On a day that began with dog-terrifying thunder boomers, rain pouring in a dreary drench, and the gray, closed feeling of such a day, I left my apartment to drive two hours to the north Georgia mountains, toward the town of Helen. Even in the rain, that northern countryside is beautiful, especially the farther you go, the more you surround yourself with those hills. I was headed up to meet my brother Donald, who I’ve been working with to write the musical he’s now producing.
Last Saturday was the day the cast and crew gathered for the first reading of the script. Although my presence was superfluous, now that the writing is done, I wanted to see this process. Watching my own work move from page to stage is a new experience, and it was a strange feeling to find a roomful of people committing time and effort to bring to life something I helped write.
What Donald and I have created is fairly typical for a musical, a play telling a story, with characters stopping from time to time to sing a song. Donald has written all the music for this, and our spectacle will include ensemble numbers for a larger group. There is also a choreographer who will be working out dance routines.
Because of the number of people involved in this meeting (at one point I counted 24 in the room, including my own superfluous self and a couple of spouses), we met at the house of my aunt and uncle, a rather fabulous house named Starlight. The original Starlight, a historical house that burned down many years ago, had an enormous spinning wheel, which I remember seeing as a child. By coincidence, our musical is called Spin!, and the play contains a story within a story involving a spinning wheel.
When I arrived in the mountains, the rain was tapering off, and people having just arrived, a large group was standing outside the house. We made our way inside to have chicken salad on croissants before the official duties began. The formal meeting involved people sitting in a circle in the enormous living room, and through the large windows to the front was a view of Mount Yonah in the distance. (Yonah, by the way, is the Cherokee word for “bear”.)
Sitting in this meeting, as the day brightened like a promise, until it was clear and sunny, I could not avoid thinking back to cold, dark winter nights last year, when I was living in Washington, DC. Every week on Sunday evening I would go out for a fish burrito, to a place with a remarkable absence of any charm or pleasing atmosphere, but the food was cheap and good. And there I would sit with my pad, working on the notes and ideas for this musical. I am accustomed to working in dark obscurity, which I pretty much still do. The inconceivable part was sitting in a sunny living room with people planning to make it happen.
In that room we had the actors, set designer, set builder, choreographer, stage manager, musicians, sound technicians, and a few others. I’m impressed that my brother could pull this group together, and I was pleased to see how well he handled the meeting, as he used to be quite shy. Everyone present received a bound copy of the script, including a CD with bare-bones versions of all the songs in the show. I was impressed that while we were there, everyone in the show was also asked to sign release forms the theater requires, and later photo head shots were taken to be used in publicity.
I’m still trying to imagine what it will feel like a few months from now to sit in a theater and watch those young people on the stage, singing, dancing, acting out lines that I wrote back in Washington. I like the idea of working with other people to create something bigger than any of us could do alone. The play is scheduled to be presented at two different theaters, both of them small: in Helen, Georgia, in April, and then in Cumming, Georgia, in August. If you can afford a plane ticket, come on by. Let me know and I’ll bring you a sandwich. Do you like chicken salad?
I’ll end with a few lines from the opening song, called “Hero With a Thousand Faces”:
Tell us a story!
Make the ham green.
Add a stepsister,
And a dark evil queen.
Tell us a story!
Let us see ourselves.
Use a magic mirror,
Just like us but bigger.
Tell us a story!
Show us happy, show us sad,
Show us crazy, show us glad.