Bet you thought this blog was going to be about Helen re-writes…nope. My Helen work this week has mainly consisted of coordinating audition appointments with Katie Chambers at Buchwald (thanks, Katie!), creating audition sides, choosing musical selections for the kids to sing with Robby, and so on. What I’ve been rewriting, and rewriting this week, is my summer play for the Kaufman Center—an adaptation of one of my favorite childhood books, “Ballet Shoes,” by Noel Streatfield (now renamed by me “The Fossil Girls,” due to the ashen look on the three boys in my group’s faces when I pulled out the bright pink book with ballet shoes all over it).
As I have described before, every summer we create seven original musicals for kids 6-14 and fully mount them by the end of the month. This was where Helen began last summer. And over the course of my five years working in this program, I have watched closely how my colleagues operate in what can be a very fast-paced and intense environment. Some, like me, had their plays or music written in January, and some, will be writing the last scene and song the week before we open.
The most interesting thing, however, is how each individual director/writer reacts to Sean Hartley’s (Director of the Program) feedback, criticism, and yes, request for rewrites. There are those in our bunch who put up a fight and contest his suggestions, those who have meltdowns and second guess their choices, those who just ignore him completely, and then those who work really hard to hear it, process it, and integrate it. Oh, and I forgot one more category—those who, at every Thursday Faculty meeting, just keep asking for a spotlight (Steve).
I tend to fall into all the categories above (except the spotlight category) from time to time. But, this summer, I’m really working hard to be in the “hear it, process it, integrate it” category, for a couple of reasons. First, Sean is one of the few people out there whose opinions and artistic sensibility I really trust. He was instrumental in getting Helen on the right track, so I value what he has to say. Second, it’s really great practice for what I hope will be a long, satisfying career as a lyricist and writer. Rewriting is a huge part of this process and business, and the better I can get at it in this warm and supportive environment, the better I will be at it when there are other people’s dollars and reputations on the line in addition to mine.
In addition to a great conversation with Sean, one thing that truly helped me, was to give my “cast” various scenes from the many different drafts I had written over the past few months. It was such a fun way to figure out what worked and what didn’t, and I was able to use that information to bring back some old characters I had deleted, get rid of a few characters that weren’t necessary, get a feel for the language that would sound good coming out of 12-year olds’ mouths, and most important, really figure out what I wanted to say in this 17-minute musical.
I’ve put off doing a lot of rewriting on Helen, mostly because I have liked what I’ve heard so far; but also, because I know that the great actors I’ve gathered (and am in the process of gathering) for the September reading are going to help me solidify the character’s voices, and the process of working with these actors will inform any rewrites that need to be done.
Until then, it’s all about casting, networking…and ballet shoes.