Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Week at Goodspeed With My Musical

I’m going to attempt to describe my week at GoodspeedMusicals as part of the Johnny Mercer Foundation’s Writers Colony. It’s hard to put into words, because it comprises a lot of things; emotions, dreams, energies, talents and surprises coming together in what was one of the more magical weeks of my life.

Something you need to understand about my life, dear reader, is that it just doesn’t stop. I’ve 7 rotating freelance jobs. The largest and foremost of these is of course as an acclaimed author of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels such as the Strangely Beautiful saga, my recent Magic Most Foul saga and my forthcoming Eterna Files saga from Tor/Forge as well as a bunch of recently released and forthcoming anthologies. My various other jobs are as a floor director for a small television studio in Manhattan, a background extra and/or stand-in on shows like Boardwalk Empire, a private tour guide, an artist’s assistant, a workshop presenter/teacher/public speaker, and last but certainly not least, the book (script) writer for the musical adaptation of my debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker.
As you can imagine, with seven rotating jobs, a husband, a bunny, Family, dear friends, co-running Lady Jane’s Salon in NYC, singing soprano in church choir, busy isn’t the half of it. And I love it all. But I don’t get the chance to just be one thing and focus solely on one project or task.
But beautifully, Goodspeed let me be just one thing for one rare week: The book writer of a musical. Strangely Beautiful the musical was invited onto the incredible Goodspeed campus in East Haddam, CT for one uninterrupted week in immaculate artist housing in a charming neighborhood interwoven with gorgeous 19th century architecture. I was in heaven. I was surrounded by very talented peers. (Check out this Broadway World press release to see my incredible company. As you can see, those invited have racked up tons of awards and accolades, that Prism Award listing is mine. ;) ) My team of Nicholas Roman Lewis (Music & Lyrics) and Kenny Seymour (Music & Lyrics) and yours truly had a large house all to ourselves with a wide living room and a piano and a whole week to think and dream and finish our show, getting it ready for the next step; putting it on its feet for a full workshop production.
We were joined by adept dramaturge “Uncle Lee”, Clifford Lee Johnson III of Manhattan Theatre Club fame, who was our guardian angel through the week guiding our morning check-ins over coffee and bagels and our evening presentations of whatever we’d been working on that we wanted to share with our peers to collect feedback. He spoke with my team early in the week and gave us really useful insights, several of which led to my entirely restructuring act 2 in a fit of streamlining and simplifying for the purposes of tightening dramatic effect; showing a moment rather than telling it, always a helpful fix, and the show is better for it.
I went into the week unsure about how I would be received, as my literary resume favours being a novelist over that of being a musical book writer / playwright, but theatre is where I began, a BFA in performance was my degree and my first professional venture, and plays and adaptations of 19th century literary work were my first publications and professional presentations. I spent the first 8 years out of college working the regional theatre circuit as a professional actress and tinkering around with one act plays that garnered acclaim in various festivals about the country. So I know theatre, it’s in my blood. My novels are very theatrical. Still, that does not automatically make a script writer for a musical. However, I’ve a talent for adaptation and I know my characters better than I sometimes know myself and I have no issues with changing up the logistics of the story entirely to make it work for the stage. That’s the key: flexibility and willingness to see other alternative ways to tell the same kind of story but in a different medium. Willingness to cut favourite bits, favourite characters, emotional moments and plot threads. A musical is a distillation. And I’ve been loving the process of making a new sculpture out of the clay of my series.
My peers throughout the week at Goodspeed were so incredibly generous with their thoughts, kind, and crazy, crazy talented. The staff at Goodspeed were all delightful and similarly helpful. The focus and the level of professionalism was second to none.
Here were a few of my favourite things:
1. Getting a chance to be Percy for a week. In the evenings we presented some of our work to our fellow writers and creators and my team and I traded off songs and parts but I got to be Percy, my dear girl, my favourite character I’ve ever written (shh, don’t tell the others!) and just live in her odd skin for a while and bring her to life for other creative professionals. I’ll not play her in the show (come on, folks, if the novelist AND the script writer also plays the lead gal it looks a little bit like a vanity project and that’s not what we want), so this delighted the actress that still thrives within me. I do miss performing and will accept opportunities when something comes my way, however none can come in the way of my novels. My books must remain the star of my life. But this particular indulgence was such a treat.
2. Hearing new songs come to life before my very eyes and ears. Nothing so magical as that first brush with new creation.
3. Getting entirely snowed in. This helped focus. And it became like a magical snowy fairyland.
4. Everything I mentioned about how beautiful the campus and the people of Goodspeed were.
5. My insanely talented fellow writers and the supportive environment we created.
6. On the last evening, a literal (drunken) horde of writers and musical directors from two different programs converging on one house and performing a rousing (it was horrible), howling rendition of One Day More and Lily’s Eyes in which the musical directors applauded every key change.
7. Making new friends and new projects. Hey New York City, come see me perform on March 31 at Bobby Cronin’s amazing show where the proceeds benefit animal shelters! (Bobby and Wade were highlights of my trip, Ican’t wait to see their show, Sunset City, take flight.)  
8. Sitting at the table or piano day after day with my team and making the bones of a show really start to sing, literally and figuratively.
9. The Goodspeed Opera House was built in 1876. My era. My people.
10. Did I mention how much I enjoyed the people I worked with? Goodness do I love talent and do I love when it all comes together and you can see that talent making collectively better and better art day by day. There’s nothing so enlivening as that, and Goodspeed was the perfect setting to revel in that for a week. Can you tell I’m in withdrawal?
For more about Strangely Beautiful The Musical, come visit! Follow the show on Twitter. On Facebook.
For the books the musical is based on, the books are currently out of print but not for long. In the meantime, check your local library and hang tight until Tor / Forge re-issues all of them in brand new, revised, shiny, exciting, refreshed editions! Strangely Beautiful characters do show up in The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart, as all my series have crossover characters!
Cheers and happy haunting!

Gorgeous Goodspeed Opera House
The charming Goodspeed campus


A picturesque snowfall, perfect for a writer retreat!

Unaware of a photo being taken, Kenny explains to me the Exorcism underscoring. I appear appropriately intense.

The Strangely Beautiful Team: Nicholas Roman Lewis (L), Yours Truly, and Kenny Seymour