In January we had the final reading of my musical “The Golden Cage”, videotaped it on two new iPhone 11’s … and then spent 6 weeks trying to figure out how to get the video off the !#@$$! phones.

Finally, in desperation, I reached out to Eclipse Video in Cambridge, MA – a company I worked with years ago, before there were iMacs, iMovie, Final Cut Pro or even smart phones. They used to actually created the old VCR promo reels I sent out to the media.  I told them my current problem and asked if they could get the footage off the phones. Yup, they said – and it wouldn’t be the first time someone had this same problem.

Long and short: we finally got the footage transferred, the day before all non-essential businesses had to close their doors for social isolation. Next week week we can finally start editing!

In the meantime, I had a story to tell.

So I reached out to artist Ellen Lebow.

That may sound like a simple sentence, but I’ve been trying to reach Ellen for about a decade, with no luck, until now. Ellen is the artist who had made the original illustrations for “The Golden Cage.”

Why make illustrations for a musical?

I almost always hire an artist when I create a musical story. It helps me visualize the scenes, get a feel for the story and to share the story quickly with other people. One picture is not just worth a thousand words – it also travels at the speed of light. So pictures help me tell the story.

I mostly just wanted some edits. There were a few scenes Ellen had drawn 25 years ago that I wanted changes on and I’d been too shy to ask her to do it back then. So we met for dinner – one of my last face-to-face social moments before isolation, I played her a synopsis of the show, gave her the script and since then we’ve been hashing out the characters and the scenes back and forth via text.

The big question for us this time around was: do we just update the old images, do we change the way the characters look? What actually needs to change? What will tell the story most quickly and richly?

After a few back and forths we realized that before she could start drawing scenes, we had to get clear on the characters. For one thing, I didn’t like what they were wearing. I discovered I didn’t want them wearing anything that indicates a particular style and time – especially these characters, who exist outside of time, and who transform between various stages of bird-beings and humans.

But I didn’t realize the clothing thing until Ellen had drawn a bunch of different Boris’s and Alphea’s and I could only say, “No, that’s not Alphea. Nope, Boris would never wear that” … but never describe exactly what she DOES look like, or what he DOES wear — just “I’ll know it when I see it.”

We finally realized we simply had to add a pre-process, a kind of creative Research & Development phase, so she could help me pull out the images of these beings through sketches of what they MIGHT look like.

I’ll share just a few…

These are all part of the evolution of Boris, from my earliest conception of the characters (below left), to my first costume sketch (below right), to the 80’s sketches, to the most recent (on the darker paper). The conclusion is that I like the 80’s Boris, so we stick with him. But every other Boris Ellen draws gives me more insight into the character

Alphea is changing, too. Below, the 80’s Alphea on the left – who I love – and a new view of her as well. Don’t worry – she’s not leaving her apron and sword to become  Arabian Princess wannabe. This is a woman who changes costume constantly to try to make sense of who she thinks she is – so these are ALL Alphea.  And she will never give up her sword. Well … not until …

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