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The one where I missed my calling on Broadway
I am obsessed with Broadway musicals. I listen to the soundtracks and have season tickets to the Broadway theater in Salt Lake City and I go to New York City whenever there is a new show to see — my sister and I even had plans to go see Hadestown, Moulin Rouge, and Beetlejuice before the whole thing shut down.
During the pandemic, my Broadway musical obsession took a hit. Not just because my tickets to Dear Evan Hanson and Frozen were canceled, but also because my commute — when I usually rap the Hamilton soundtrack to pump myself up — is gone. And though I love that my husband is home more now, I do miss blasting the Book of Mormon soundtrack throughout my house when he was out of town and feeling really happy.
Once, I thought maybe I needed a break from Broadway show tunes (no memory on why I thought this was a good decision), so I listened to no music on my commute (I know, what am I? A masochist?). It was summer and I had my windows rolled down, and when I pulled up to a stoplight the guy in the car next to me was belting Les Misérables. It was as though the clouds parted and God said “let there be music!”
I used to wish that I was a Broadway actress. (Ok I still do.) It was my dream ever since my aunt took me to see Les Miserables in the seventh grade (I still have all my playbills from every show I’ve seen in NYC). But I was in middle school and then high school and though I participated in all the school plays, I didn’t know that Broadway actresses get voice lessons and professional dance training and go to Julliard, and you know, work really hard.
Then when I was a senior in high school I finally faced the music. I remember realizing that I was never going to be a Broadway actress because I’m not a good singer and I’m not a good dancer and my acting skills were ok but certainly nothing Broadway worthy. I tried to content myself with the idea that I would still be in the arts and started out as a dance major in college.
Maybe, I thought at the time, I could still be in the chorus line. I could spend my days at some park in New York City picnicking with friends, then head to the theater at night, put on my stage makeup and my wig, don my costume for Act I, and scurry into place before the curtains opened. I would sing and dance and costume change for two hours with sparkles on my cheeks before exiting through the stage door with my chorus line friends — but that was all just a dream, I was never actually a good dancer.
There is nothing more glamorous to me than the life of a Broadway actor. I had some brief glimpse of it during those high school productions when we had “night rehearsals” — two weeks of absolute bliss right before our show would debut. We would work on our staging and choreography and dancing from the time school was done at 3pm until 10pm at night. And we were a bunch of theater kids so we had so much fun doing it.
I know what you are going to say. Broadway actors are not paid well, they can barely survive living in New York, and yes, they’ve all been unemployed for the past year. Even Adam Dietlin, who once starred in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway, told me for an article that bring a Broadway actor means being in survival mode all the time, and hoping your next audition will pay your bills for awhile.
Ok, but still. The creativity! The hard work! To spend all day at dance rehearsal working really hard to perfect your choreography! To spend every spare moment singing and learning to trill your voice! To be around friends who are all so creative that when you get together you’re playing piano and singing and dancing and writing your own music. (To never have to sit in front of a computer or hang out at a non-karaoke bar.)
My dad is a pianist and growing up he would always be playing and singing and I loved everything about it. Still, when we all get together, there is nothing happier to me than when my dad plays the piano and my sisters and I sing and dance and have the absolute best time. By contrast, life with no music is just finding another outdoor activity to take up. (And as much as I love Nordic skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, camping, hiking, and the like, those activities work my body and make me feel good but they do not stir my soul).
To this day, whenever I see a Broadway play I get a little teary that that’s not my life. And then I stand by the stage door watching all the actors come out and I try to tell myself I would never have made it anyway because I’m a head taller than every single one of them (I’m 5'10.” I don’t know why Broadway actors are so short — but no one would cast me to play Annie Oakley alongside a 5'1" Frank Butler).
Once I realized I wasn’t going to be on the stage, I decided I still wanted to be creative. I got my degree in fashion merchandising, found out that people working in fashion do not spend their days designing beautiful things but instead just, are mean, then I stumbled into writing and realized this was something I could actually get good at. I made that my art and I have spent every year since 2009ish working really hard at it.
