April 17th 2015
Ten minutes ago I sent the first draft of Frenchys: The Thrift Musical to my composer John Roby. 80 pages. Lyrics for 12 songs. 3 ½ months. My friend Michelle Fisk immediately said, “that was fast!” “Compared to what?” I wondered. Expectations are the mother of all disappointment. I had wanted to finish the work in three months so it felt slow. Compared to the great Gustave Flaubert, who apparently said in a letter “Great Progress! Today I wrote a paragraph!”, I am flying. But ‘flying’ was the strategy.
My practice for the past 15 years has been to write prose descriptions of every beat of dialogue before I wrote any dialogue. (A beat of dialogue in a play is somewhat like a paragraph in a novel.) This results in a prose document that is almost as long as the finished play but allows a host of practical decisions to be made before one allows the emotions of the characters to sweep over you. It is a structual, emotional blueprint. You never have to wonder, “what’s next?” With that document beside you, you know exactly what’s next and you can concentrate on, not what the characters will say, but how they will say it. This focusses the creative imagination in a marvelous way. The downside is that it’s deadly boring. Three hours is all I can do at one time.
I showed John ten rough, ‘wip-em-off’, pages of dialogue for Frenchys last December and he said, “This is great! Keep on going!” So I did. There were moments of acute vertigo. Moments where I passed over obvious problems, lyrical and narrative, but there was a ‘caution to the wind’ kind of energy to the writing, a blasting through to the fun of the piece, that John, who will be the only one ever to read the play in its present form, unfailingly thought had promise. May it be so!
Monday I start re-writes for Lysistrata towards a June reading at Tarragon.
Have a great weekend,