Part One: Why Not the Whole Shebang?
(First of all, because I'm still not convinced that's a real word.)
Second, the thought of trying to rush your idea through without the proper process of development is terrifying. And just plain wrong.
Seemed like a good idea at the time...
Whether you obsess about details and never feel that things are finished, or you give up too easily, it's a tough experience, where patience can feel extremely unrewarding. In the old days, when musicals were first coming into fashion, it was very easy to mount a production, often with a single backer. Because there was much less to entertain people with, sometimes shows ran forever, or squeaked by on their star appeal.
"Hey, dad's got a barn... let's do a show!"
I've had the great pleasure to see the birth of many new shows, both in my own community and elsewhere. I still remember sitting in the audience with about two dozen other people when Urinetown first opened and laughing until I cried, while other people were scratching their heads. Most recently, I had the same experience with Silence! The Musical, a marvelous parody of Silence of the Lambs. There's no precise formula for a hit show... but there certainly are things you see that clue you into what has REAL potential.
One of the best things about seeing brand new shows is that every single one of them is a learning experience. You see what works, what doesn't... what's funny, what's not... what flops, and what REALLY connects with people. If your lyrics are great but your melodies are garbage, it's just not going to work. If your music is stellar but your book is terrible, ditto.
Oh, Mamma Mia... anyone else miss ABBA?
...Well, actually, lots of shows seem to get away with that, come to think of it.
Anyway, after seeing so many shows, local and abroad, that's what led me to work on my very first musical, Beowulf and Grendel: Stave One - Heorot. As you can tell by the title, I actually didn't have a clue what I was doing, after all.
Seemed like a good idea at the time...
So, yeah, it was supposed to be a big sweeping epic with numerous parts, a tragic love triangle, music that was derivative of classical Broadway, old folk tunes, rock and roll... blah blah blah. The point is, after it was published as part of my thesis, I really started to take stock of what I'd written. A handful of things stuck out to me, but the lyrics needed a lot of work and the melodies needed more meat. For quite some time I worked solely on developing my lyrics, because, as a writer, that seemed pretty important for some reason.
Once I felt better about my ability to rhyme words with each other, I went back to music. This process was even slower, because I was literally reverse engineering a lot of what was in my head. I'd just throw everything onto the page, based on what specific instruments I heard, and then I'd chip away at it until it looked like it made sense.
Part Two: The Work Begins in Earnest
The first show I started working on steadily was called America, Before and After. It was a concept musical about four key moments in American history, from Valley Forge to 9/11. I had developed several individual songs for each time period I wanted to focus on - "Quiet" and "Free (Like Dorothy)," which appear in Jonesing, among them - and it dawned on me that the outline I'd come up with put the length of the show at roughly four and a half hours. Granted, the subject matter seemed important enough to give it that much time, but no one will sit through that. I'm not Tom Stoppard, after all.
Coast of Utopia FTW!!
The scope became too much. I felt that I was in over my head. So I put aside those songs and started working on two other shows simultaneously, one called De-Composed about a hook writer (the fellow who writes the catchy part of pop songs and commercials) who tries to commit suicide and winds up writing a show for the quirky inmates of the asylum he gets sent to, and the other about people trying to survive the destruction of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
...Yes, I know... very cheery.
"Still not as depressing as my entire life."
But both of these works proved to be too big, too! Everything had to be pared back; over and over, people would question whether I could cut the number of characters, trim the subplots, remove the dark and colloquial dialogue to make it more cheerful, and on and on. In the case of Katrina, there were even people who questioned whether an upper-middle class white kid who didn't even meet a black person until he was nine was truly qualified to write a musical about their plight.
"I did it. But, then again, I had a brain tumor, so... I dunno, YOLO?"
Two more shows started to occupy my thoughts. The first was about the brief lives of Bonnie and Clyde, the notorious Depression era gangster couple. I had a couple pieces down, including the songs "Always Mine" and "I Want" which appear in Jonesing, before I discovered that a Bonnie and Clyde musical was actually being developed by Frank Wildhorn! Onto the shelf it went.
My most recent work, Only Moments (which actually forms the bulk of the songs in Jonesing), is about a small town in Florida dealing with life after a comet is found set to strike the Earth and decimate it within a year. I was trying to say a lot about hope and fear and second chances and mistakes... but although this piece came closest to completion, AGAIN, people were very concerned how exactly I could fit an entire town onstage. Or how I could pay them all.
It's called doubling. Duh.
Finally, I got the insight I needed. As I've mentioned elsewhere on the site, several people suggested to me that the simplest way to know if anything I had was worth working on was to simply DO IT. Get Dad's barn and do a show, so to speak. So, in late 2011, I made plans. I allowed myself one full year to put the show on, aiming for a late Fall date. Months later, after fundraising and casting and arranging the music, I'm on the threshold of finally putting it together. Bit by bit.
In Which Parts One and Two Finally Culminate
A lot of people have told me they're amazed at how far I've come, but really, it's hard for me to see it. I've been in the work for so long that it's tough to separate out individual moments and breakthroughs (and setbacks) that led here. Honestly, if I had known how hard it was to do a show back at the beginning, even one like Jonesing, I'm not sure I would have had the courage to start!
Oh, if only...
But patience IS rewarded. Seven years of composition and tons of preparation have led me to one conclusion: in order to take the next step, Jonesing needs an audience. But unlike some shows that seem to blast through their preview process, heedless of what audiences really think, I wanted to take my time, to experiment, to get the recipe just right so I could deliver the perfect little soufflé of a musical I wanted.
THAT is really why I chose to workshop Jonesing. Because I want to have the same learning experience, and figure out what it is about this art form that calls to so many people. I wanted to give people new music, new stories, something they could share in. This is tremendous opportunity for folks to be a part of the birth of a brand new work... an opportunity that I have had the privilege of experiencing, before.
"Congratulations, ma'am, it's a... musical."
Audiences should be able to see the bones of a musical, to learn what the process is like, to understand the blood, sweat, and tears that oil the cogs of this collosal machine, and just how much maintenance it requires. Without costumes, without blocking, without props and sets, the heart and soul of a show is the music, the lyrics, the book, the story... the love that drives the engine.
I look forward to seeing what the audience makes of it. It's truly an honor and a gift to have this chance... and I'm so grateful to have it, finally.
November 15th through the 18th, 7:30pm and 1:30pm
Small Theater 700 Haben Blvd Palmetto, FL
Tickets at the door, $12 regular, $8 student/seniors with ID
The Workshop >