Checking in on Plane Crazy by Suzy Conn
PLANE CRAZY, musical about feminism, as told through the eyes of
swinging mid-'60s stewardesses, was one of 18 musicals out of over 400 selected for the 2005 New York Musical Theatre Festival.
PLANE CRAZY opens its first post-NYMF workshop on February 16. In addition, the song "Turbulence" from the show will be featured at the NYMF "Best of Bash" on February 27 -- a one-night only concert at Dodger Stages featuring highlights from some of the favorite NYMF shows over the first two years of the Festival.
In this refreshingly honest article, author Suzy Conn talks about the challenges of running a solo project.
Rules to live by: Always wear clean underwear, always use a condom, and never, ever write a musical by yourself!
Producing PLANE CRAZY at the 2005 New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) was life-changing, exhilarating, frustrating and rewarding. Oh, and a dream come true.
But nothing compared to life after the Festival!
I like to think of myself as Dr. Frankenstein, and NYMF as the bolt of lightning that brought my creature to life. However, after it rose from the table, it wasn't pretty.
Don't get me wrong. We sold out all of our nine performances, and we generated tremendous audience feedback, especially amongst those ticket-buyin' women over 40!
It was rewarding to see the press and audience reaction to the concept of the show, which seems to have hit a real chord. Everyone had such a great time that some of the cast threw another PLANE CRAZY party a week after we closed!
Woohoo -- September was a real ride!
October was hell.
After 9 performances you get a pretty good idea what is and isn't working. Going into NYMF, I knew the show wasn't perfect, and that the Festival would be a step along its creative evolution. For instance, I knew there was way too much dialogue. But how would I know what to cut without seeing it up and hearing the audience reaction? It's like John Wanamaker, the "father of the department store", used to say: "I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half."
Luckily, I could find out "which half". So I spent the beginning of October talking to everyone I could find -- creative team, cast, audience members, industry people -- gathering feedback both positive (yeah!) and negative (gulp), and really listening to the little voices in my head (the non-violent ones, anyway). I had me a mess o-rewritin' to do!
And that's when it dawned on me. It really is nuts to do the book, music and lyrics all by yourself.
First of all, there's the psych-out factor. Before NYMF, I could toil away in obscurity, taking my sweet time mucking about with the script. But after NYMF there were the dreaded...expectations! From family, friends, investors, cast members, NYMF, interested producers, all wondering what I was going to write and when I was going to be finished.
Suddenly people were INTERESTED!
And when you're working on your own, who do you freak out on? You end up talking yourself down off a ledge, which can have mixed results. You and you alone have to be "up" all the time whenever you talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime about the status.
"Oh, yes, it's coming along swimmingly...just a few tweaks here and there...really!"
Secondly, there is the sheer volume of work. Book. Music. Lyrics. All have to be revisited, all have to be re-thought. And when you're on a deadline...that can be daunting.
Thirdly, there is a palpable "hmmm" factor from producers and other interested parties when they find out you are the only writer on a project. Are you going to be a diva? Will you be unwilling to bend or change or take advice? Will the book writer, composer, and lyricist have nervous breakdowns, all at the same time?
Then there is the fundamental collaborative nature of musical theatre itself. The ideas that flow back and forth amongst the creative team (and technical team as well) significantly contribute to the whole. So it stands to reason the same creative collaboration effect would be a good thing amongst two or three writers.
Long story short, as I head into a two-week Toronto workshop of a revised PLANE CRAZY I am still juggling all three -- book, music and lyrics. I am very lucky to be able to "test" the changes that I made coming out of NYMF so quickly. And I am particularly lucky to be doing it in a school setting where I can focus on the work itself through a fairly luxurious rehearsal process, and not be freaked about the "performance" deadline.
The Sheridan College musical theater program is the premier musical theatre school in Canada and is devoted to the development of new musicals. Part of this is very practical because the students benefit through exposure to the process of workshopping a new work -- working with a writer, getting new pages constantly, and originating a role.
Working with this cast and the wonderful director Marc Richard I am continuing to evolve the piece as we rehearse because I feel free to experiment. For example, I came into the rehearsal process with two new songs, and I've just added a third new song! As I work with Marc, I'm discovering new things in my own work! Very cool.
I have to admit that I have enjoyed realizing this very personal and focused vision for PLANE CRAZY. I am proud of the work I've done on the show since NYMF, and watching the Sheridan rehearsals I know the show has improved. I know these characters so well that I know how they would react to a change in storyline, pacing, or dialogue. I know that while a song may be a cool song, it might not really be right for the character in the show at that point in time.
I also know that I need a collaborator if I am going to take PLANE CRAZY to the next level, and ultimately to Broadway.
But how do you find the right person? Someone who has a lot in common with you but is also different enough to bring that missing ingredient to the table? (Darn, and I promised myself I wouldn't use kitchen imagery!)
Should I place a classified ad: FOW seeks MWC (Freaked-out Writer seeks Miracle Working Collaborator)?
Ask if they know all the verses to "Jubilation T. Cornpone"?
Ask them if they own both the fullscreen and widescreen DVDs of DOWN WITH LOVE?
Or just ask them if they know where I got the name Webster Ramsey Templeton Advertising from?
We open at Sheridan on February 16 and run for 10 performances, which will give me another great chance to see PLANE CRAZY in front of an audience. Then we head off to a regional production, hopefully with a collaborator...
I guess it's true what they say -- you go into rehearsal with a play with music, and you come out of rehearsal with a musical!