Musicals aren’t in any way new to me, but something of this scope definitely is. It’s been rewarding and challenging in ways I never expected.
One of the truly difficult parts of the journey has been to accept how many people this piece is going to offend. I’ve always been a bit of a people-pleaser, so the idea of someone hating my work has a tendency to stifle me.
Now I should say that it’s everyone’s right to be offended. I support that right. It’s also everyone’s right to be offensive, which I think we tend to forget sometimes. I prefer to be as sensitive as possible whenever possible. It’s just than I’m realizing you can’t walk on eggshells at every stage of the writing process.
First there are the people who will hate my piece just because they think it sucks. I’m trying to avoid creating many of those people by writing something funny and thoughtful. I’m letting playwrights smarter than me pick apart the plot; and I’m listening carefully when readers have trouble with certain lines or characterizations. Still, some people just hate musicals. I’ll never win them over, so maybe we can find something else in common. Like basketball. (Note to self: write a basketball musical.)
Then there are people who will be mad about my gay characters. Yes, there are gay characters in the show, and while I do let one of them have a pretty darn fabulous time on stage, they’re not just flamboyant ditzes or tomboy lesbian stereotypes. They have feelings, desires and fears. Imagine that.
One of the saddest things I’m realizing is not that people will have a problem with how these characters are portrayed. No matter how well I write it, some of the show will always hinge on direction and acting, so their portrayal could be problematic no matter how careful I am. No, some people already have a problem with the fact that there are gay people in the piece at all, especially if they get to be full-blooded characters.
To those naysayers I want to say “screw you,” but it will probably be more effective to point out that a) gay people do exist and b) as a satirical musical comedy, these character have the most realistic storyline in the whole show. While most of the other characters have fairly far-fetched dreams, this couple’s dream is relatively simple: they’d just like the freedom to date, thank you, in a society that won’t let them. If it doesn’t bother you that their story still essentially happens every day, then we probably won’t find a lot of common ground.
As a Christian-raised Jewish girl, I’m also doing my fair share to offend my fellow religious folk. Catholics in particular might not like this piece. I hope that’s not the case, as I have one character in the show who is devoutly Catholic and one of the most courageous peacemakers of her era. However, the Vatican doesn’t always applaud when women step up to the plate to tackle issues like poverty and marginalized people groups, and some of my Catholic viewers won’t like this chick, either.
In fact, even Protestant Christians may not like the piece. It’s a rather biting satire at times; and while I’ve tried to keep the tone light and respectful, my main points won’t always shine for people who don’t want to see them.
A friend recently described The Book of Mormon (the musical) as “just a chance for two men to offend as many people as possible.” He didn’t notice (or want to see) the part where those two men – who are atheist and agnostic(ish) – discuss through their play what they believe the meaning and value of faith to be. He also may not have noticed the 9 Tony Awards on their shelves.
If anyone, including Christians, wants to make a difference in the world, they’re going to have to listen to what the world has to say. They’re going to have to acknowledge the kinds of problems the world is discussing. Artistic works – including musicals – are a great place to start those observations.
Lastly, I’m going to offend people who think every terrible thing needs to be handled with kids gloves and a memorial. I don’t agree. I think it’s always good to be talking, to have open communication from a variety of experiences; and for me a good, old-fashioned, offensive musical always does the trick.
If I listened to everyone else’s opinions, I might still finish this musical. But it would be a bland story about bland people with bland problems who find bland ways to get out of them. That’s not going to help anyone, including me. And it’s not going to change anyone, including me.
In creating new work, we have to forget outside opinions almost entirely – especially when we’re still in draft mode. Of course that also means before entering draft mode we should listen attentively to other people’s experiences. We should be working out of conviction, not ignorance.
From there, our views become the ones that matter – our views, and doing our craft well. If other people have views, let them create their own plays and musicals (or blogs, or books, or paintings). They usually won’t.
I wish I could tell you more on the show, and what it’s about, and what I’m trying to say with it. But the internet would be the WORST place to do that while I’m still in drafting mode. To keep me from worrying too much about online opinions, I’ll leave it at that.
(Photo by Jean Scheijen)