It always cracks me up when actors say things like, “I’m not an actor, I’m a re-actor” or “I try to listen to my fellow actors more than *acting*”. What cracks me up about it is, y’know, how good a listener can you be if you can’t hear yourself sounding like an asshole?

But man, if you get the chance to be around artists, open up your ears, and fast. It doesn’t matter if they are good or bad, if they are lazy or disciplined, if they are bold or scared, listen to it all. You can’t disregard what people say unless you are actually listening. I mean, you can, but it would be a *huge* mistake.

Theater is a colaborative process, probably film is the only one that is more so. With dance pieces, the music isn’t generally edited to fit the choreography and, even though I hate it, scripts are often altered to match a director’s or actor’s vision. I did a film once with a fabulously talented writer/director who was cowed into changing a lot of his lines because the sitcom actor playing the lead wanted to “add some motherfucking funny”. This kind of stuff happens in theater with almost as much regularity, but film is even more collaborative because there is the foley stuff and the editor and color shifts in the film and all kinds of crap that happens for a year after the thing’s been shot.

With a play, a writer writes it by herself or himself, largely, and then meets with a director or a dramaturg who will give advice about re-writes. Then a reading will be done and a talkback session, and another re-write. Then, in a perfect world, the play will be mounted and during that process the director will want to change some things, actors will want to change certain things, and a technical staff will want to change certain things, and it’s really a battle between the playwright and the producer as to what they agree to change and what they don’t.

With a musical, that process starts much earlier, when the people writing the show get together. It used to be that songwriters would write a bunch of tunes and then a book would be written to lace them all together, but those days are long gone. Even though our show does have a lot of tunes in it, it’s written that way on purpose, in an effort to give a wink at those old shows.

But, this does mean that we all have to start listening to people long before we want to. *WAY* before. The editing process has begun from the moment pen hits paper, or rather fingers touch keyboard. There is a verse in one of our songs where a character claims to pick up girls by capturing and killing panthers and making “panther steaks”. We have joked since we wrote it that someone will think it is stupid and want to remove the lyric, but what actually lies in wait for us is something far worse. Something we all three think is really important is probably getting in the way of the show and will have to be removed, and we have no idea what that thing is yet.

We met with a director some time ago, and he suggested that one duet be changed from one set of characters (one of the two couples) to another set of characters (one member of each couple). I wasn’t sure about it, but I decided to just write it and not worry. I wrote about thirty versions, always holding on to this one melodic chunk…

And, as you see here, I finally switched it to 3/4 and made it a sort of Texas Two-Step waltz. Once I did that, I realized I had it, that it was just so lovely. The song almost writes itself around this little phrase.

So, I did it, I wrote this little country waltz, and the thing that’s so great about country music is that it is much closer to jazz than it is to rock and roll. By being the opposite of jazz, controlled, bright, rhythmically unbending, it has to follow the same sets of rules but backwards. Where you might get minor nine 4 chords in jazz, you’ll get major minor-seven 2 chords in country (sorry about that, it’s my blog I get to say what I want, but any non-musicians will read that and think “Sean knows a lot” and any musicians will read it and say, “Sean’s full of shit…”)

Anyway, I wrote this little bizarre waltz and pushed and pulled a strange little melody out of it. Last night, very late in a marathon Gideon writing session (four hours of shit-talking and Chinese food) I played it for Mac and Jordana and they both thought it was wonderful, just wonderful. Mac left and Jordana got in the shower.

When she got out of the shower she had some lyrical ideas, but she had more or less forgotten most of the tune. Because, you see, except for the part quoted above, the tune is largely *SHIT*. Cool chord changes, bullshit unsingable tune, but I didn’t care. I wanted those weird chords, I wanted to bend the song to my will, so I fucking *jammed in* this retarded tune.

Jordana started singing and I had about three seconds of wanting to save the song I had worked two months on. During the fourth second, I jumped out of bed and got my guitar, and the next half hour I scribbled furiously to catch what Jordana was singing. I listened to her song and, although most of it was my song already, it was better. It was simpler, it was smarter, and you will remember the tune.

We got to a point and I realized that if I threw away everything from the song before, the song would be like Andrew Lloyd Weber, which isn’t bad, it’s just that he writes as if he is strolling downhill, the songs continually going where you think they ought to if you’ve, y’know, ever listened to any music ever. So I made some tiny changes, changes that Jordana heard and liked better than what she had done.

Look, I’m lucky. When people are making changes to my stuff, it’s smart people doing it. But I’ve had some terrible directors, *TERRIBLE*, and yet every single one of them said more smart stuff than dumb stuff. And when Jordana’s lyric “everything was going according to plan” came out, and I said, “Can we say that another way?” she knew exactly what I meant. Although the words say what we want the character to say, those words have been said that way a million times before, and it’s worth spending an hour or two trying to find a way to say it in the character’s voice.

That guy, that sitcom guy from that movie, was wrong when he thought he was bringing the funny. I wish to God the old script were still there, and I wish to God the creators of that movie had had the level of intelligence and talent in his cast that I am surrounded by. I’m not saying it’s important to change everything you can change. But the writer/director of that movie was smart enough to listen to both people who aren’t as smart as he is, and people who are smarter and that really is a huge compliment.