Writing: Why this show, and why now?

As I made a “breakthrough” of sorts with my research, I thought I would take a moment to explain why this show is so important.

When I tell people that I’m writing a musical about the Easter Rising, I always get asked, “Why?” At first, I tried to explain that I was partly inspired by the success of Hamilton, and then tried to explain how the events of the Rising were full of drama and could make a compelling story.

Recently, I realized that my explanation was not only kind of boring to listen to, but also missed the point entirely.

I had a realization recently, when I remembered what I read in the Writing Musical Theater a while back about what the “story” of the musical is: ideally, the “Story” of any musical should be something that’s timeless, something that’s universal so that, no matter the audience, everyone can relate to the central emotional concept.

With that in mind, from now on, when people ask me what my show is about, I’ll tell them: It’s a story about citizenry fighting back against oppressors to gain their freedom.

When I decided to start this project in October, I went into it thinking that it would be a fun project that I probably wouldn’t ever finish. Then the US Election happened, and now my President is, literally, a conman who brags about sexually assaulting women, who treats people that aren’t on his level as “less than.” That’s unacceptable.

And at this point in his Presidency, he’s done literally everything in his power to destroy the very fabric of democracy in America. It’s unacceptable. It’s not normal.

And since art can, and should, be political, this musical is now my statement against tyranny.

Because the Irish people were sick of being ruled by the British, who clearly showed that they didn’t care about what happened in Ireland. There was no help during the Famine. There was no real representation in Parliament. For a small faction, there was no choice but to fight back.

I don’t mean to elevate myself to the mantle of “artist” and “activist,” but with this musical, I’m doing my best to fight back. And I hope that, through exposure and stagings, you all can fight back with me.

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Writing: Act I is giving me trouble…

While I was on vacation over Christmas, I took an opportunity to review all of my notes for the actual events of the Uprising and to organize the events into some preliminary scene summaries. Right now, I have everything set up and organized into six scenes for Act II, but I’m sure that once I continue to dig in and see how the events of Act I influence the events of Act II, there might be a few more scenes.

Speaking of Act I: There’s SO MUCH INFORMATION and I’m not sure how to dig into it and find out what is relevant, what would make good drama, what can be staged, and how it will all work out.

As I was plotting out Act II on vacation, I had a thought for how I want Act I to play out. From my notes:

Scene one: musical scene — may review major events/struggles for Irish independence.

REST OF SCENES

  • [Bulmer] Hobson and [Patrick] Pearse at one of the first meetings of the organization they both created (1911?)
  • As more meetings are held, followers fall into two camps — “wait” and “take action”
  • Closer to 1916, plans are made to take action
    • Hobson and Pearse disagree on time to act. Hobson is clearly stalling
    • Call to action is made, countermand issued, Hobson is kidnapped
    • Act ends with a song in which those who will act psych themselves up for battle

Now, do the actual events play out this conveniently? Probably not. I’m trying to work my way through Charles Townshend’s Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion, a book that is full of primary documents and wonderful information. My only issue with it, as someone with an already short attention span, is that there is almost TOO much information. It’s all good information, and I’m taking a ton of notes. But between a busy work schedule and lack of focus, it’s hard to get through it all.

Rather than labor over making my way through this thick a book of information, I’ve decided (rightly or wrongly) to switch up my tactics. I’m trying to find some barebones overviews of what went into the planning of the Rebellion, and then I’m going to supplement my research from there.

Basically, that means I’m spending today reading the Wikipedia article of the rebellion to see what sort of plot I can make for the first act, then try to follow the research to flesh out some of the details.

My dream would be to go back to Ireland to explore the different locations where the Rebellion happened, and possibly to be connected to local historians to review and get more information about some of the primary documents and meeting spaces. For now, I have Wikipedia and my public library. They’ve gotten me this far; I’m sure they can carry me the rest of the way.

Writing: Sketching out the first song

Hey all, happy new year.

While I’m continuing to do my research and learn about the events that occurred before the rebellion began on Easter Monday, and thus gathering the material for Act I, this morning I stumbled upon what I think is the start of a powerful song for the musical. At this point, I don’t know who will sing it, when it will occur, or what it will be about. But I have an accompaniment and a melody line, which is one step closer to having a completed song than I was at yesterday.

I hesitate to post anything else about the song — pictures of the score, a MIDI file of the music to listen to, or even a video of me playing the accompaniment — because, maybe erroneously and naively, I fear of having my hard work taken from me and used for something else. So, music-wise, I will be pretty secretive.

However, when I start writing the actual book, with dialogue and stage directions, I will be sharing some of that on here. Again, maybe not whole sections or scenes of dialogue, but enough to show that I’m making progress.

Because what I really want this blog to be is a way to hold me accountable. I know it’s a pretty unrealistic goal to write an entire musical — potentially a three-hour venture once completed — in one calendar year. And even if I put butt in chair and write my “shitty first draft” — as author Anne Lamott encourages all writers to do — there will still be time for rewriting, workshopping, and all the other nitty-gritty things that need to be done before I can consider this work “finished.”

Therefore, my overall, long-term goal, is to have this thing performance ready by 2021, the 100th anniversary of Ireland gaining it’s full independence from British rule. That gives me four years to pour my heart into this and have it ready to go as part of that celebration. It would mean the world to me if I could have this performed in Ireland by that year, even if it’s only for one night.

So, again, happy new year to all of you. There’s work to be done.