“Stories are like Dany’s dragons.” One of the writers for the popular show “Game of Thrones” said this in an interview I was reading this week, as he commented on a controversial scene in one of the episodes. He went on to say, “Once hatched, they are beautiful and terrible spectacles that soar out of control of their progenitors.”
Last Friday I watched a dragon hatch. Of course you never know how a dragon will emerge, but regardless of how they do it, once they start to break through the shell, all you can do is stand back. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that my brother and I wrote a play with music. More specifically, I wrote a play and song lyrics; he wrote music. He also produced and directed the show, and last weekend there were two performances in Helen, Georgia. (In August, it will play again at a theater in another town.)
On Saturday, with my daughter and son-in-law and a friend, we went up to Helen to see the result. Naturally I had been wondering what it would be like to see something I wrote on a stage, interpreted and performed by other people. Would I feel compelled to stand up, throw my arms into the air and yell, “I done it!”? Would I cry from some indefinable, confusing emotion? Would I pull my scarf over my face, hoping no one recognized me coming in?
As close as I can come to being honest, here’s what I was thinking as I entered the theater: (1) This is cool. How many people get to do this? (2) Marvelous or mediocre, it will be interesting to see it happen , to go from page to stage. (3) It’s a small theater in a small town, and the actors are mostly just out of high school. It ain’t Broadway and I’m not fooling myself.
Some of what was so good about this production was that the cast appeared enthusiastic and happy with what they were doing. Of course I may have projected that onto them, as I knew they were all volunteers. Another good thing is that I liked the music my brother wrote, ranging from the “here’s how I feel” individual song, to overt parody comedy pieces, to lovely extravagant group numbers. I also liked the choreography, of which there was quite a bit.
Could I tell you that there were moments when the story was moving? I have no credibility to tell you that, even though I thought so, because I wrote it. I can, however, tell you that there were funny moments and cite the fact that people laughed. Sometimes audience members laughed at lines I wrote, as they were supposed to. Sometimes they laughed, and so did I, at some very amusing staging of a couple of numbers that were intended just for humor. I was delighted to see how the production took some things I had done and created very entertaining action. The two songs most deliberately reaching for humor were “Music Is Serious, Serious” (a parody of college music professors) and “Googled More Than Gaga” (sung by a young woman who sees herself as having a grandiose future ahead).
Regarding the dragons referred to above, as a writer, once the words leave your hands, God only knows what people will do with them, how they will understand them, what their interpretation will be. (I bet even Jesus would be surprised if he came back to see what people are doing with things he said.)This lack of control can probably be a shock to writers, but it’s best to accept it and move on. The process is true even for a text alone, as people may take a novel/story/poem and interpret it in ways that leave the writer slack-jawed and gobsmacked.
In a complex artform like theater, or movies, or opera, how many more layers of interpretation are going on? And in theater, things get changed, dropped, added. That’s how it is. You can go read up on Broadway shows if you don’t want to take my word for it. There were things happening on the stage last Saturday that surprised me, that didn’t follow what I was thinking when I was writing. But really, so what? I believe writers who want to insist “This is what I had in mind” are insisting up the wrong tree.
There was one thing I would have wished to be different. Most of my investment in this show was in the words so meticulously crafted and revised. I wanted every golden word presented clearly to the audience, so I found myself often thinking, “Speak louder and slower” or “Sing more clearly”. With a professional company, that might happen, but this ain’t Broadway.
Still, it was cool. How many people get to do this? Afterward in a bar, my daughter raised a glass of wine to toast me. That was cool, too.