On Being Done

November 06, 2010

Around 8pm last night, I finished Wise Up! For those of you who don't know, this is a musical I've been working on for about two years. It's a full-length play, with a cast of a dozen and about 30 songs, each of which had to be notated and recorded. The first staging of the play will take place in Jan 2011.

I find it tiresome when people talk about the process of working instead of just letting the work talk, but I'm going to indulge in this because, dammit, I finished! This is the first thing I've completed that took years, rather than weeks, months, or a semester, and I have things to say about that!

I have friends who may read this note who have finished things that took years: novels, dissertations, complex code projects. And I'm sure they faced challenges that they hadn't foreseen when they started; challenges related to the sheer length of time and amount of work produced in that time.

For example, there's the matter of internal consistency. Not just factual consistency, but consistency in terms of quality and point of view. Doing this much work causes one to change, grow, and improve, so that the work completed at the start may not resemble the work completed at the end.

There were many such challenges (stamina, maintaining interest, keeping the faith), but the one I'm most interested in, right now, is the challenge of when to say a piece is "done".

What do I mean when I say "done", anyway? Is what I've written perfect? Could it be added to? Edited? Waitaminute, didn't I finish this play a year ago? And haven't I been hawking tickets to it online for a month? It wasn't completed then?

"Done" is especially problematic in theatre, where scripts often change right up to opening night. And it's not like having a novel printed, where the act of publishing sort of establishes a finish line. Even if hundreds of people see the play, that wouldn't preclude me from changing it later, basically up to the point that I sell it to someone (should that point ever come).

So, yes, it could definitely be improved upon. There are notation inconsistencies. The rehearsal tracks are quick and ugly. There are months of work ahead, should I ever wish to get this piece published or submit it to a festival.

Depending on the play's future, there are thousands of person-hours still to put in. Typically, a full-length musical, properly funded, is more like a movie than anything else, with script doctors, lyricists, book writers, arrangers, and countless assistants and notators putting in time, not to mention everything that the directors and actors who initiate the staging and the roles bring to a first-time production.

By comparison, my work is more like "outsider art": one relatively untrained person's quixotic project that he completes for no other reason than that he must. I'm fortunate to be part of an extended community that can rally, gather talent together, and stage a production like this.

So it's not done. And yet, in another sense, it was done months ago. Actors have had scripts and music in their hands for many weeks, though the scripts have changed a bit and not all the music was ready. And the initial treatment of this play, a much shorter version, but with the same story, was developed a year ago for Peninsula Metropolitan Community Church.

So there've been many "done's" along the way, and there are probably more to come. Yet, despite the multiphasic nature of this work, around 8pm last night, I passed a milestone.

The biggest milestone, really.

Two years ago, I had this idea. Gold, Frank, and Myrrh sounded like fun, evocative drag names. Turning semi-biblical Christmas characters into draq queens would give me the opportunity to write, in a clever and irreverent way, about gender, religion, gay culture, and queer family. I had a lot to say. It took awhile.

And, with music, writing something isn't the same as writing something down. Writing it down can be a tedious process. But now it's done.

The scripts are out there, as are the lead sheets and rehearsal tracks. If I died today, someone (hopefully, the amazing cast and crew of the current production!) could take these materials and present the play in full, intact, as I wrote it.

Yes, mounting a production is a whole other process, and a huge one, and there's much, much to do. But the writing, and the writing things down, are done.


So what does this mean? What's next?

Well,the multiple hours and days at the computer and piano can let up a little. I sacrificed and endangered a lot to get here, so some things need to be remediated. I can get into the gym more regularly. I can get to class and try to rescue my grades from real calamity.

I'm in a production of Putnam County Spelling Bee at NDNU, where I am in grad school, so I jump right into that.

I have another project already begun that will serve as my Master's Thesis, provided I can keep a high enough G.P.A. to stay in school. I have Christmas at PMCC, and two songs commissioned by members there that are long overdue for completion.

Others will decide what value this play has as art or entertainment. And I will judge it for myself, when I've got a little distance from it. But, for now, what the completion of this play means for me is this: it proves that, whatever my training or ability, I'm not doing this as a hobby. It's something I'm willing to strive for. It's something I've ordered my life around (with indulgence from my longsuffering partner, Cody). It's so much more difficult than the casual songwriting I've done my whole life. But I know that I'll do it again. In fact, I can't wait.

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