WHEELHOUSE workshop, day 6 of 7

Bren working on "Rootless Life"

(For the next little while, I’m focusing on my band GrooveLily’s new musical WHEELHOUSE, which premieres this spring at TheatreWorks of Silicon Valley.)

One more day to go, and we’re zeroing in on the problem areas. We spent today writing the new song “Rootless Life,” which replaces our campy “You Can’t Park Here” montage, as well as rewriting/tightening the following ten minutes or so of the middle section of the show. It feels like these changes are already making a huge difference to the way the entire piece lands – the emotional investment the audience has with our three characters – and also bringing in more universal/relatable themes of traveling, feeling rootless, chasing the American dream, the clash of divergent cultures and classes…not that our show encompasses all of this in such a deep way, but simply that a change of tone and emphasis in one short section can so completely improve the *surrounding* sections, even when those before-and-after parts don’t change at ALL. In this instance, we’ve gone from campy/caricature to more authentic/sweeping, in terms of both words and music – the new “Rootless Life” song incorporates some of my diary entries from the road, and sounds more early-Pat-Metheny-soaring, instead of pattery-theatery-funny-semi-country-rock, which was the tone of “You Can’t Park Here.” (Occasionally funny is not helpful – sometimes it can be distracting.)

I’ve been thinking all day about a song that has inspired us for this moment: the beautiful spoken-sung “Dancing With My Mother” by our friend, the late Rachel Bissex.

It’s more of a ballad than our new song, but it’s got the open, expansive, genuine, exquisitely American, almost nostalgic feeling that we’re aiming for here. Rachel was amazing at taking something very specific and personal and expressing it in such a way that, while listening, you feel like she’s written it about YOU.
We miss you, Rachel!

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