Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The "I Want" Song -- Behind the Music-al

I am going to make a little confession: I think I love Adam Guettel. And not just because he's a wildly talented writer/composer, but also because, as I learned from his moderation of last night's Behind the Music-al at 92Y Tribeca, he's also just an incredibly sharp person who can easily and passionately discuss the craft of writing.

I've been meaning to attend one of the evenings in the Behind the Music-al series for a while. Organized by composers Kyle Ewalt and Michael I. Walker, this regular series features conversations with awesome musical theatre writers centered around a particular theme/aspect of contemporary musical theatre. Last night's theme was the "I Want" song, which made for some really fascinating conversation about craft and what role desires play in driving character and momentum for songs in a musical piece. With writing teams Ewalt & Walker and Julia Meinwald and Gordon Leary, in addition to Michael Holland, taking the stage to share some of their work and chat with Adam Guettel, the night featured some diverse work from extremely talented writers.

(Ewalt & Walker's "I'm No Hero," a song that was performed last night.
Performed here at ANT Fest by Jonathan Whitton and Michael Buchanan.)

What I loved about Adam Guettel's moderation was how much he challenged every writer who shared his/her work. Through conversation, he quickly picked up on interesting musical conventions/themes that seemed to characterize each songwriters' style, and he pressed the writers to explain their choices and how those musical choices interact in context to the whole work and with audience expectation. In all cases, this led to the writers sharing really great tidbits and insight into their processes and not only standing by their decisions, but being able to articulate why they made the creative choices they did -- from Ewalt & Walker talking about the soaring tenors in Separate: Battle Songs of Youth to Julia Meinwald and Gordon Leary's explanation of why many of their songs from Pregnancy Pact don't have buttons.

(Julia Meinwald and Gordon Leary's "Love Me Better,"
a song that was performed last night.
Performed here at ANT Fest by Ally Bonino.)

I think it facilitated very honest discussion, which was refreshing to see in a public forum. It was even strangely thrilling when, at the very beginning of the evening, Adam asked about how a song Ewalt & Walker presented was orchestrated beyond just the piano part, and it turned into a little back-and-forth on what it means to score economically and write with future performance groups (and their limitations) in mind.

The "I Want" idea also fit nicely into the evening because it was such an all-encompassing theme that runs throughout musicals. While on the surface, there is a common trope of a very direct "I Want" song, there was also mention and discussion of less obvious "I Want" moments, like the "I Am Who I Am"-I Am What I Want song and the "I Don't Want" song. There was also a lot of talk about role pop music plays in contemporary musical theatre and how sometimes the inherent structure of a pop song, especially one that can standalone, can tend on the side of being an "I Want" song that is almost too explicit and selfish in its need to express what it wants directly to the audience.

Talking about wanting also extended itself to interesting discussion about the songwriting process itself. Michael Holland spoke very eloquently about the struggle to write and how he feels his songs come together. He also spoke about his career and about the transition from pop music and writing about his own personal wants to turning his focus on characters and stories and being inspired by their wants and desires. One of the greatest parts of the night was actually when he shared a song, and then Adam had the performer return to the stage to sing the song again without the piano. Showing how the melody stood up without accompaniment was inspiring and striking-- a rare opportunity to see a song deconstructed.

If you are at all interested in the craft of writing or theatre, I highly suggest attending Behind the Musical. Not only do they have great artists, but the laid back environment really allows for enlightening discussion amongst writers of many different backgrounds and approaches. It's a fascinating evening, and I, for one, can't wait to attend another one.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Late Night Refresher

This is going to be a crazy week of getting ready for a reading of my new play, but I just thought I would share a video that helped perk me up a bit in the midst of typing like a madman and staring at my computer screen. It comes courtesy of Joe Iconis, MK Lawson, and Eric William Morris (I dare you not to smile):

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Crazytown Presents: A Q&A with Ryan Scott Oliver

If you've seen the little poster on the right hand side of the screen, you would know that the writers of Ryan Scott Oliver's Crazytown blog are putting on a show (yes, me included!). I am very excited about Crazytown Presents, a live show that will feature music, anecdotes, comedy, and multi-media, much like the material on the blog, which will be at Joe's Pub on 11/14 at 9:30. I can't tell you how lucky I feel to be presenting work alongside such talented writers, many of which have been mentioned on this blog, and to ring in the occasion, I asked blog creator Ryan Scott Oliver to answer some questions about what it's like to be a part of Crazytown and what to expect from the Joe's Pub show.

Me: How did Crazytown originate? How has it evolved since then?

Ryan Scott Oliver: I created Crazytown in January of 2010, but I had wanted to do a blog for a year or so before then. My hesitation with creating the blog prior to that was the unending difficulty of keeping a blog up, in terms of both my interest and my readers’ interest. That’s also why, after a year, I needed to grow the blog and join forces with other like-minded creatives to make it multi-authored.

Me: You’ve been sharing your musical, Jasper in Deadland, on the blog. What has that process been like?

RSO: Like anything, it’s hard to keep up, but I’m determined to complete this as a complete work just as I would a musical, song, or other form. It’s gratifying to be able to share my lonely inner-workings! I’m hoping young writers are getting something from it... If nothing else, I have found it useful to hear about the struggles and redirections of other writers during my own process of writing, rewriting, and revising.

Me: What can people expect from Crazytown Presents?

RSO: Oh! So much! The writers are amazing, the actors are hilarious, and we’re putting together quite a show of multimedia elements. Where else can hear stand-up comedy about first menstrations, watch clips of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s boobs, and hear musical theatre tunes about porn stars? And duh so more more....

Me: What has been the biggest challenge/most exciting aspect of putting together the blog’s first live show?

RSO: The most challenging part was figuring out what exactly it would be... But that actually also became the most fun part, knowing we were creating something unexpected, fresh and exciting on stage. “Performing” a blog is kick-ass.

Me: What have you enjoyed most about blogging/managing the blog?

RSO: Seeing writers of all shapes and sizes become serious bloggers, and filling the void in our community where we could have conversations about anything and share it publicly. Get the conversation going, you know? I knew there were tons of people who would like to write for a blog but didn’t have the time or energy to keep one going themselves; so this became an outlet for many folks.

Me: What are your hopes for the future of Crazytown?

RSO: I wanna see it keep expanding. No! Exploding!! I’d like to take on more writers and see the work branch out even further; perhaps even adding more components and weekly columns. We have a strong readership and we want to keep them happy while growing outward and bringing in new readers... It’s the endless battle, isn’t it? How are we doing? Are we winning yet?

Buy tickets to see Crazytonwn Presents (and come say hi!) here.