Over the past week, I’ve been digging into the musical, which I’m currently calling “The Woman” for purposes of it having a title other than “that musical I’m writing that’s kind of about Irene Adler.” I’ve been listening to a lot of music, trying to get an idea about the world of the play overall. I’ve been creating a lot of lists and maps. I’ve also been doing a lot of walking. Lots and lots of walking, wearing headphones and thinking. I’ve done a lot of thinking, but not a lot of what some would call “writing.” Although, I do consider all of the thinking I’m doing as a necessary part of the writing process, even though I can’t call it “writing.”
I always feel as though I'm waiting for the right time to begin to write. I spend an awful lot of time in my head, thinking, imagining, and constructing before I ever put something onto paper (Digital or actual paper). If I come up with a thought or a flash of a moment, I will jot it down for fear of losing it, but I won’t “write.” When I do finally get something written, it’s because my brain has hit some sort of critical mass and what I’m creating is spurting out almost fully-formed. My brain is cross-referencing all the thoughts I've had, all the planning I've done, all my personal beliefs and experiences, and it's churning something out of the machine. I wait for this moment of critical mass before I write dialogue or stage directions because I don't want to rush into the process only to have to stop at some point just a few steps down the road.
My son is slightly obsessed with Wizard of Oz lately (specifically The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Scottie Young and Eric Shanower from Marvel), so here's an analogy for my process. Writing before my moment of critical mass would be putting myself into Dorothy's shoes (or really the witch's shoes, which Dorothy is wearing...). I'd be leaving on a journey, knowing only that there's a yellow brick road to follow. That’s dangerous. I don’t want to be Dorothy (Side note: Jack has made me Dorothy when he’s pretending to be the Tin Woodsman. Mostly because I was walking our dog, Sadie, at the time. Sadie’s role is Toto, so there you go.)
For me and my process, I’d rather be the person who planned and built the yellow brick road. I know where it goes, I know what's out there, I know what paths it may take. Now, Dorothy, she's the wildcard, she's the character that ends up on the path I've set up. I may not know exactly how Dorothy will react to the things she encounters (hopefully, I mostly do), but I do know where the road leads.
With the The Woman, I'm nearing critical mass. I'm learning more about her as a character, about what I'll be exploring and what the path looks like. I've been listening to a lot of music, mostly Regina Spektor, Anya Marina, and Kate Nash. I didn't think I needed Apple Music, but it has proven helpful for me to find Kate Nash who has inspired several parts of the musical in tone and style for me. On an unrelated note, it's also helped my son become obsessed with Hamilton... If you want to listen to my playlist, you can catch it here.
Keep working, my fellow theatre-makers. And, as always, be excellent to each other.
Having finished a draft of Not There Anymore, I’ve set my sights on working on the musical project. It’s giving me an opportunity to really dig into my process and collaborate in a way I haven’t done in a long while. Currently, the project is in the planning phases, specifically getting a story structure set. It’s different from the way I normally work on my own since I usually don’t have the full story mapped out before I begin writing scenes. I use the writing of the scenes to help me find the full story as I learn about the characters through each new scene that gets created. However, since I’m collaborating on this project with other artists, I’ve decided that having the story together before digging into the writing would make sure we’re all on the same page and working towards the same story and end goal.
When we first started the project, Joe Bishara, the director of the project and the person bringing us together, had said he was interested in a deconstruction of a piece, suggesting Othello or something from Shakespeare as a possible candidate. I mentioned that I wanted to make sure the main character was a woman. I’ve made the promise to assume that all my main characters are women as I begin my new projects. This keeps me from assuming the default as male and allows me to stretch myself. I’ve also been told in the past that my women characters were stronger than my male characters, so why not start there?
I’m not sure where the idea came from, but one of the first things I pitched to Joe was a female Falstaff. Women never get to be Falstaff-ish characters and be safe from judgement. There’s Jessica Jones who is less of a buffoon-type character, but is sexual and drinks like crazy. She’s a very powerful character. When I pitched Falstaff, he pitched Irene Adler from Sherlock Holmes fame or Othello from Desdemona’s point of view. I said I’d set off and do some reading.
I started with A Scandal in Bohemia: the only story Irene Adler is in! Irene Adler is known in Sherlock lore as “The Woman,” the one woman who ever outsmarted Sherlock Holmes. She’s taken to be some kind of love interest for Sherlock, though, in the original story, there’s no romance between them. In fact, at the end of Scandal of Bohemia, Irene Adler gets married to someone and rides off into the sunset, perfectly happy with her husband. There’s no longing for Sherlock. There’s no longing for the King of Bohemia. She’s happy. Content. So, the Irene Adler we’ve seen on screens, especially the Steven Moffatt version, aren’t in keeping with the literary character of the original story. Not that an adaptation needs to stay so closely and rigidly inline with the original work... But adding a romantic storyline between Irene Adler and Sherlock becomes more about a character choice for Sherlock and less about a character choice for Irene.
After reading the original story, I made a very short outline for the musical, which stays very close to the original story of Scandal in Bohemia, while keeping things updated. I used the app Letterspace to make the list of characters and all the questions I had. I love Letterspace because it uses Hashtags to organize my thoughts instead of having to use folders. A note can end up in multiple places, as long as I hashtag it! I eventually then used Paper by 53 to do a map of words, following the advice of my podcasting partner, Mackenzie Worrall.
Three words keep rising to the surface for the play: Viral, Leak, and Scandal. I kept writing more and more questions: What happens when a symbol of love becomes a weapon for revenge? What makes something go viral? How much fame is enough fame? What is she really after? Why does Sherlock Holmes call her “*the* woman?”
I was having trouble finding my angle, my vision for the story. I couldn’t answer what I, personally, was bringing to the story and why I, personally, wanted to write it. It wasn’t completely exciting or inevitable for me yet. In order to dig deeper, I went to Lille Langtry: one of the assumed, real-world inspirations for Irene Adler. If we’re doing a “deconstruction” of Irene Adler, I believe it’s important to check out what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle looked at when creating his character. I read a couple essays, watched a bit of a mini-series about Lillie Langtry, and made some notes. Did you know she was best friends with Oscar Wilde? Was she the first woman with a sassy, gay best friend? Hmm...
I called my friend Laura to talk through some of the ideas. She asked me to start at the beginning: what was the thing that got me excited. I told her about the Falstaff beginnings and everything I’d learned about Lillie Langtry. She asked if I could still use the Falstaff idea somehow in the creation of the character. Concentrate on her first. Write from her perspective. Figure out her goals and her beliefs. So, that’s where I’m headed next.
Where are you on your projects, fellow theatre-makers? What things are you having trouble with?
Have fun creating and, as always, be excellent to each other.