"They call me Matt" is apparently no good

At the very end of the song, “Light My Candle” from the Broadway musical Rent, Mimi and Roger exchange names.

Roger sings, “I’m Roger.”

Mimi responds, “They call me Mimi.”

Driving in the car, listening to the song the other day, I turn to Elysha and say, “I’ve always wanted to introduce myself to people like that. You know… ‘They call me Matt.’ What do you think?”

“No,” she said, flatly, immediately, and without an ounce of uncertainty.

I really like the idea, but I’ve learned that when Elysha is absolute in her opinion, she’s usually right.

Also, I had apparently brought up this idea in the past and received a similar response. More than once. Apparently I’m hoping for a change of heart that isn’t coming.

She’s probably right.

Still…

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Why I say unpopular things

I recently caused a bit of an uproar by admitting that I have never seen The Sound of Music because it looks incredibly boring. 

When I wrote these words on my blog (and transitioned them over to Facebook), I knew that I would be met with backlash. I had already admitted this out loud and been scolded for my obvious stupidity. 

Several passionate fans of this musical wondered why I would say such a thing. Why would I waste my time writing about how a film that I had never seen before looked boring, particularly when I know how almost universally beloved it is?  

Here is how I responded:

I've always found that I reach more people when I share my least popular thoughts, my most embarrassing moments, my worst decisions, and my greatest moments of stupidity or thoughtlessness. These are the stories, thoughts, and ideas that generate the most energy, empathy, passion, interest, and conversation. In many cases, my stories of questionable decisions and unpopular ideas have been the things that bring people closer to me. 

This may seem counter-intuitive. I know. I declare that a person's favorite film looks boring. How does that bring us closer together?

Through the passionate exchange of ideas. Through honesty and authenticity. Through vulnerability. You may not agree with my opinion or a decision I make, but you'll always know who I am and where I stand. You'll know my unvarnished self, and in today's world of carefully curated photography, social media massaging, personal branding, and political correctness, I think that the unvarnished self is refreshing.  

We're all broken and flawed and foolish in some way, and those who are willing to admit to these unfortunate bits of ourselves often garner greater respect for doing so. I believe this. I see it everyday.   

A friend of mine once said that "I live out loud." It was a good description. Truthfully, it's how I've always been. For as long as I can remember, I've always spoken my mind. Shared my stories. Tried to be my authentic self. Authenticity has always been something that I prized about all else. I'm not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with my desire to be known. Be heard. Be understood.

Admittedly, it's gotten me into trouble at times. I've shared honest moments from my life that have caused people to react strongly. I've been asked questions and felt the need to answer honestly. I may not share my unpopular opinion in certain social settings, but if asked, I feel compelled to do so.

Friends of ours don't allow shoes to be worn in their home. They ask guests to remove them upon entering the house, and they are kind enough to offer slippers to their guests. I hate this rule but said nothing about it for years. It was an opinion that needn't be shared. Then one day, the wife asked, "You don't mind taking off your shoes. Right, Matt?" 

I had to answer honestly, and so I did.

The wife wasn't thrilled.

Then the husband, who knows me well, said, "Never ask Matt a question if you might not like the answer. He's nothing if not honest."

My friend was right, and he is fine with this. Undisturbed by my opinion on his shoe policy and accepting of my adherence to authenticity. He knows where I stand. He's never going to receive fakery from me. 

Ask me a question, and I'll answer honestly.  

As annoyed as some people were with my presumption that The Sound of Music looks boring, the expression of that opinion resulted in a fascinating, interesting, engaging, and energetic discussion, both online and in real life. We discussed this particular musical but also how we filter our media choices in a world inundated by content. People were vehement and forceful with their opinions, but in the end, I don't think anyone liked me any less for expressing this opinion. 

In fact, I would argue that I became a tiny bit closer to those who disagreed with me the most. Our thoughtful exchange of ideas may have not resulted in agreement, but even better, it generated greater understanding and respect. 

I also learned a lot. A friend of mine who I would never have expected to enjoy The Sound of Music told me that he has watched it at least ten times and offered this perspective on the movie and the song Edelweiss, which appears in the film:

"Edelweiss is a flower that only grows at high elevations in the Alps. In WWI, Austrian soldiers wore it only if they were able to climb by foot to pick it. It symbolized grit, strength, and patriotism. They’d pin the flower to their uniforms. My great grandfather served in the mountain battalion for the Austrian-Hungarian empire in WWI. 

In WWII many Austrians fled Nazi Germany by climbing the Alps to Switzerland. Edelweiss became a symbol of freedom. They knew if they climbed high enough, they’d find the flower and peace. That’s what the song is about. My grandfather moved to the United States in the 30’s to escape the war and then served as a POW interrogator for the US because his first language was German. He cried every time he heard the song. It means a lot to Austrians."

