I’ve had a busy couple of weeks, pouring countless hours into score preparation for something that’s six months away. I’m hunched over my keyboards, painstakingly creating precise and legible sheet music using software. This is so a score can be distributed that’s not in my indecipherable handwriting. So, not creative work, but it had to be done.
One of the few breaks I took during this time was an informal first-time get-together with a group of musical theatre writers who’d connected over the internet. They seemed a nice enough bunch, and they told of the musicals they’d written: One had written a one-act. Another had been turning her life into a musical for many years. One had written one piece for children. And we all could have broken into a chorus of “Which one of these is not like the others?” when I spoke of my eighteen musicals.
One guy (who’d written two musicals and was working on a revue) seemed fixated on what he termed my “financial success” and I gotta say if I had a dime for every time someone’s been fixated on my financial success writing musicals I’d have more money than I’ve made from writing musicals.
On the way home, very tired from the day’s many hours of transcribing, I became fixated on a conclusion my depleted brain jumped to: that the main difference between these writers and myself had to do with how hard we’re working. These weren’t kids, just starting out. They were middle-aged people who hadn’t done all that much. And I immediately felt guilty for thinking it (and here, days later, saying it) but isn’t this what defines a dilettante? Someone (and, God help me, an image of Margaret Dumont just popped into my head) who merely dabbles in the arts because she thinks it might be a fun thing to try.
Know any of these types of people? Are you one?
I certainly don’t mean to offend anybody, but writing musical comedies is serious business. To do it, you’re going to have to work hard. And if you don’t give it your all, you’re likely to do it badly.
I’m reminded of a child I know who has Asperger’s syndrome. He has the super-human concentration to do incredibly intricate drawings with miniscule details such as individual hairs on the neck of a speeding horse. I find his works of art compelling and fascinating. Looking at them, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that there’s something extraordinary about the mind that can apply that amount of time and energy into forming so many individual hairs.
When we enjoy a musical, we’re not always aware of the effort it took to get all those moving parts to run smoothly. Some say “That looks fun; I think I’ll write one of those.” But shows are the result of thousands of finely-drawn horse-hairs.
No, you don’t need to have Asperger’s, but you probably have to be somewhat obsessive, and enjoy the process of writing and rewriting every little thing a hundred times or more. I think Craig Carnelia put it best in this song from Working: