Archive for Directing/Story Telling:
Side by Side by Steve
“Hi, this is Steve Sondheim.” I paused, thinking it must be a friend from school trying to freak me out. I mean, several of my friends knew I had written Mr. Sondheim a letter– yes, handwritten on a legal pad– asking perhaps to meet him. My expectation was a polite letter back saying “no” but at least I’d have a letter from him!
The voice was too deep and adult sounding to be one of my 19 year-old peers. I stuttered, “Oh… Hi! Uh…. thanks for calling me!” It really was him! He offered to meet with me and I spent an amazing two hours talking about musical theatre, his work, and the future. That was June 7, 1982. (I have the autographed A Little Night Music score to prove it!)
During that conversation, Sondheim told me at one point that he was never going to write a musical again. “I’m going to write mystery novels,” he announced. He was still smarting from the critical drubbing of Merrily We Roll Along earlier that season (which I saw and spent many days checking in with Colony Music awaiting the cast album). I was, of course, devastated by his comments, but I could sense that he wasn’t convinced of his decision.
I’m grateful to say that two years later, Sondheim came roaring back to life with Sunday in the Park with George and my life was forever changed… by the meeting and the show!
I’ve been “spreading the gospel” of Sondheim ever since and I’m not the least bit ashamed to be a “disciple.” It’s not like he’s the only writer I admire nor are his shows the only ones I listen to and think are wonderful. But from West Side to Road Show there’s never been a body of work like his and those shows make me proud to be a part of the world of musical theatre.
So even though the theatre world spent much of 2010 celebrating the work of Stephen Sondheim in a multitude of ways, “the little revue that could” was overlooked in all the hubbub. That’s why I’m very happy to have Singing OnStage Productions bring Side by Side by Sondheim to NYC in a concert presentation with an amazing cast: Sally Wilfert, Kate Wetherhead, and Paul Anthony Stewart. This trio will bring back the early Sondheim works (nothing included past Pacific Overtures) in an intimate, up-close-and-personal way at the beautiful Laurie Beechman Theatre. It promises to be an exciting evening!
The show is our autumn fund-raiser and will only be performed twice: Tuesday, September 13 and Thursday, September 15 at 7 pm. Tickets are only $20 (there is an additional $15 food/beverage minimum) and reservations can be made by calling 212-695-6909. I wouldn’t wait to get that reservation! For more info, click here.
May 29, 2011
By Singing OnStage
Thoughts on Collaboration from Amy Pohler’s Harvard Talk
“You can’t do it alone. Be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life.”
Consider this the call to all musical theatre artists: Singing OnStage is looking for that group of people to challenge and inspire and help us create powerful and exciting new musical theatre!
Creating New Musicals
I’m coming to the conclusion that finding new musicals via a submission process is like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s not that there aren’t good shows being submitted, but good shows that resonate with Singing OnStage’s mission are difficult to find.
So, while we will continue to seek submissions, I propose the following to writers, choreographers, and producers of musicals: that we begin creating a show/shows together. From the beginning. We meet, we talk, we find a subject and/or story that we all feel is both theatrically compelling and commercially viable and begin work. The writers will always be the writers; no one else will take that job. But bringing in the director from the beginning will allow the director to guide the writing process, give dramaturgical advice, and begin shaping the visual elements. Having a producer attached early will hopefully avoid that dreaded moment of, “I love the show. You just need to add this, change that, cut this, etc.” The producer will sign on to the overall theme and direction of the show before words are on paper. Bringing in a choreographer will help integrate movement from the initial stages so that dance is an integral part of the story-telling.
If this is of interest to you please let us know. If you have suggestions or comments, we’d love to hear them. It’s time for musical theatre artists to produce a body of work that is consistent, compelling, and of interest to a wide ticket buying audience.
Writer-Director Speed Date!
Just returned from an exhilarating and happily exhausting two-hour Writer-Director “speed date”. The event was put together by Broadway producer Ken Davenport and included 25 writers (or writing teams) and 25 directors. After 4 minutes with a writer, the directors moved to the next writer and so on. We weren’t able to go around the entire room, but over the course of 2 hours, I introduced myself and Singing OnStage to 20 writers, all of whom had interesting plays and musicals to pitch and were looking for directors. I’m happy to say I connected with 6-8 of the writers and look forward to reading a bunch of scripts!