(Please don’t use my newsletter as any kind of rationale for whether or not I’m a good writer. This is my happy place where I can write every odd thought that occurs to me without caring too much whether I’m being polished or presentable. I don’t have to be a good writer if I don’t want to be, ok?)
Then this week, as I was reading NPR like a boring, totally grown-up person, I found this article and went deep down a rabbit hole. The story is about two girls who watched and were obsessed with the show Bridgerton (like everyone else). But then instead of watching it on their little stair stepper because it was too cold to go outside and then listening to the soundtrack on repeat all day at work (like me) Abigail posed a question on TikTok: What if Bridgerton was a musical? And answered it by writing a song.
I should specify that the one (Emily Bear) is a classically trained jazz pianist and the other (Abigail Barlow) is a singer and songwriter — so they’ve already done the hard work that I was severely lacking at their age. And then, just for fun, they started workshopping songs to this hypothetical musical on TikTok and all the theater geeks across the world united in our obsession with it — and not just because we’re hurting for new musical soundtracks right now.
The songs are brilliant, beautiful, and have attracted millions of fans, including some of the Bridgerton actors themselves. Dancers have even responded by choreographing some of songs, and piece by piece it all started to feel like a real live musical. And all this, of course, attracted the attention of actual Broadway producers and I am completely jealous of their lives right now.
You should definitely listen to the music so you can see what I mean.
Here are a few of the numbers from the Bridgerton Musical (in order).
I burn for you (this one’s my favorite)
Could you imagine being a teenager who loves to sing or play the piano and then you start writing music and posting it on social media and then the next thing you know you’re the next Rogers and Hammerstein? I mean, wow. Talk about the ways people can make their dreams come true on the internet. I am beyond inspired.
I think one of the reasons why this story is so inspiring to me is that, for so long I saw the Broadway world as untouchable. It wasn’t something you could just “be part of.” You had to have the right talent and know the right people and have some knowledge of that world. And I’ve certainly never heard of a female Broadway writer (The idea of being a Broadway writer never even occurred to me as an option.)
And then here are these two girls fresh out of high school who are literally just writing a Broadway musical of their very own and posting it on the internet. And because they are workshopping their songs online, they are crowdsourcing their material, refining it in real time, while developing a built-in audience for their work that will absolutely see the show if it comes out. What Broadway producer wouldn’t want to invest in that?
It’s a different world now. Technology exists that can get artists directly in touch with their audience and that means bypassing the studio/record label/producer/financier that used to make a break or break an artist’s career. As a result, two girls can become Broadway writers on TikTok.
So here’s my question: knowing that all the technology exists to make really any of our creative dreams come true, what should we do? Personally, I’m going to give it a go writing novels on the internet and see how that plays out. After all, as these girls just proved, seriously anything is possible!
Quote of the week
“For nothing is more easy to be found than be barking Scyllas, ravening Celenos, and Lestrygons, devourers of people, and such like great and incredible monsters; but to find citizens ruled by good and wholesome laws, that is an exceeding rare and hard thing.” -Utopia
I am a huge Taylor Swift fan so it is no surprise that I love that she is sticking it to the studios and re-doing all of her albums so she can own her music herself. And she just (re-)released her first song from her first album, Love Story (Taylor’s Version). Naturally, I love it.
Writing goals achieved this week
First book: I spent this week embroiled in the tech of publishing a novel online. You may have noticed (or maybe you didn’t) that I switched my newsletter from Substack (so popular right now) to ConvertKit (never heard of it). As it turns out, Substack doesn’t have what I need to be able to publish my book to you. It’s a whole thing, but here’s the thread on Twitter if you too are trying to figure out your tech stack.
Second book: No progress. See update above.
Articles: Wrote this newsletter.
Music: Meeting scheduled with a producer!