?

Okay, let’s see. What are we told as children are the basic needs for survival?

Food. Water. Shelter.

And in order to acquire these things in our modern society, we require money. Which means jobs.

***HOORAY!!! PEOPLE ARE GOING TO PAY US FOR THE ART WE LOVE TO CREATE AND THEN WE CAN JUST AFFORD TO LIVE AND CREATE ART AND BE HAPPY!!!!*** Wait, no? What do you mean, “no”? I have to get a what?

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Why-Oh "The Glamorous Life"?

Ah, the Glamorous Life: The picturesque life of the Theatre Artist living their dreams in the Big City. Fun, Freeing, and Fulfilling! Right?

Well, sometimes.

As amazing as spending your life doing what you love can be, there’s so much more that comes along with living as a full-time theatre artist. And most of it is rarely or never talked about! Sometimes it’s Glitz and Glamor, but other times it’s Rejection and Ramen. So why not discuss it all?

Join me as I explore the everyday, behind-the-scenes, and real life stories of what it takes to make this journey happen. From the triumphs and joys, through the mundane and taboo, to the sorrows and frustrations. What is it like to live as a theatre artist? What kind of unique experiences do you have? What is the good, the bad, and the could-really-use-a-touch-up? Read, watch, subscribe, and come find out!

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