BWW Reviews: Conversations at the 2013 Dramatists Guild Conference in Chicago
The conference included keynote speeches, legal and business seminars, workshops and conversations with some of the most successful and well-known writers working in theater today, all under the leadership of the Guild's President, Stephen Schwartz ("Wicked," "Pippin," "Godspell," etc.) Musical theater writing was one of the "tracks" that conference attendees could follow, and on Friday afternoon, August 23, there was a combination of four sessions that was of particular interest to those interested in this particular, and particularly complicated, endeavor.
They were "ASCAP presents Writing WICKED," with Michael Kerker hosting Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) and Winnie Holzman (book), "BMI presents Forms in New Musical Theatre," with Patrick Cook hosting Lin-Manuel Miranda ("In the Heights") and Robert Lopez ("Avenue Q," "The Book of Mormon"), "Adaptation/Translation," with John Dietrich hosting David Ives ("White Christmas"), Doug Wright ("Grey Gardens"), Winnie Holzman and Carol Hall ("The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"), and "A Conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda," with Larry Dean Harris hosting Miranda.
These lively and engaging conversations with successful contemporary writers, some of which have been posted online for viewing, held many facets: odd bits of trivia, fascinating stories of development struggles, legal entanglements, work styles and writing philosophies. And prompted by an audience member's wish, Robert Lopez (whom everyone calls "Bobby") and his wife, writer Kristen Anderson-Lopez, sang an unrehearsed but polished version of their novelty song which I believe is called, "I Wish That I Had Written Something Sondheim Wished He'd Written," inspired by the legendary composer-lyricist (and former Dramatists Guild President) Stephen Sondheim's now-famous list called, "Songs I Wish I'd Written (at Least in Part)," compiled in 2000.
Schwartz and Holzman were very forthcoming about their process of writing "Wicked," one of the most successful Broadway musicals of the 21st century. Gregory Maguire's book was recommended to Schwartz by the folk singer Holly Near while the two were on vacations in Maui in 1996, and Schwartz described the long process of convincing producer Marc Platt that a movie of the material wouldn't be able to show Elphaba's inner life the way that songs in a stage musical could. That legal and negotiation process took until 1998. Meanwhile, television writer Holzman ("My So-Called Life") owned a copy of the book, but hadn't read it because she heard that someone else was writing a screenplay based on it. But the two developed an outline in Los Angeles by the end of 1999, based on three moments established by Schwartz's vision of the adaptation, the opening, the end of the first act and the end of the show.