A wise person once said, “The difference between bad and good is from here to the ceiling. But the difference between good and great is from here to the moon.” There’s a mysterious alchemy that goes into creating a new piece of musical theatre. To those of us attempting to tap into this magical world it’s called “development” and without it, shows don’t get to experience the necessary growing pains required to take something that’s good and turn it into something that’s great. Many writers are eager to rush to production (as if it were that easy) without the tedious and sometimes mind-numbing task of rewriting and shaping a show until it’s ready to be put before a paying audience. What results is something that may be fine and even entertaining, but rarely is it as good as it can and should be.
Through the support of wonderful folks at Chicago Dramatists, Porchlight Music Theatre, and Roosevelt University we got the necessary feedback in the earliest stages of writing to make crucial choices and changes. Our story got clearer with each reading and each talk back. Constructive criticism was crucial at this point and every single audience member filled an important role.
Then along came Pallas Theatre Collective, a smallish Washington D.C. based theatre with very big ideals. Over the past year they’ve taken us on a journey of discovery, providing public reading opportunities at the Anacostia Arts Center in Washington D.C., Ball State University, Point Park University in Pittsburgh, and on the horizon, a final reading at the Spy Museum in D.C. At each step of the process we’ve been able to hear our words and music presented in front of audiences that owed us precisely nothing; not praise or commentary, not even applause at the end of a song. And they all have been invaluable experiences.
Pallas Theatre has been a tireless advocate for us as writers throughout this journey. They have provided guidance and direction, but never asked for something that we didn’t already know in the back of our minds needed to be fixed. We’ve been posed questions that demanded answers and our show has been made stronger as a result. Why can’t we can’t rid of the leading lady’s eleventh hour number? Throw it out. That song doesn’t work for you here? How ‘bout we move it to later in the act? Done. The prospect of a year long development process with a specific theatre is a luxury many writers crave and we know how lucky we are to have been given this rare opportunity.
Every writer's development process is different and it can be tempting to never get off the “Development Merry-Go-'Round”, spinning and spinning and never moving forward, forever reading and workshopping until every last drop of joy and spontaneity has been sucked out of the piece. So how do you know when it’s ready? For that matter, how does any artist know when any piece of art is ready to be let go of and declared finished? The truth is, it’s an enormous leap of faith and at some point you just have to say, “This is it, it’s done. This is the best I can do today.”
One hopes, of course, that the efforts have carried us at least past the ceiling and continued upstairs into our neighbor’s apartment. Next stop? The moon.