Now that makes me want to see the film and listen closely to the song. I still may not enjoy either, but the historical background intrigues me, and the story of my friend's grandfather lodged itself in the center of my heart. 

I would've known none of this had I not expressed an knowingly unpopular opinion. 

Speak your truth, even if you know people won't like it. If you are being honest, authentic, and true to yourself, the road may get bumpy at times, but it will be a far more interesting road than the one driven by the cautious, the filtered, and the inauthentic.

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I found someone who thinks EXACTLY like I do. Almost as if I put the words right into her heart and mind.

The strangest thing happened. 

I attended a rehearsal for Caught in the Middle, the musical that I wrote more than a year ago for a summer camp. It's being produced by a local theater company and makes it's world premiere on Friday night. 

You should come.

As I'm watching a scene, one of the characters stands, moves to center stage, and begins talking about the nature of teaching. "There are two kinds of teachers..." she begins. Then, after a series of jokes, she speaks lines I don't exactly remember writing, but I can hear myself onstage, I hear someone other than me saying things that I believe with all my heart.

It was like watching a different version of me. Someone with all of my beliefs in a decidedly younger, more female body than mine. 

It makes sense, of course. It's only natural for a musical that I wrote to contain lines that have come from me, but it was surreal to see a person standing in for me onstage, spouting my philosophy. Filling my role. Professing my beliefs with the same conviction - albeit faked - as me. 

Ever since I wrote my first musical - a rock opera entitled The Clowns - a few years ago, there have been few things as thrilling as watching actors speak my words. Even if you've never wanted to write a play or musical before - and I never did and often still don't - I can't recommend it enough. 

Hearing the words that you write in your head is one thing. 

Hearing a professionally trained actor - or in the case of Caught in the Middle - a talented teen actor speak your words is remarkable. 

And if that's not enough to get you excited about writing a play, you can look forward to the day when you can bring your seven year-old daughter to a rehearsal and watch her stare in wonder as your show unfolds before her eyes.

Wait for the moment when she asks you to write a show just for her, so that she can take the stage and sing and act someday like these big boys and big girls in front of her.

Wait for the moment when she tells you that she loved what she saw and can't wait to see it for real this weekend.  

Wait for the moment when she kisses you and says, "You write good stuff, Daddy. Funny, too."

It's a pain in the ass to write a play. Even more so when you're writing a musical. 

It's an even bigger pain in the ass to get someone to produce it.  

These singular moments make it all worth it.

I think. 

Thoughts on The Book of Mormon

I saw The Book of Mormon last night. I loved the show.

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A few thoughts (no spoilers):
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Having now written two musicals (the latest, written for tweens, will be produced at a summer camp in July), it’s impossible to watch a musical and fully immerse myself in the story. While I loved the show, I spent the whole time analyzing its construction: the balance between song and book, the development of characters, the way in which set and scene were used to move the story forward, the opening and closing numbers of each act and much more.

At one point I was even counting time between songs.

Writing musicals has ruined me.
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As much as I loved the show, the payoff at the end was not satisfying.

Endings are hard. As someone who can’t actually decide on the end of the musical I just finished writing, I know. But the solution to the problem in The Book of Mormon (how to defeat the warlord general) almost didn’t happen. It was practically an afterthought. If you looked away for three seconds, you would’ve missed it entirely.
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Throughout the entire show, I kept thinking:

If Matt Stone, Trey Parker ad Robert Lopez they can get away with writing this flagrant, unrelenting, politically incorrect assault on The Mormon Church, just imagine what I could do if I can convince my writing partner to write the required music.

There are plenty of revered institutions that I would love to attack in song and dance.

Does the success of The Book of Mormon mean I can? 
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While I’m sure that The Mormon Church isn’t thrilled by the existence of this show, an interesting message emerged at the end of the show:

It doesn’t matter if we invent or change the details of religion as long as we are able to find faith and comfort in it.

I kind of love this message. Maybe the Mormon Church does to?

It’s difficult to understand anyone who believes in a literal interpretation of The Bible (the world is 7,000 years old, Noah actually stuffed two of every animal on Earth in his boat, you should kill anyone who works on Sunday), and the Mormon creation story not only embraces these beliefs but adds a layer that was clearly fabricated by a not-so-creative con man.

But I know many religious people who quickly abandon the specifics of their holy texts and acknowledge that they are full of fiction (and much of it regrettable) but still find faith and comfort in their religion regardless.

I admire these people.

As a person who yearns for faith but is unable to find it, the idea that a Mormon or any other religious person could acknowledge the insanity of their primary source document but still find faith in the underlying religion is a hopeful thing for me.
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Kudos to The Mormon Church for having a sense of humor and not allowing anger and hate get in the way of opportunity. I was both shocked and pleased to find The Mormon Church advertising the actual Book of Mormon in the playbill with full page ads like this:

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