I’ve always believed it’s important to get out of one’s comfort zone occasionally.
But 20,000 words out of one’s comfort zone is pretty far.
Though I wasn’t adamant I’d write the book as well as the music and lyrics I did want to have a go – I wasn’t too proud to ask for help if necessary but I’d come this far on my own so what the hell. The longest script I’d written before this was about twenty minutes. This was going to be over two hours (though admittedly broken up by songs). I’d never tried to write realistic dialogue or three dimensional characters before. I don’t mind telling you this bit of the project scared me a lot.
I wrote most of the songs before starting the script. Partly because songs are the most important thing in musicals – the audience will forgive clunky dialogue but not a limp number – mostly, however, I did that because I wanted to put off writing the scenes for as long as I could whilst still feeling like I was making progress.
It got to the point, however, where I was blatantly stalling. I was writing more and more songs, too many songs, convincing myself I’d probably need to have a scene where such-and-such happened so here’s a song by so-and-so. Inevitably I reached a day where I had to admit if I wrote any more songs the whole thing would have to be a sung-through and I didn’t want it to be that kind of musical.
But I just couldn’t begin. It’s amazing how something can be the biggest dream of your life but also the last thing you want to actually see become a reality. And let’s not forget basic run-of-the-mill fear of failure. I’d written plenty of songs before but never a full length play. If a song is bad it’s only bad for three minutes or so, if a play is bad people have to sit through it for hours, their bristling hostility for the writer growing more and more barbed with every syllable uttered.
In the end I had to get away from every distraction, switch my phone off and leave the country. I borrowed an ancient laptop that could not connect to the internet and spent a week alone in a French garret dividing my time between writing and gradually slipping sideways into madness. All I had to do was get the first draft done quickly, I could perfect it later. My routine was: Four-five hours in the morning, brisk walk, four-five hours in the afternoon, brisk walk, two-three hours reading and correcting, bed. It’s true what they say: a writer writes. Line by line the characters formed. One would say something a bit forced, another would reply with something a bit forced and then gradually they loosened up, the masks became expressions, the expressions became nuances, the statements became suggestions, the speeches became shrugs. After the first couple of days it became easier, even pleasurable. Characters just talked to each other, they did things I didn’t know they were going to do. Sometimes they started down paths that led elsewhere and I had to reign them back to the story, then after that happened a few times I eased my grip and followed them down the path instead (so later I had to ditch a bunch of songs and write new ones – no rest for the wicked).
But the hardest thing was the villains. They didn’t want to be villains. They wanted to explain their actions, their motivations, justify themselves.
“We don’t have time for you to explain yourself” I told them.
“But we may be misunderstood” they replied.
“That’s life I’m afraid.”
“Are we alive then?”
I don’t know. I hadn’t talked to anyone real for days. In this garret room my author’s hand had thrown one woman out of a window, set fire to a baby’s cot, had a good man beaten to death in a police cell, smashed in a king’s skull against the leg of his own statue, asphyxiated an old man with stock market ticker tape, consigned a sane woman to a mental asylum, shot dozens of ideologically sound activists and blown up a wedding cake.
I’ve no idea if it’s any good. I’ve no idea if it’ll work on stage. It still needs a lot of tightening up. But, wow, I loved writing this thing, having all those people jostling about in my head having conversations and pulling at their own storylines, it was pretty exhilarating. But getting past that first hurdle, of putting down the first words, ugh that’s horrible. It’s impossible not to feel stupid, not to feel disappointed in the first thing that comes into your brain. And it looks so naked on the page, all lit up and amplified. But you get past it and, unlike real life, you get to rewrite the mistakes.
P.S. If you ever decide to attempt such a project, I recommend following Stephen Gregg on twitter. Not only does he tweet good practical advice on script-writing, it’s also reassuring to feel like one isn’t alone!
BACK TO MAIN JOCASTA PAGE
Read an article about adapting the myth
Read an article about composing the songs
Read an article about the studio team
Read an article about recording the rhythm section
Read an article about recording the singers
Read an article about the orchestration
Read an article about recording the crowd vocals
Read an article about mixing the album
View photos from the Lowry showcase event
View rehearsal photos
Project Overview / Final Thoughts
And here’s a piece about being funded by Arts Council England