Monday, March 12, 2012

Thinking Creatively, Thinking Practically

NPR once did a video feature where they asked Stephin Merritt (the brilliant songwriter of the Magnetic Fields et al) to compose and record a song, so they could document his creative process. To get started, they provided him with a few writing prompts to choose from. Merritt picked a creepy-looking photo and the number "1974." He explained that he would interpret "1974" as the 1, 9, 7, and 4 notes on the scale and use that as the basis of the melody.

I thought this was so interesting. Most people, if they got a prompt that said "1974," would interpret it as the year 1974, and write a song about an event that took place that year, or using a style of music that was popular in 1974, or something. So, in one sense, Merritt was thinking outside the box. But in another sense, he was thinking quite practically. NPR gave him just 2 days to write and record the song, and under such constraints, all shortcuts are helpful. His decision to see 1-9-7-4 as notes of a musical theme probably saved time and kept him from being overwhelmed by too many melodic possibilities.

You know, sometimes we consider "creative thinking" diametrically opposed to "practical thinking," but it ain't necessarily so. Especially in the arts! So much of the fun of making art comes in working within the constraints of our genres and materials, which spurs both creative and practical thinking.

I found myself pondering this -- how thinking creatively can also mean thinking practically -- after the first writers' meeting for the scribes of Theater Pub 3.3: The Odes of March. Karen, our producer, asked us why we were drawn to the specific odes we were writing. People went around the room giving heartfelt, touching answers, e.g. "Not a lot of people know what a House Manager really does and I wanted to share that with the audience," or "Good stage managers are so underrated and I wanted to pay tribute to them."

Then it was my turn. "Well," I said, "I signed up to do the Ode to the Props Master because a props master is always dealing with a lot of different things --I mean objects, nouns, you know -- so I thought it would be easy to rhyme."

Everyone laughed and I felt a little ashamed to have chosen my topic in such a logical/practical way, rather than emotionally or intuitively. But I knew that if I paid attention to the practical considerations first, I could more easily exercise my creativity later.

All of this is a digressive preamble to lead up to the announcement that YES, I have two pieces in the Odes of March Theater Pub next Monday night, the 19th of March.  Ode to the Props Master, in stately heroic couplets à la Alexander Pope!  And Ode to the Costume Designer, in anapestic quatrains with trick rhymes!

There will be 19 odes total, performed by some of the most charismatic actors of the San Francisco indie theater scene. Including McPuzo & Trotsky's latest composition, a send-up and deconstruction of every Broadway musical ever written -- trust me, you do not want to miss this!  As per usual, the performance begins at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale (corner of Post & Leavenworth), San Francisco.

Additionally, I hope you don't mind that I began this post by talking about Stephin Merritt, because March will be Magnetic Fields Month on my blog! I'll be going to their concert in Oakland on the 24th and hope to blog about the performance, as well as their new album.

Very excited about attending both of these shows, Odes of March and the Magnetic Fields. Rhymes galore!

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