“Progress” is something that feels somewhat lacking in my life right now (thanks, COVID) but the name of this post is still appropriate as it’s the title of my newest play. Or, newest three plays. Trilogy? Triptych? Cerberus?
The gist is, in 2019 my brother Marty and I collaborated on a one-off short musical, “Sojourn!” about Henry David Thoreau invading his sister’s house for pizza night. We had fun doing it and were happy with the product, so in ‘20 we wrote another musical, this one about Marx and Engels attending a baseball game (and sporting one of may all-time favorite titles, “Engels in the Outfield.”)
But we had no idea what to do with them. They’re both 10-15 minutes long, and most short play festivals don’t allow musicals, so no one’s been breaking down the door to produce them. But it felt like a shame to throw them away.
From whence sprang the idea for “Progress” (which I originally tiled “The Musical of Progress,” a tribute to a longtime Disney World ride, as seen above). An evening of short, silly, often anachronistic plays about American history, featuring various famous characters and spaced 30 years apart. Why 30 years? Because the first two were spaced 30 years apart, that’s why.
So we put our heads together and came up with “Alice in Plunderland,” which is about Teddy Roosevelt butting heads with his daughter Alice (pictured), who is widely considered to be one of the first non-royals to be famous for being famous. It has a female lead, which we thought was important after the sausagefests that are our first two musicals, and it’s got Teddy Roosevelt, who’s awesome. And it feels wonderfully current for a play about 1905. So it makes for a solid third entry.
We stuck them all together in chronological order, added a flimsy interstitial framework and submitted them to the Valdez Theater Conference – which doesn’t actually accept musicals, but the head of the conference said it’s okay, we’ll figure it out. So presuming it gets accepted, Marty and I get to see the plays performed in June and we can get some real feedback.
Which, frankly, we really need. Because we have no idea how to write a musical, we’ve completely been making this all up as we go along. And more to the point, I’ve never even seen such a thing as an evening of one-act musicals. Does it work? Does it make any sense? Do we need to have recurring characters, some sort of external narrator, some thread tying the show together? Or does it work as-is?
The answers will guide us on the next step of the process. We’ve got 1845, 1875, and 1905 in the bag, so we’ve got 1785, 1815, 1935, 1965, 1995 and 2025 (why not?) to work with. Of course nine plays is way the hell too long of an evening, so we’ll probably focus on 1935, 1965, and either 1815 or 1995 – the trick being the former feels lost in the mists of history, and the latter is recent enough that anything that happened then has been presumably done to death. But therein, as they say, lies the challenge!