No, they don’t. They have to be worked on, crafted, redrafted and thoroughly tested before they can be unleashed on an unsuspecting – and all too often unforgiving – public.
I never meant to write a musical as my next project. I’ve come off the back of several years working on television scripts, radio plays and, most recently, stage plays, winning the national playwriting award in the process and seeing my play Rasputin’s Mother staged successfully earlier this year. I’ve got another play already being circulated by my agent and I’ve got further talks coming up with radio producers about possible commissions later in the year.
My intention next was to pitch into either a young adult sci-fi novel (the first in a proposed series) or a rom-com feature script based on a high-concept premise. So why do I find myself embroiled in the early stages of planning a full-scale, heavily-orchestrated musical with no commission, no producer and no idea how much of my life this is going to consume over the coming months?
The answer to that question provides – rather neatly, if I may say so, almost as if it were planned that way – the first lesson in a long list of things this blog is expecting to be all about: How Not to Write a Musical.
First things first. I make no claim to being an expert in writing musicals. In another part of my life I am a theatre critic, so in a professional capacity I have seen quite a few of the beasts in my time, and I would definitely call myself a fan. I figure that’s a good starting point. Quite why anyone would want to write something they didn’t like is a mystery to me, although plenty do, it would seem. My musical pedigree has so far been restricted to songwriting, short schools entertainments and a panto. Oh, and a 10-minute video opera for my brother’s video production MA. On their own, these would hardly qualify me to be ready to write a musical, except that everyone has to start from wherever they’re at.
Enter the second protagonist in this little enterprise, my co-writer Michael Blore. Let the record show that writing a musical together was his idea.
Which brings me back to that earlier question: why?
There are many reasons to write a musical. Obviously, fame, wealth and the adoration of a delighted public are high on my list, although awards and artistic credibility are up there as well. But what’s really got me hooked is the challenge.
I’ve never written a whole musical before, and the chance to tackle one alongside one of the most talented – not to mention charming – composers I’ve had the good fortune to work with is simply too appealing to pass up.
It helps that we’re both totally committed to our subject and are desperate to tell this story in this particular way, but more of that later. For now, it’s enough to have established that we’re approaching it from the same standpoint, with the same aims and objectives, and with a mutual respect for each other’s capabilities and work. It may not be enough to carry us through to the finish line of a fully staged production, but it’s a hell of a bonus out of the blocks.
Lesson One in How Not to Write a Musical, then? Pick your writing partner with extreme care. It’ll probably feel a bit like a marriage (though his husband and my wife really don’t need to worry unduly), and you’re going to be in it for the long haul. If you’re really lucky, you might even forge a career together.
Next time... Choosing your subject and why you’ve got to love getting out of bed.