Writing and Directing

Songs — Singable and Memorable!

“We’re all still singing your songs around the house.” “I can’t get that song out of my head!” “We’d love a CD of the songs in the play.”

That is music to a writer’s ears! When people — adults, kids — can sing a song, remember a song, and be unable to forget a song (!), that’s when you know you’ve written a catchy or pleasant melody, with solid, tight structure, good rhythm and rhyme, and meaningful (or catchy, or clever, or memorable) words.

And if the song is singable, it almost always means it is playable — that any reasonably accomplished guitarist or pianist can sit down and play the song, many times by ear.

At FFP, we love music. Music is fun. We love to play it, and to sing it, and to teach others — especially young people — how to sing good songs. We like to write songs that represent a wide variety of genres. And we don’t “write down” to kids. We don’t do “kid music.” We do music. Young people, from kindergarten to high school and up, have remarkably sophisticated tastes in music and an ability to appreciate well-constructed songs in a variety of popular styles.

The young people we work with also enjoy jumping into “good styles gone by,” such as jazz, Big Band, soul, 50’s/60’s rock, 60’s surf, folk and folk rock, 40’s/50’s Broadway, Western, Appalachian, and so on. That kind of cultural literacy is a good thing! And it’s fun.

Another thing that can be fun is some outlandish juxtaposition — a James Brown-style song in Old Testament Egypt, sung by a silent-movie era character.

The Unlikely Actor

For the past 11 years, in our drama production classes, everyone who signs up for class commits to the end-of-semester production.

That is the purpose of the class.  Everyone’s in. No auditions. Our musical comedy for that semester must include each person in the class. Thus, the necessity to customize each script. If the actor is new to me, I have to guess the best I can, but it’s worked out amazingly well.

Most of the kids (ages 9 to 18) want to be in the class. Some have been regulars for the entire 11 years. Some come and go, depending on other activities or class needs in their lives. Many bound into the class at age 9 after waiting impatiently for years to qualify. They’ve watched the productions, hounded their moms, finally had “the” birthday, and they are ready! (It does make a writer/director feel good!)

Sometimes a mom will “persuade” a son or daughter to sign up for class (or just put them in it) because it will “do them some good,” “bring them out a little,” challenge them, push them out of their shy comfort zone, etc. Usually I go very gently on such a child and cast them where they can ease into the stage experience with just enough lines and not too much pressure. I get a variety of outcomes. The kid may be there one semester and never return. The kid may decide they enjoy it enough to continue and I bring them along slowly and steadily. And occasionally they discover they really love it! And mom tells me that drama is now all they talk about. And I’m talking about guys, not just girls.

I’ve got a couple of guys like that right now. I took a chance on the younger one because I needed to — I only had two fellas in the younger class (which is unusual — one time I had only one girl). This kid was new and drama was not his dream. But I put him in a starring role — and he blossomed! He decided he really liked it and he took direction well and he improved with every rehearsal, finally doing a great job in the performance.

The older guy was new the previous semester and did a decent job in a supporting role. I could tell he was trying and improving as class progressed. He liked it enough to return, to his mom’s great surprise and delight. I crafted a funny role just for him in a new comedy — it turned out to be my favorite character. He grabbed hold of it and became a star! And got rave reviews.

The unlikely actor — look for them, take a chance on them, and encourage them. It’s a rewarding experience!

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