Posts tagged #Tales of Olympus

The Journey of GOLD: 8 years in the making

L to R: King Midas (Matt Standley), Queen Midas (Aly Casas), and Princess Lydia (Elisha Beston) on their annual stargazing picnic.  Photo by Alessandra Mello.

L to R: King Midas (Matt Standley), Queen Midas (Aly Casas), and Princess Lydia (Elisha Beston) on their annual stargazing picnic. Photo by Alessandra Mello.

GOLD: The Midas Musical opens tomorrow at Bay Area Children’s Theatre, and while it is my 9th world premiere, it actually has a past that begins all the way back in 2011. Nina Meehan, Executive Artistic Director of BACT, approached me with a commission to adapt the Midas myth into a musical for young audiences - particularly targeting those in upper elementary and above. I loved the idea of expanding this classic myth for contemporary theatregoers, and with a proposed opening of 2012, I set to work on it right away - writing sketches of about four songs and crafting a script that focused on the relationship between Midas and his daughter. But then, the direction changed.

Nina thought a stronger new work would be one that addressed Greek mythology broadly, rather than the one myth. Of course, she was right. I was just starting out as a writer, and BACT was just starting its programming for older kids. A show about several Greek myths would be more readily appealing to kids (Percy Jackson was just kicking into high gear), and had more potential for educational value for teachers. And so, Midas went into my figurative drawer, and Tales of Olympus was born. After its world premiere, Tales went on to a Bay Area school tour, a touring production in Chicago, a young actors adaptation, and will once again be produced at the Children’s Museum Indianapolis this summer. So yeah, good call on the Greek myths thing!

But I always knew I wanted to re-visit Midas. In 2016, I opened the file and started to work on it again. It was strange. In those five years, I had changed as a writer. The jokes and lyrics felt like a younger me, and I had to think hard about what of the original sketches could be retained if I were to actually finish it. I completed the piece enough to do an informal table reading at Playwrights Foundation, to which Nina Meehan was invited. After the reading, she expressed interest in seeing how it developed further. And so, I continued to work on it, keeping her up-to-date on latest script drafts. Then, she included in BACT’s 2018-2019 season.

L to R: Nysus (Andrew Mondello), Hilarion (Christian Arteaga), King Midas (Matt Standley), Princess Lydia (Elisha Beston), Queen Midas (Aly Casas), Hestia (Sheila Townsend).  Photo by Alessanda Mello.

L to R: Nysus (Andrew Mondello), Hilarion (Christian Arteaga), King Midas (Matt Standley), Princess Lydia (Elisha Beston), Queen Midas (Aly Casas), Hestia (Sheila Townsend). Photo by Alessanda Mello.

It’s very apparent to me that had I finished GOLD in 2012, it would have been a completely different show. In the eight years from conception to production, I have transformed into a much more competent, self-aware, and experienced writer. I believe I was able to bring an emotional depth to GOLD that might not have been there if I completed it on its original due date. Of course, there are still remnants of the original draft - three of those original song sketches have stayed in the show in some form, and I don’t know that I’ll ever lose my childish humor that others like to call “Min jokes.” So, GOLD feels like a sort of commemorative piece for me. A marker to show how much I’ve progressed in career and creativity. I’m proud it’s getting to see the light of day, and I hope you’ll be able to see it before it closes!

The Olympus Surprise Song

This is  not  what writing is like all the time.

This is not what writing is like all the time.

Writing is taxing work. I can spend hours on a single section of dialogue choosing, re-choosing, deleting, re-ordering words, and still end the day feeling like I barely made a step forward. Writing music with lyrics gets even more complicated because there is the added aural dimension which will affect mood, atmosphere and story. What key? What's the tonality? When should notes rise and fall? Which words should be emphasized? Am I emphasizing the correct syllables as if the words were spoken? This laboring over details makes up the majority of my work when I write songs - toiling over rhyme, meter and melody as if trying to solve a riddle, often leading to frustration, but usually resulting in a rewarding finish if I stick with it.

And then there are the surprise songs.

These are the song moments in my shows that come together as if by magic on the first go. The songs that show me why people came to believe in Muses as angelic voices inspiring people to write, paint, perform.  They often end up with a depth or flow that I could not have imagined when I first set about writing them. And each of my shows so far has had at least one surprise song. Below, I discuss the development of one of them.

"I Used To Weave" from Tales of Olympus
I knew I wanted to include the story of Athena and Arachne when I was conceptualizing Tales. The problem with adapting the myth, however, was that Athena is completely justified in punishing Arachne for her pride and insults against the gods. So I asked the questions "What if Arachne really was a better weaver than Athena? What if transforming Arachne into a spider was a result of Athena losing her composure and acting impetuously?" And then this question came, which set the tone of the song: "What if Athena has not been able to weave ever since the 'Arachne incident,' because the act is a nagging reminder of her lowest moment?"

Then came the opening lyrics "I used to weave..."

Calliope (Chrissy Brooks), Zeus (Steven Shear), Hermes (Min Kahng) and Aphrodite (Lauren Spencer) tell Athena (Michelle Drexler) she's not so bad.

Calliope (Chrissy Brooks), Zeus (Steven Shear), Hermes (Min Kahng) and Aphrodite (Lauren Spencer) tell Athena (Michelle Drexler) she's not so bad.

This set-up allowed the song to have layers. We get to know Athena as a fuller character, and more importantly as a flawed character. In regards to character arc: by singing "I Used To Weave" Athena is finally giving in and telling a story, when previously she sat to the side, unwilling to participate. There is also a key revelation about the relationships on Olympus. At the end of the song, the other gods console Athena, showing for the first time that this dysfunctional, leftover group of gods is really a family of sorts. The song also contains some of my favorite lyrics:

Now I'm best of who's left
But I've lost all the joy
Of creating a blanket, a scarf or a sleeve
And each spider I see is a reason to grieve
I used to weave...

There's something about the words best, left, lost, blanket, scarf, sleeve, spider and grieve with their blended, recurring consonants and their simplicity. This combined with the sense of loss and regret with which the words are sung (performed masterfully by both Michelle Drexler in the world premiere, and by Rebecca Pingree for the staged reading) pulls at my heart in a way that's difficult to describe, except to say I am moved.

"I Used To Weave" is my favorite song in Tales of Olympus. It has also remained largely unchanged from its original draft, which is understandable: Surprise songs, formed from an outflow of sudden inspiration, usually don't need major revisions.

Posted on December 11, 2013 and filed under Composition, Creative, Musical Theater, Performing Arts, Thought, Writing.