Yesterday I opened my latest musical, The Fossil Girls, and tonight it closes. Fortunately, it's only at Merkin Concert Hall and it's supposed to close tonight. That's the beauty and tragedy of doing shows with kids at summer camps (or anywhere, for that matter, except Broadway), the moment you've put the finishing touches on the set, got the scene changes and lighting cues down, and your actors finally start to embody their characters and feel confident in their performances, it's time to strike the set and move on.
As always, I learned a great deal about writing, directing, choreographing, dealing with kids, having patience, collaborating and pacing myself, and turned out pretty proud of the sweet show that Dan Acquisto and I created in four weeks. Additionally, The Fossil Girls challenged me stylistically as a writer (both in dialogue and lyrics) and forced me out of my comfort zone (quirky contemporary musical theatre with humor and heart) and made me dive into 1920's/30's London. And I managed all this while maintaining my full-time job, facilitating at the Broadway Teacher's Lab, and staying on top of the massive amount of work that is involved in developing Helen. (End of Month Progress Report to come in a few days.) And other than being a little worn out, I'm still fairly sane and functional.
In addition, here's a short laundry list of useful things I learned from the summer:
- 17-minute time limits are a challenge. Our time allotment this summer was supposed to be 17 minutes. I learned that it's impossible to condense a 300-page children's chapter book into a 17 minute musical that is ensemble oriented, has no leads, keeps most of the cast busy all the time but allows them to still have specific characters, and that actually makes sense. (Sorry, Sean. 25 minutes was the best we could do.) Next time, I'll find a nice short story.
- Switch it up. Working with different writing partners is incredibly valuable. (I highly suggest you try it if you always write with the same person.) You can get into a groove with your normal writing partner that becomes so comfortable that your minds and aesthetic sense starts to fuse. And while that's wonderful, it doesn't hurt to get the perspective of a writing partner who thinks differently than you or has a different process. It just makes you a stronger writer. Everyone has their own way of doing things and it's great to change things up a bit and learn how to communicate and collaborate with other people. It keeps your work fresh and helps you to solidify your own "voice" as a writer.
- Balance. When working with kids in a summer program like this, you have to balance being an artist with being an educator. The artist in me wanted to throttle my group at times for not bringing my "vision" to fruition. When I let that go and slipped back into my educator shoes, not only did I enjoy the process more, I was amazed by how much each student of mine had grown over the four weeks. And ironically, they became artists this week. I was watching actors storytelling today, just like I do when I attend a professional show. And I can confidently say that my actors had fun creating this piece of theatre, had ownership and mastery over it, and ended up very proud of it.
- It's really hard to do it all. But, if you are in it for the long haul, which I am, you just have to "keep calm and carry on." (That was the title of Wendi Gross Baker and Beth Sorrentino's Group 7 Musical...and everyone's summer mantra.)
Much love and congrats to all my colleagues this summer at the Kaufman Center. I am always in awe of what everyone is able to create in four weeks, and this year was no exception. And a shout out to my Group 4 kids. You made me proud.