Lessons I Learned from Stephen Schwartz

“Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Wicked, Stephen Schwartz

Happy Monday, my friends!

I have recently discovered something pretty profound. You can eat football snacks without watching the Super Bowl! I know! Handy tip there. I’m such a helpful person.

Last week was crazy. In case you weren’t aware, I met Stephen Schwartz, the composer behind Wicked, Pippin, Godspell, Children of Eden, and an absolute amassment of other musicals and operas, and he listened to a table-read of and then reviewed the ten-minute musical that I, along with my [fr]enemy also known as my collaborator, wrote. It’s actually the seventeen minute and eleven seconds long musical that I, along with my [fr]enemy also known as my collaborator, wrote, but whatever. It’s a musical. It was crazy. When I was sitting behind the long plastic table-read table, [fr]enemy collaborator to my right, my two fabulous actors to my left, nervous sweat pooling in my armpits (prose writers don’t know what too much information means, honey), this master of musical theatre imparted some words of wisdom to me (and to [fr] you-know-who), some words of wisdom that I really believe will continue to guide me the rest of my fantabulous* life.

Whelp. I, Broadway Lil, thought to myself, after the words of wisdom were imparted, um, hello, Broadway Lil, you have some beautifully fantastical friends who love theatre just as much as you do. And so don’t you think they should have some Schwartzian words of wisdom imparted to them too? Some wisdom-filled words of the Schwartz handed off to them as well? I thought, yes, yes. Yes they should. And so here am I, Broadway Lil of the Schwartzian wisdom impartation, imparting you with some Schwartzian words of wisdom.

All I can say is you’re welcome.

Number One: It’s The Smart People With Smart Ideas

I, Broadway Lil, do not tend to write anything too R-rated on this blogish blog of mine, but if I wrote a sort of asterisked-out-rude-word would you be very upset? Unfortunately, I have a tendency to not listen to the phrase, “You disgust me, Lil”, so here goes.

Stephen Schwartz imparted [fr]enemy and me with a quote right after he listened to the table read of our musical. I mean my musical. * grins very chillingly at [fr]enemy *

He imparted us with this quote to support what he’d said a moment before, which was, “in spite of the fact that I have an informed opinion, it is still an opinion and so you mustn’t change things about your musical that you don’t believe you should change just because I said you should change them.” The quote was by Richard Malty and it was “it’s not stupid people with stupid ideas who f*** up your musical, it’s smart people with smart ideas who f*** up your musical.

If you’ve all left because of those asterisked-out-rude-words, first of all sorry, second of all, now I can write a whole menagerie of offensive things, so good.

I found this quote to be quite useful. People will always be available to critique your creative work, but if you are able to take in their advice while retaining your vision, you will be off to a great start! Says the girl who’s ten-minute-musical is seventeen minutes and eleven seconds long.

Whatever.

Number Two: Honestly is the Best Policy

I was actually ahead of the game on this one because my parents taught me since babyhood that honesty and justice are the best policy. Unfortunately, this backfired on them and made me into a four-year-old honesty and justice fiend. Let me get down to business and tell you that I attempted to bash the door of my bedroom down with my unicorn horse-on-a-stick named Rainbowy because I felt that I’d been unjustly put into time-out. The Result: my parents never gave me another time-out, my bedroom door stopped being a bedroom door, and Rainbowy’s stick broke and she became a mini unicorn horse-on-a-stick. The moral of this story is really quite subjective to the kind of parents you may find yourself in possession of, but it leads rather nicely into Stephen Schwartz’s next word of wisdom, so I feel kind of good about myself now. Actually, who am I kidding? I always feel good about myself.

When you find yourself in the possession of a collaborator, you must be perfectly honest with them. Stephen Schwartz compared a collaborating relationship to a marriage. You must be honest and stand up for yourself for the relationship to flourish. You may look at the draft of an email I was writing to my fr[enemy]collaborator and ponder the true flourishment of our relationship.

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Done pondering? Okay. Stephen shared a really interesting story to demonstrate the necessity of being honest in your collaboration.

He was writing Pocahontas with Alan Menken and they’d just finished their first song, “Colors of the Wind”. Disney was (obviously) thrilled about the song and wanted to record it right away. Here’s the things about writing for animation, though. Once the music is recorded there is sort of no going back. It takes a lot of money to produce just one recording, and in addition, the animators usually start animating the song right away. It’s so different from musical theatre where you can pop in with last minute changes on opening night. Okay, maybe you can’t really do that, but still. It’s way different. Anyway, only a couple days before Disney was going to record “Colors of the Wind”, Alan Menken (who’d written the music) called Stephen Schwartz (who’d written the lyrics) and said, very hesitantly, that he felt that the last two lines of “Colors of the Wind” might benefit from being revised. Stephen Schwartz pondered what he’s said and ended up revising the lyrics. At this point in his narrative, Stephen Schwartz was almost unable to continue because he said that the original last two lines were too embarrassing to repeat, but here’s what they were: “Your life’s an empty hull/ ‘till you can get it through your skull/ to pain with all the colors of the wind”.

Well, we all remember the iconic last lines of “Colors of the Wind”, “You can own the earth and still/ all you’ll own is earth until/ you can paint with all the colors of the wind”, but perhaps our reaction to Pocahontas would have been completely different if Alan Menken hadn’t been honest with his collaborator.

I’m so proud of myself for following Stephen Schwartz’s wisdom.

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Number Three: Repetition is Your Friend

I found this very important and rather amahzing. Stephen said that repetition of lyrics, lines, and melodies can really give your audience a grip on the story you’re telling. He said that you should by no means talk down to your audience, but that you should always make sure they will be able to follow the theme and plot of your musical. I have never thought about musical theatre from the audience’s perspective, but now I always will.

After Stephen Schwartz gave us his notes, he signed my Wicked book. Here is photo evidence.

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He also gave me his email address after I asked him (I got the feeling that he was feeling rather like leaving at that point) and so I wrote him an email and thanked him for his time and very nonchalantly mentioned MY BLOG IN WHICH I’D WRITTEN THINGS ABOUT HIM!

There was no reply. I bet he read it, though.

Love you all! Also, I hope my passing-on of Stephen Schwartz’s wisdom was in some way helpful to you in any pursuits you may be pursuing.

Love,

Lil

xoxo

*my dear friend who is also very theatrical, made up this word especially for me! If that’s not friendship, I don’t know what is.


2 thoughts on “Lessons I Learned from Stephen Schwartz

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