Getting Pithy Already

April 30, 2014

Consider the lowly mayfly and her brief journey. Her adult lifespan is only a day. In fact, some species only fly for a few hours before slipping this mortal coil. One species only lives half an hour! Yet even this most fleeting of the mayflies will live fully twice as long as Upstairs will live at the 2014 West Village Musical Theatre Festival. We get fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes. Well. I do like a challenge.

I'm not complaining, mind you. I'm very happy to get even those few minutes to put my work in front of that audience. But fifteen minutes?

If Neal Degrasse Tyson were to toast midnight on his Cosmic Calendar as he viewed Upstairs at WVMTF, he would find that it lasts only .0000000000000020666566 of a minute--not even enough time for one of his champagne bubbles to burst. When Andy Warhol said "in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes", it was funny because that was the very smallest unit of fame time he could imagine.

But so be it. Fiften minutes to... to what, exactly? Show my very best work? Give the essence of the play? Pay tribute to the victims of the Upstairs Lounge Fire as much as possible? Pique the audience's interest?

You might answer "yes" to all these things, but they're actually very different priorities. Cramming my best songs into the 15 minutes will cost me in terms of dramatic impact. Focusing on the core characters of the play might force me to include some of the less accessible songs, or reduce the impact of the tribute. Ending on a little cliffhanger might be unsatisfying. Giving too much away might be unsatisfying in a different way.

Through decision-making that I can only describe as "Sophian", I've chosen about 26 minutes worth of material that I think reflects the essence of the play--what it's about at its heart. Musically, I'm not sure that this 26 minutes is what I want the audience to see, though. And I still have 11 more minutes to cut!

I admit it's been an engaging process, trying to figure out what is absolutely essential and what can be set aside. It's like my play's Elevator Speech, but the characters are talking instead of me.

Anyone out there been through something like this before? How did you make these decisions?

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