We Come Alive through Others

I’ve been working on my fantasy musical, “The Golden Cage,” for what seems like forever – and this week we finally started the Workshop Phase!  The 2-Character musical is about a Bird-Man who’s been searching his whole life for the ultimate security of a golden cage. When we finally finds it, it’s everything he ever wanted, except for one thing: there’s someone inside it – and she’s says the cage is made of granite and iron and that she’s a prisoner inside.

This month we’re presenting a Salon Brunch Workshop Reading of the show, the first in a series of salon readings that we’re doing in order to develop the show. That means that we’ll ‘read’ the show & videotape it. Then I’ll edit it, we’ll rehearse again, do another reading, etc. until the show is production-ready. Each of these readings lets me the the arc of the show, and how the story takes shape.

The people who are bringing this to life are actors Teresa Winner Blume (Alphea), Paul Lang (Boris) and Tim Maurice (music director / pianist); the book, lyrics and music are by me, Deborah Henson-Conant and the people who are actually making this happen are Sara Donley, the show’s Creativity Facilitator, and Rachael Solem/The Irving House, who’s sponsored this phase of the project. You can learn more about the show here.  And finally – the artist who created the drawing above of Alphea & Boris meeting for the first time is Ellen Lebow.

The Photos

Below are some pictures from last weekend’s rehearsal. The reason that we’re rehearsing for a ‘reading’ is that readings of a musical are different than play-readings where actors literally sit down and read through a play. The music is complex, so even to do a ‘reading’ we need at least a few rehearsals, which is what we’ve been doing this week.

Everything starts with 3-ring binders and a schedule – well, everything I do for sure! These binders contain the materials we’ll be working on at the first rehearsal.

We start the day with a ‘stumble-through’ – just stumbling through the score in a corner of the studio

We videotape EVERYTHING. At this part of the development of the show, I’m working on both the ‘arc’ of the show, and the individual songs, so I can use the video to help me patch together the storyline and see if it makes sense.

See that stressed look on my face?

That’s what I look like when I’m worried I didn’t write something clearly on the page, or there’s something else about the composition that I’m not happy with. The only way I can really hear the show is when the actors are performing it – and I’m either completely in love with each moment or squirming because I want to rewrite it.

Below on the left, I’m watching the score as the performers sing it, my pencil ever-present for marking what I want to change.

I’m not the only one writing things in my script – we’re all doing it as we go – and those notes become a valuable resource for me: they tell me what I may have left out of the script, or what might be helpful for people to know, performance-wise.

Later, I’ll look at everyone’s script, transcribe those notes into a master-script and they’ll become part of the next revision.

These are the moments I love – when the actors starting performing the ‘characters’ and the ‘story’ instead of having to read the notes. These particular actors are incredibly skilled at quickly getting ‘away from the book’, so even though it’s still only about 2 hours into the first rehearsal, they’re starting to bring – not just the music, but the STORY alive in their characters.

This is just one of the reasons I wanted to work with Teresa and Paul. I love their work as singers & actors – but I knew we had to pull this together quickly, and if anyone can do that, they can.

Sometimes I try to show the way that I envision the music being.

This way is something nearly impossible to write on the page, and one of the beautiful parts of this particular kind of collaboration is that the composer/author actually IS there to share that. The other side of this that I love is when the actors find their own way, which is different from the way I envisioned it. Equally as beautiful.

These are all facets of the collaboration of bringing a piece alive – and requires so much communication on so many levels, in all directions.


I love to watch my imagination RE-CREATED by wonderful performers! Sometimes, I was so moved by what I just saw that I  laughed and almost cried at the same time. 

Always good to have a fire-extinguisher handy… in case the music gets too hot!

Halfway through the rehearsal, we realized we needed to turn cameras and lights around and shoot on the other side of the room. After watching Sara and I fumble with the screw driver and cameras for about 15 minutes, the performers finally just took over.

Now we continue the rehearsal!

I’m playing in this photo because there are things I wasn’t able to write on the page, so I’m showing Tim what I meant. He’ll then take what he heard and either write it into notes, or just remember in and do it in his own way.

This is one reason I love working with him – and comes out of a years-long collaboration working to develop this piece, from rehearsals where it was a pile of disjointed papers.

A few more from this part of the rehearsal…

On a break, I pull the videos into the computer so everyone can get a sense of what the video is looking like.

Behind the scenes… Camera bags, curtains – everything that needs to get out of the studio is piled onto the office desk while Sara makes sure the cameras are running. Thanks Sara!

And NOTHING is possible without scheduling and creative collaboration. So meet my creativity facilitator for this project, Sara Donley, who figured out how to make 4 nearly impossible schedules fit together with enough time for this show – and oh so many other other things –  to come ALIVE.

Later that night I sat down in front of my computer camera and shared just one thing I learned this day — that we come alive through others.

And now … three pages of notes for the next rehearsal, and already I see the shape and character of the show in ways I never have before, as this honing process moves forward.  Don’t try to read them. For one thing, they’re private .. kinda. Also … that image is REALLY small. I just wanted to give you a visual on what composer/director notes might look like.

Next step: 2 more rehearsals, and then videotape the reading on Sunday, and capture at least 2 or 3 minutes of the show that we can share.  Scary. Exciting. Wonderful. No way I could do this alone. And weirdly, for years I was acting like I thought I could.


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