Hats off to Ken for hosting this event! It was a fantastic way to meet a lot of new people and get the word out about the work we do.
“I do not care about the choreography as long as the story is clearly told.”
Jerome Robbins in a note to Robert Wise concerning the “Dance at the Gym” in the film of West Side Story.
To “Glee” or not to “Glee” that is the question!
Well, we certainly have two strong camps on “Glee” these days. The Facebook and Twitter comments after this week’s episode would have you believe (a) the second coming had just occurred or (b) a crime against humanity had just been committed.
example of (a)
example of (b)
Whether it be an episodic TV show, and film, or a theatre piece, the goal is to tell a coherent story. My gripe with Glee isn’t that it uses songs as part of the story-telling, I love musicals!
My problem is that Glee isn’t very good at integrating songs into the story, and it’s losing steam in the story-telling department, period. It is incredibly difficult to tell a good story and Glee started strong in the first season, introducing us to each character, defining the “rules” of story-telling, mixing up the students’ and teachers’ stories, etc.
But after that, it’s been a chaotic mix of story-telling devices, repetitious themes, odd uses of song to tell (or in many cases to NOT tell) a story, and an imbalance in the focus of each episode.
The show works best when there is a balance between the worlds of the teachers and students and how those worlds interconnect in each episode.
Whether you are an actor, director, writer, or viewer, the main goal is the consistency of the STORY. Get clear on the story and make sure every element is conspiring to tell that story clearly and concisely.
This is vitally important when song and dance are being used as devices to convey story. Generally in life, we don’t break out into song and dance to explain our feelings, concerns, like, and dislikes. So when these conventions are used, the method of getting into and and out of a song is crucial to keep an audience engaged. Especially so if the audience is not partial to musicals!
So – to Glee or not to Glee? Tell a clear story and I’ll be there!
Let me know what you think!
What is the play about?
I find I’m dissatisfied, more often than not, with new plays and musicals. This post is my attempt to figure out why and what the director can do to help remedy the situation.
Of the shows that impressed me the most over the years, I most often think of the shows directed by Harold Prince. Good, bad, or indifferent the Hal Prince shows were unified: the writing, staging, and design all worked together to tell the story. The best recent example to my mind was Kander and Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys, which just completed a successful run at the Vineyard Theatre and appears to be headed to Broadway next season. I found the show flawed but exciting.
I would put The Scottsboro Boys in the unified column because it is a serious attempt to put historical incidents within a single theatrical framework. While the show wasn’t always successful, the creative team conjured a palpable theatrical tension that helped sustain the piece.
Here is where a director and choreographer can be instrumental at the level of creation. While Fiddler was being written, Jerome Robbins constantly asked Stein, Bock, and Harnick what the show was about. He asked them so often they wanted to kill him. But when they finally were able to succinctly describe the essence of the play– how tradition falls away with each new generation– they knew how to unify that show.
Based on what I’m seeing, I don’t think directors are asking that question.
Is the director needed?
David Mamet isn’t so sure. (I know, I know… it’s David Mamet!) His new book, simply titled Theatre, made me think. Mamet’s musings on this topic are certainly reductive, but the simplicity appeals to me. At least once a generation, a major theatre artist announces to the world that theatre needs to go back to the basics. (i.e. Peter Brook and his classic book The Empty Space.)
While there is no shortage of attempted spectacle on Broadway, the opposite is also true. A year after it opened, I finally caught up to Next to Normal at the Booth Theatre. This production makes a good argument for simple story telling. The show looks good but there is no flash for flash’s sake. A multi-tiered unit set simply and easily takes us everywhere we need to go but never lets the audience forget that the story centers on a family dealing with a mother suffering from bi-polar disorder. But can simplicity (or spectacle) happen without a unifying vision?
Of course, as Mamet says, “We need a text and we need actors.” I agree that the actor tends to be undervalued. He then questions whether or not sets and costumes are better than a bare stage and street clothes. Then comes the provocative assertion:
“Is the director needed? No.”
We know that actors and playwrights directed themselves and their own work for centuries. It wasn’t until the late 19th and early 20th that the director became the center of the production, for better or worse. Being a director, I’m gonna have to argue that the director is necessary. That’s what this blog is all about… stay tuned!