Posts filed under Story

Revisiting, revising, and reviving MOUNTAIN

There was a time when I believed the 2014 production of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon: A Musical Adaptation would be the only time the story would make it to the stage. Not for a lack of trying, mind you. After the world premiere closed, I met with director Mina Morita (currently Artistic Director of Crowded Fire Theatre) and BACT Executive Artistic Director Nina Meehan to talk about where the show could go next. We looked at festivals and other submission opportunities. And then, it all came to a halt. There was a potential movie deal in the works, so any adaptations of the book were not to be produced. This was very sad to hear (and wouldn’t be the last time this would happen), and I came to terms with the idea that the show would only live on in a much-cherished memory.

Then, in 2017, news came that further productions of the show would be allowed by the publisher. BACT wanted to do a remount. And South Coast Rep wanted to include it in their Theatre for Young Audiences programming! So we went from zero chance to getting two productions in the 2019-2020 season. One of the biggest changes this time around is that, due to budget constraints, there won’t be live instruments. I took this opportunity to completely revisit the show, tightening and shoring up the previous script, and even penning a new reprise that hadn’t existed before. The BACT remount is in previews right now, and it has been poignant seeing the show return to the Osher Studio - where the world premiere occurred. This show that I had thought would never see the light of day again is getting its second go starting this weekend, and its third in February in SoCal.

All this, I suppose, is a lesson in “You never know.” That doesn’t mean I should have held out hope against the odds. I believe it was right for me to make peace with the idea that the world premiere would be the only production of Mountain. But you just never know how events might turn and surprise you as you make your writer's way.

Chelsea Wellott as Minli in the 2019 BACT Production. Photo by Roger Jones.

Chelsea Wellott as Minli in the 2019 BACT Production. Photo by Roger Jones.

Hello, Old Friend

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I haven’t opened this script in almost two years. After my post-production dramaturgical meeting, I decided to let The Four Immigrants rest on my bookshelf until the time for revisiting emerged. Thanks to the upcoming concert presentation at USC this fall, that time is now. And while I have thoughts about what I might want to revise, I find myself a tad overwhelmed. How do you even begin to approach something that has been such a huge part of your career? To focus in on the minutiae of something that consumed a large chunk of your time previously, and yielded such memorable and rewarding results? Where do you even start to deconstruct something that has felt so central to your sense of self?

I could learn a lesson here from Grace Lin’s Minli, who, as she gazes upon the Paper of Happiness reads the word that is meant for her: Thankfulness.

I am so thankful for the relationship I have had to The Four Immigrants, both Henry Kiyama’s original work and my adaptation. All of the people I have crossed paths with as a result. And the ways in which I grew.

And it turns out, with thankfulness acknowledged, the script allows itself to be revisited. And the work is no different than before. Bigger picture, specific moments, character arcs all come back when I put aside the idea of how daunting it all is and replace it with a sense of gratitude for what it has all meant. Time to get to work.

My First Mario Maker Level

This isn’t readily apparent in this blog, but I am a huge Nintendo fan. For a while, I’ve been considering how I might bring my love of video games into the conversation around writing and dramaturgy. In my mind, there’s a lot of connection between video games and storytelling. How a video game unfolds may require unique parameters, but it’s not so different from how a play or musical unfolds. What the audience experiences in real time is key for both artforms - and yes, I definitely consider video games an artform.

Enter Super Mario Maker 2. With its predecessor on the Wii U, I was fine simply playing the levels that people from around the world have created. But last night, I ventured to create my first level. This brought me back to younger days when I would make mazes for friends to solve. I loved making a puzzle and challenging others. So, naturally, my Mario level is a puzzle, a maze. I’m not sure how many more levels I’ll feel inclined to create, but it was fun considering once again how I would both hinder and help a player as they solve the puzzle I made. Some will find it tricky. Some will find it too easy. But, here’s my first Mario Maker level code, for those Switch owners who might want to try it:

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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!