I live in a musical, if only in my own mind. There’s always a song playing in my head, always a lyric to fit the occasion, and if I had my way, we’d all burst into spontaneous, choreographed dance in the streets daily. The weather (natural lighting) would also fit our moods, and our outfits would always range from just a little over the top to holy sequins, Batman! This is my ideal world.
Unfortunately, the rats on the street don’t all dance around my feet encouragingly (Hairspray), getting mugged in New York is almost never a golden opportunity to throw caution to the wind and start from scratch (Thoroughly Modern Millie), and I fear most child laborers don’t psych themselves up for a long day’s work with a robust song and dance around the city square (Newsies).
The real world isn’t an ideal world, but I can create one by writing a musical.
This is something I’ve been talking about for a while. It’s an idea my sister and I had on our way to Mom and Dad’s house for Christmas one year. We were listening to Neil Diamond, and when “America” came on, we both heard it – really heard it in a new way – as an opening number.
Click play, then read on as you listen.
The strings start out low and ominous as we see the city, quiet and dimly lit in the early morning. Then as one, hopeful, sustained note plays, the sun begins to rise as the city comes to life. Husbands kiss wives good-bye as they head off to work in their suits and hats, women shake out rugs from their balconies, florists open their shops and sweep off their stoops, restaurateurs haggle with fishermen over the price of their daily catch, and as the bell chimes, we see a boat coming into the harbor, its passengers on deck, groggy and shivering, but hopeful as they catch their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.
The music picks up as dock workers and the ship’s crew begin preparations for the boat’s arrival, throwing ropes, sacks and crates in time with the music and readying the gangway.
A male passenger on the deck of the ship sings: Far. We’ve been traveling far, without a home, but not without a star.
Another passenger, surrounded by his wife and several children sings: Free. Only want to be free. We huddle close, and hang on to a dream.
Someone on shore sings: On the boats and on the planes, they’re coming to America. Never looking back again, they’re coming to America.
You get the picture. Characters continue singing lines of the song until everyone aboard and ashore is singing, “Today!”
The captain of the ship descends the gangway slowly singing, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Of thee I sing today!” Then everyone joins back in with the “todays,” and as they leave the boat and enter the immigration building, they stop singing until all that’s left onstage is one boy, looking at the statue, almost whispering, “Today.”
Just thinking about it is making me want to watch it. There’s just one problem: In order to watch it, I have to write it, and I don’t know ANYTHING about writing a play. I honestly don’t know anything about writing fiction. Listening to several Neil Diamond songs, I see scenes playing so vividly in my mind, but I have no idea how they are related to each other or how they’ll string together to make a story.
And that’s part of the reason I want to go to the Living a Better Story Seminar in Portland. Living a story means knowing what a story is all about, and living a better story requires the ability to envision it. That’s basically what you need to write fiction too, am I right?
And ok, so I lied before when I said there was just one thing standing in the way of me watching my musical. There are lots of obstacles:
- I have no idea how to write a play. We’ve now covered that. I need writing classes/workshops/groups to help me.
- I’ll have to get Neil Diamond’s permission to use his songs.
- Once a play is written, I’ll need performers, a place to present it, people to design/make costumes and sets, a marketing team/plan/materials, and money to pay for all of these things.
- Not to mention, once the show is written, I’ll need to concentrate all my efforts on getting it ready, which means I’ll need funds to cover my living expenses for a few months.
- I want Neil Diamond to appear in the show as Brother Love of “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.”
I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m hoping the conference will teach me a little about story-telling, but also about finding the resources I’ll need to do this (or any other big thing I might want to do). I’m hoping it’ll be an encouraging thing and that it’ll get my creative mind thinking about where to get the money to take the classes and pay the people to build the sets and make the costumes, etc. And I guess I’m really hoping it’ll teach me how to invite others into my story in a way that makes them want to participate and/or follow a big dream of their own.
Here’s a video about the conference for anyone else who’s interested. Wasn’t it so sweet of Don to make this for y’all? I’ll be sure to thank him properly if he picks me to attend the conference (I’m thinking cupcakes, but feel free to leave suggestions for how to thank him properly in the comments).