How to Make a Musical

Let me preface this blog by saying that Nathan is going to do a “Nathan’s Corner” post or one for his other blog, and explain things way better than I can.

In fact, autocorrect changed my “preface” to “deface” at first, and that may be more accurate in describing my version, for because I know nothing about writing musicals, casting actors, or working with directors.

But I know Nathan, and here are the pieces I think I almost understand.

First of all, it takes a long time to write a musical. Nathan and the composer he works with, Scott Murphy, have several musicals in idea-draft-board-process, but two very-nearly-completed musicals. These two musicals are “The Giver”, based on the novel by Lois Lowry, and “Broadcast”. Nathan and Scott have been working on these musicals for years and years. That’s how hard it is to write a musical, and how long it can take to go through revision after revision, each time pieces being reworked or scenes removed or new pieces added.

Since The Giver is based on a book, they have to have the rights to be able to produce it, so the author came to watch the musical and gets to say what she likes or doesn’t like. That’s a whole different blog, and I will let Nathan write it. Broadcast, though, is completely original, so it is entirely their material and they can do it how they want – almost.

Scott is the composer, so the tiny details of music in the songs requires a lot of input from him. Nathan is the writer, but the Director is the one who gives actors their instructions. So if Nathan has feedback or preferences on his material, he doesn’t tell the actors. He tells the Director, who negotiates this with Nathan and then presents it to the actors. It is very important the actors receive one vision, so it has to come from one person.

Actors have a union with rules and everything. This means there are deadlines on how far ahead they have to know if they got the job or not, and which part they got. It means that each stage of development has different rules, and the actors have to know ahead of time what kind of performance it is.

Also, if there is a child actor, there has to be three of them and they take turns performing and they only have so many hours they can rehearse.

What Nathan and Scott are doing these two weeks are called readings, which means the actors are not in costume and have the script in their hands. Nathan and Scott are not allowed to make them memorize anything, and even for each performance the actors will hold the scripts in their hands. This is a big deal in actor world, or it seemed so to me.

A reading, though, is not the same as a read-through. This morning they did a read through, where everyone just sat in a big circle of tables and literally read through the completed script. Nathan and Scott make notes for the actors for rehearsals, but no one even sings the songs. Everyone just reads through it together.

Then this afternoon, the actors and directors worked with Nathan and Scott to begin rehearsals. Some of them began working on songs with Scott, and some began working on scenes with Nathan and the directors. This is just rehearsing of the script as is, in its final stage that isn’t final at all. They will rehearse all week like this, in different groups working on different songs and scenes.

This weekend, they will have an actual performance, start to finish, but still a reading. This will give Scott and Nathan opportunity to see how the whole thing flows live, catch any sticky points, see what else it needs, and they will do rewrites for two days.

The edited script is passed out fresh to everyone, the actors rehearse the new script, and then they perform it again. This is why it is a reading still, with script in hand, because there is no need to memorize it when it is still being edited and the words and music getting changed along the way.

They do this three times, with these performances in front of real audiences. This gives them a different kind of feedback, too, so they can know if the jokes work, if emotion is felt, if the audience likes it or not, and other feedback that can only happen at a live performance. By the end of the process, the musical itself is very fine-tuned and refined and much closer to being ready for a producer.

That is a whole other blog also.

But to be doing readings with real actors and live audiences is a big deal, critical in the process, and a huge opportunity in moving forward in production.

It’s also just exciting, getting to see the story finally be live instead of just on the page.

It’s the coming to life part of creation, and is a very emotional experience for the writers to see it happen.

I am so proud and thrilled and excited, especially since I have an “in” with the writer, who just so happened to email me a new “final” version of the script for my bedtime reading. How fun is that, so I can follow along at home?! I love that guy!

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Posted in Music, Nathan permalink

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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