Lessons and observations from a week of The Clowns.

This evening we will meet to discuss the future of The Clowns, the rock opera that my co-writer and I have spent the last five years writing. With two weeks to reflect on the workshop process that brought The Clowns to the stage for the first time, I had some final thoughts:

1. When collaborating on a project, I strongly suggest that you find a partner who is considerably nicer than you and is willing to put forth 100% effort while gladly accepting 60% from you. It is an ideal situation.

2. When given the freedom and encouragement, actors are like writers without keyboards.

3. Similarly, directors are like editors without red pens. They, however, do not require the encouragement and simply assume the freedom.

4. Watching actors say lines that you wrote and become the characters that you envisioned while listening to the audience around you laugh and gasp and applaud is just as good as seeing your novel on a bookstore shelf.

5. I’ve acted before and thought this while doing so, but two weeks of rehearsals and performances confirmed it: Acting is a form of collaborative, non-competitive sport with much of the physicality of athletics and all of the pressure of a championship game on the line. 


I never know what I’m actually writing about

Long after I finished writing my first novel, SOMETHING MISSING, I discovered, only after my wife and therapist pointed it out to me, that I had written a book about my battles with post traumatic stress disorder, my hatred toward my evil step-father and my longing for my absent father.

I didn’t know any of these things while actually writing the book. These revelations were only pointed out to me much later.

Upon finishing my second novel, UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, I discovered that I had written a book about the challenges that I’ve faced throughout my life as a result of refusing to conform. Though readers might think me crazy, it turns out that the most noble character in that story (at least for me) is Louis the Porn Fiend, a character who my agent suggested I cut and who only appears in one chapter. Louis’s nobility derives from his willingness to remain true to himself, even though the world around him may be repulsed by this essential truth.

As Budo says in MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND, “You have to be the bravest person in the world to go out every day, being yourself, when no one likes who you are.”

In the process of writing MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND, I discovered that I was actually writing about my obsession with mortality and my near-constant existential fear as a result of two near death experiences and a robbery at gunpoint. In fact, an armed robbery takes place in the book, but while writing the scene, it never occurred to me that I might actually be writing about my own experience and the fear still surrounding it.

Books can be funny this way. You think you’re writing about one thing and you’re actually writing about something entirely different.

It turns out that playwriting is the same.

While watching last night’s performance of The Clowns, I wondered why Jake, the play’s protagonist/antagonist, appeals to me so much when so many audience members expressed dislike and even hatred toward the character following the previous show. His likability has been a question that I’ve been considering for quite a while, and the answer finally struck me like a load of bricks last night during the first act.

Jake is me when I was his age.

The Jake who I wrote is far cooler than I ever was, and the actor playing the role is even cooler than the character written on the page, but at his heart, Jake represents someone who I once was, and in that instant, I understood the character completely and knew that needed to be done to mitigate the loathing that audience members felt for him and develop him further.

This couldn’t have happened had not the actor, Richard Hollman, not fully  inhabited the character to the degree he has. I don’t think I will ever think of Jake without thinking of Rich. There may be other actors who play the role of Jake someday, but in my mind, Jake will always be Rich, and Rich will always be Jake. It was only through his performance that I was able to truly see the character, and in many ways, see myself.

All this probably sounds a little hokey (and I agree), but I can’t adequately express how stunned I felt when this realization finally dawned upon me. Not only did the character of Jake become instantly clear to me like never before, but I suddenly understood myself in ways I had never even approached. 

It was an honest-to-goodness moment of epiphany.

Once again, I find myself thinking that I am writing about one thing when in reality, I am writing about another.

I should stop being surprised, but I can’t. It’s so bizarre.

Writing is a strange gig. I often say that I get paid for making up stuff in my head, and while this may be true to some extent, it turns out that writing is far more complex and mysterious than it ever seems.

At least for me. 

Opening night for The Clowns! And perhaps a new way of writing fiction?

Opening night of our rock opera, The Clowns, was a huge success. Over the last eight days, the actors, musicians and director have taken our original vision and brought it do life, and in the process, the show has become so much more complete.

Most surprising for me has been the way in which the actors have informed my vision of the characters. In less than two weeks, each of them have used the script and score to develop their characters into more compelling, fully realized beings. From improved dialogue to newfound aspects to a character’s personality and backstory to something as simple as the way a character walks, the actors have provided me with an enormous amount of material for future revisions.

In many ways, they have come to know these characters better than me. I couldn’t be more grateful. I’ve stolen so much from each one of them and plan on doing so much more.

As a novelist, I suddenly find myself wishing that I could have professionals like these performing each of the scenes in my manuscript. I fear that there is so much more that I could learn about my characters if I could involve actors in the process.

Perhaps someday I might give this a try.

Of course, I’ll need enough money to keep professional actors on staff during the writing process, but there is always hoping.

Actually, maybe Kickstarter could help. Would readers be willing to fund a project like this in return for a signed first edition of the novel (signed by rhe author and the actors) plus complete video footage of each of the scenes as performed by the actors involved?

The more I think about it, the more interested I become. 

Our second show kicks off tonight 8:00 PM tonight at The Playhouse on Park. If you’re local and would like to attend, please call the Playhouse on Park in advance. We may be sold out for the Saturday performance.

In the meantime, here is a sneak peek of the show. This was recorded a few days ago during one of our music rehearsals. The song is called Forever, Wrapped Up in a Day, written and composed by my writing partner, Andy Mayo.  

Save the date

The Clowns, the rock opera written by Andy Mayo and myself, continues its march to Broadway with a weekend production at the Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT on January 4, 5 and 6.

This will be staged workshop, meaning actors, directors and writers will spend two weeks perfecting the show (if that’s possible) prior to the weekend performances. We will be in New York City in early December to cast the show and working hard on revising it until then.

Tickets are not yet on sale, but I will let you know when they are.

Hope to see you at the show!