On a bright afternoon 18 years ago today, I first cast my eyes on Joy Dewing and my world was altered, for the better, and I soon knew I’d never be alone again.
In writing musicals, it’s more than likely a song will be needed that expresses what it’s like to be in love. Along with that, it’s also more than likely some song will depict what it’s like to be lonely. I don’t claim expertise on a lot of things, but I wrote the book (& music & lyrics) on solitude.
But Joy wasn’t just fodder for romantic songs. The happy metamorphosis also meant that, at some point, a sharp theatrical eye – Joy’s (the right one) – would be cast on my work in some state of development. I can’t quite relate how valuable I find this, but it’s awesome in the original sense of the word: worthy of awe. There have been times we’ve broken out in uncontrollable giggles about our mutual musical theatre geekiness. Beyond our home, Joy’s also well-loved as a part of the creative team of many a musical and play. Too many to name, by the way. When I’m asked what my wife is working on, I find myself unable to answer: there’s way too many shows she’s cast for me to keep their titles in my head. Throughout the industry, her wise counsel is sought. I may have lost count, but I think this week marked the finish of the third year of her highly-regarded company, Joy Dewing Casting.
Recently, I coached a young performer on an audition, and the people behind the table had failed to make clear the material they wanted to hear, rudely snapping at my coachee for not knowing it. That was at a major casting office. Joy’s auditions are just the opposite. She makes it abundantly clear what people are expected to prepare, and she sees to it that each aspirant has a good experience in the room. Actors love auditioning for her, and those that hire have the sense that they’ve gotten to see the best everyone has to offer.
Rookies make rookie mistakes. A lot of first-time creators believe they can go it alone, that they can field a fine cast using just players they know. Well, way too many times, I’ve seen the result of this error: a second-rate company that fails to illuminate the strengths and nuances of the writing. Don’t be the boneheaded novice: get yourself a casting director. And if you want the very best, get yourself Joy.
I look at what I wrote above and immediately think I blew it. Didn’t convey nearly enough of what’s great about her. My words come up short, insufficient. As it happens, I’ve been writing a love song at the same time I’ve been writing this post. And I play it through and immediately think I blew it. Didn’t convey nearly enough of the passion, the emotion. My words and music come up short, insufficient. And I’m wondering if that’s how it is with you. These songs we whip up: Are they up to our usual standards? (Were our usual standards ever good enough?) What’s my spouse going to think? What will Ben Brantley say? Will my feelings about my creation evolve, as they often do? I can remember a time when this number seemed pretty thrilling. Was I kidding myself?
Shows are rewritten more than they’re written. As much hell as it can be to get down that first draft, more time will be spent making it better in subsequent drafts. What leads one to put down the pen?
- Sometimes we get tired, lose the energy required for revisiting the work for the umpteenth time. I tend to think stamina is a very important ability for writers.
- Sometimes, there’s a deadline. I had a producer commission a show for me and she wanted to see a complete draft six weeks later. Well, those songs didn’t get the usual number of rewrites. Opening night looms, and you hand the power to stop the amendment process over to the director, who has to look out for the cast, and how many changes they can absorb.
- Sometimes a collaborator hears your latest draft and exclaims “That’s perfect! Just. Like. That. Don’t change a thing!”
- Sometimes a new solution occurs to you, and it’s one that requires wadding up what you’ve written into a ball and hurling it at the waste basket.
I’m struck by the common problem with this blog post and the love song. They’re both gifts to Joy, and Joy’s so wonderful, they don’t seem to be worthy. Once again, as before, I’m experiencing déjà vu because I hoped to present Joy with a whole musical for our tenth wedding anniversary. And missed the deadline! That set me scrambling for other plans. And, the next year, she had a big birthday to celebrate, on which I presented The Music Playing. And you know how I felt. That it wasn’t nearly good enough. So, here I am, nine months later, rewriting the show, making it better. And if it never quite matches the wonderfulness of Joy, I’m sure I can entertain an audience with it.
You just have to go forward, you know? I opened my door eighteen years ago and there was this girl who didn’t look like her picture, but better, actually. And it crossed my mind that I’d never be good enough to keep her interested. I’d surely come up short, insufficient. But by some miracle, she stayed.