Dear Writers & Theater People
For any of you who have thought at one point or another, (or continuously) that writing a musical about your experience AND being in it is a presumptuous disaster waiting to happen, you are not the only one who thinks that. I think that. Or did. (Do? Depends on the day…) INDIAN JOE, the musical was never on my list of things to write, and I’m pretty sure I’m shocked it's happened. So this is the how-to of me moving from totally doubting myself and this process, to feeling like it must be done regardless.
I am the actor who has believed that if you don’t have your classical training, didn’t get an MFA and / or can’t weave in and out of discussions about psychological gesture, Grotowski Shaker Songs, iambs, trochees, dactyls, or anapests, then you shouldn’t be on the stage. (I’m really winning you over with my pride and prejudice, aren't I?) Thankfully, I don’t believe that anymore. But I do still believe that the training I received as an actor is essential to my longevity in the form. It’s what allows me to say with confidence that I am an actor. That’s what I do.
Therefore, based on this logic, I should never even try to put a pen to paper or tell a story in musical format: I didn’t formally study songwriting, composition, music theory, etc. (16 years of formal violin training counts for something, but not totally.) Still, there are tricks of the trade unlearned, and 10,000 hours of training left undone. So what authentic, viable writing can come from someone in such a position?
Hashtag Hack, I think. (Or thought? Depends on the day…)
But sometimes necessity trumps preference. That’s the deal.Sometimes a 120 pound woman picks up a car because it’s crushing her child. Sometimes a soldier runs 200 miles at a pop to avoid capture in enemy territory. The part of the brain that kicks into necessity when your good sense is saying, “You can never do this, you crazy person!” is the stuff that makes us realize we are more than we are. And isn’t that what we are trying to say with our lives in the theatre anyway? We underestimate the large swaths of knowledge that we amass as we move in and out of creating theatre in different ways.
(Disclaimer: I’ve never picked up a car or run more than 8 miles at a time.)
So no, I don’t have two MFA's (yet), but there is part of my brain that knows I have a really important legacy of a man named Joe to protect with this show, so rewriting lyrics again or finishing the illusive Scene 15 is me throwing the proverbial car off the other part of me that being crushed by my own fear.
Thesis Statement? There is no presumption to pin on me that I have not already pinned on myself.
One of the lines in my show is, “Being born is a mess. So is dying.” Another character responds, “So is living.” Writing a musical about real stuff is messy. But underneath that big mess of it all is a reward greater than my angst of dealing with my presumption and failure. If you come see INDIAN JOE the musical, lean in with me and know that I don’t know everything, but I know enough to know I have to keep going.