Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Belmont diary: We begin again

Loyal followers of this blog (all three of you) know that a couple of years ago, Belmont Day School in Belmont, MA commissioned me to write a play. Why commission a play at all? Well, it turned out they couldn't find any plays that met their DEI standards. They wanted the play to avoid gender-specific roles as much as possible and not include any gender, cultural, or racial stereotypes. 

Equally important was that the play had to be set in a creepy mansion feature meaningful roles for 40 students. Not big roles, necessarily, but meaty ones that really allowed the students to sink their teeth in.

What I came up with was It's a Madhouse!, a full/length comedy/mystery revolving around a race to find the hidden inheritance of a best-selling mystery author. It was published by Pioneer Drama Service last year and was a hit from the start, garnering 19 productions in just a few months. That success convinced Pioneer to publish a one-act adaptation so I cut the script's length from 80 to 60 minutes and the cast from that whopping 40 to 28. The much more succinctly titled Madhouse! has also been doing well, getting 7 productions.

So last week I was thrilled to hear from Christopher Parsons, the head of the school's theater department, with another commission offer. They again wanted a large cast play--38 to 39 parts--but this time they'd come up with a unique concept.

Essentially the play is to be a musical without songs. The idea is that the story needs to center around the performance of an original musical, either in Hollywood or on Broadway, but every time the performers open their mouths to sing, they get interrupted.

Now you may think that such strict requirements might squash creativity, but the opposite is usually the case. "Art consists in limitation." Or so G. K. Chesterton said.

This case was no different. My mind immediately stared buzzing with ideas. To me, the play had to be set during the rehearsal for a Broadway workshop performance. And I started brainstorming ideas as to what could cause the interruptions. One of my favorite ideas was having a construction team come in and interrupt the performance with their noisy and very annoying work.

It was a good idea. But not good enough. That's when my primary collaborator--also known as my wife Tammy--saved the day.

I mentioned the idea to her over dinner and she immediately came up with a tweak that made all the difference. Change the construction team to a demolition team that's preparing to dynamite the building the next day. Being a connoisseur of fine puns, Tammy also came up with the perfect title: Bringing Down the House.

I put a detailed synopsis together--including the efforts of an historical preservationist and several protesters to save the building--and sent it to Chris, who loved it. So I'm off and running. I've got until October 1 to complete the 80- to 90-page script, but I have no doubt I'll make it. If I ever get stuck, I can always pull in my collaborator.

AI, eat your heart out.

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