Happy New Year

Someone recently asked me about my choices for couples when making the series. I have answered that question a few times, and I think I’ve tried to explain my reasoning for why I paired certain couples together.

One thing that I don’t think I really ever discussed was the influence certain things have had on the development of the series.

I know I’ve talked about certain characters and how they came to be, but the series itself has roots in many parts of my life.

When I was in college, I met a professor who ended up having a profound effect on me.  He was my musical theatre performance teacher and what the class consisted of was a pianist on stage, and each member of the class would receive a song of the professor’s choosing and we would have to sing it in front of everyone and be subjected to intense critique from the Prof. I kind of think of it now like our own tiny little version of American Idol.

Thankfully, none of us were voted off.

To say I was intimidated by this concept would be an understatement. I think I’ve mentioned my singing before, and how I have been in community theatre and have auditioned for and been accepted to theatre schools.

However, this was before that and to be honest, looking back, this class gave me the confidence to pursue those auditions.

But back to the class.

It was 1992 or 1993 when I first met Pirooz, the Professor. I remember sitting in the auditorium, where the class was held, and hearing him tell us what would be expected of us. I wondered if I could drop the class and still get my money back. I wondered if he would ask me why I would attempt to be in a musical theatre performance class when I had no talent.

I mean, I never sang in front of people I knew. I was in choir in high school and I was in musicals, but if my parents asked me to sing in front of them, it would have never happened.

Ever.

For my 21st birthday, my parents bought me a karaoke machine where I could sing and record myself on a cassette tape so I could hear myself better and work on my tone.

I only used it when home alone.

So sitting in this intimate setting, with 15 other students who all seemed to be ready for Broadway, was a tad unnerving.

He also made us all dance as a group on stage at the beginning of each class.

He would pick one student to lead the dance and he would play a random song and the class would have to follow the moves of the leader.

If there was anything that terrified me more than singing, it was dancing.

This was NOT for me.

But it was too late to change, so I stayed. Sometimes I would come late, just to miss the dance, but Pirooz caught on to that. I just sort of stayed in the back and kind of swayed a little to whatever movement was going on.

I think he took pity on me and never asked me to lead the dance.

At least not the first quarter, but that’s a story for another day.

The flashback of how Julie met Bill came from this experience. Her terror was my terror. I guess I hoped my “Bill” would save me, too.

There is a reason I’m sharing this, I promise, but I need to set up the scene a little more. 🙂

Now coming into this class, I thought I had a pretty diverse amount of theatre knowledge. What I soon discovered was that I knew pretty much nothing about the vast diversity out there.

That class exposed me to songs and composers which changed my perspective on life and watching the way my Professor worked with each student, no matter their level, to bring out the heart and soul of the song transformed my outlook on life.

One such musical was called Falsettos. It is currently having a revival on Broadway, which I would love to see.

However, I was given a song called “Holding to the Ground” and the first couple lines were as follows.

“I was sure growing up I would live the life my mother assumed I’d live; very Jewish, very middle class and very straight. Where healthy men stayed healthy men and marriages were long and great.”

I knew nothing about this show and one of our first jobs was to always research the character and find the motivation behind the words.

When I researched the show, it was fairly new, having gone through a rewrite from 1981 and was now a full length show. The character I was singing was named Trina and her husband had left her because he was gay and was going to finally be true to who he had always been. They had a young son who was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah and the husband fell in love with a wonderful, funny and handsome man who Trina found very hard to dislike.

There is a lot more to the story, but the crux of the second act is that the boyfriend develops and ultimately dies from AIDS.

This was at the height of the AIDS crisis when so much was unknown and more was feared. I remember falling in love with the characters and the humor and the gut-wrenching powerless feeling of the characters when dealing with something so unpredictable and so misunderstood.

I think, subconsciously, I always knew I wanted to write a character living with HIV.

I think a lot about that class when I think back to the development of the series. It’s hard to trace some ideas back 20 years, but if I truly look at the characteristics of my characters, I can see the influence.

I took that class three different times over the course of three years and I can never express how valuable it was for me as a performer and an eventual teacher.

And I guess also, as a writer.

It also shaped my love for groundbreaking theatre and it introduced me to Ragtime, another musical I adore. I was able to codirect Ragtime at the high school my first year teaching and it was one of my proudest moments.

When I tell people about that story, about Falsettos, I’m asked about why I didn’t make Tommy and Jack lovers. Why it wasn’t a love story about them.

I remind them that I wrote Brittany before I wrote anyone else, and Jack and Stephanie fit so well together, I couldn’t see them with anyone else.

Tommy was made for Brittany and they are my favorite love story.

I did toy once with having Brittany and Evan have an affair, but it just wasn’t me. Well, it wasn’t them, either. 🙂

I’ve been thinking a lot about that time in my life and the courage and strength that class gave me. I think there are elements of that class in how I write each character.

This series is a lot like a prime time soap opera. The stories and issues are ongoing, but each book or episode focuses on one specific highlighted story.

I like to look at it that way. Sometimes we live our lives and time passes without much standing out. Sometimes I feel that way with a character and I have to go back and ask them what I’ve been missing

When a character is quiet for too long, I worry about them.

What have they been going through that I haven’t been paying attention to? What’s on their mind?

Then I decide if it’s something I can weave into the fabric of the story.

Anyway, it’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m reflecting. I guess I wanted to share.

I hope you all have an amazing 2017.

Thank you for sticking with me.

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