When I consider accomplishments, I don’t usually consider what I’ve done. We all accomplish great things during our lives, but we seldom reflect on these things, because we did, do and will do what we feel we must do, so there’s a bit of an ‘aw shucks’ reaction on our part when we get complimented on something we’ve done that was well received. It’s called the “Eye of the Storm” syndrome.
Case in point, I remember when I was a young lad of 19, sitting in the living room of my girlfriend in Marshall, Minnesota with my trio (Wire). We huddled up, put our hands together and said: “Carnegie Hall before we die!” Well, for the trio, two indeed have crossed over, but I, on the other hand, did indeed manage to make it to Carnegie Hall, performing there with Gene Pitney, sold out, February 26th, 1993. The day the World Trade Center was hit the first time. Now that I reflect on that event, it was a tremendous stroke of luck. I was somehow able to realize the dream of those three kids. And believe me, I’m not writing this to bolster my reputation or assuage my ego, I (thankfully) find no little use for such behavior anymore. But my point is that we ALL, each and every single human being, has a story to match, in some way. We just don’t seem think about it. Life comes at us constantly, like a fast moving river, and we don’t take time to watch how it passes over the rocks in the river bed. Sorry for the long and winding wind, but it brings me to the reason behind the ‘Eye of the Storm’ idea.
In 1996 (give or take) Richard Hitchler of SteppingStone Theatre introduced me to playwright Rick Shiomi. Richard wanted Rick and I to collaborate on a project called “Tiger Tales”. (Rick is a denizen of Toronto, moved to the Twins and became the Artistic Director of Mu Performing Arts until 2013, earning a nice little thing called the McKnight Distinguished Artist Life Time Achievement Award in 2015. “Eye of the Storm”. Little did I know at the time that Rick would be catapulted to heights that this spare space could not accommodate, and I’ll bet Rick doesn’t reflect much on it much either. And come to think of it, it’s not really something I have in the front of my brain when I’m working with Rick. We’ve done a good deal of work together, beginning with “Tiger Tales”, the on to “Magic Bus” and “The Great Family Tree” (just put up a video form that show on the M4YA channel Tuesday morning). We have a new show, “Lon Po Po”, a musical adaption of the original work by Ed Young.
The creation of the work was financed by SteppingStone Theatre (back when Richard Hitchler was still at the helm of that organization) with a grant from the McKnight Foundation. SteppingStone Theatre was (and is still) going through some difficult changes due to a change in the ‘market’, so they waived their ‘Right of First Refusal’, and now the show is a free agent (there still a couple of legal hurdles regarding intellectual property rights with the book’s author). Anyway, about the process, and working with such a down-to-earth yet famous guy…
The musical adaptation, as Rick had conceived it, required a total of 14 songs…I said, “Rick, how can we possibly honor the timeline?! Fourteen?!” But SteppingStone handled the schedule and the workshop, and Julie Carlson (then production stage manager, now providing those services to Penumbra, another wonderful organization) was magnificent in her organizational skills, and dad gum if we didn’t pull it off. And with aplomb, I might add. We had great singers and actors! It went a little something like this (in fact, a LOT like this):
First night, introductions all around, getting-to-know-you scenes. Many of the participants Rick and I (had had the pleasure of working with on previous productions, and we all got along famously. I at the electronic keyboard (the music constantly falling on the floor…the keyboard’s music stand was broken), Rick sitting beside me furiously taking notes as we cruised through the rough draft, break, rewrite in the 10 minutes allotted. Go home.
Next night, returning with rewrites, edits, etc., see how it goes. Rick told me honestly there was one song that didn’t work for him, and secretly, I was trying to get away with something because in my heart of hearts I knew it didn’t work,.I’m not much of an accompanist, especially on a 49 key machine when I could really use the 88s. And what? No expression pedal?! (A little known fact, MIDI keyboards don’t allow for mistakes, you hit the wrong key, that’s it. With a real piano, there is a pedal technique one can employ to muffle the boo boo and make it disappear without losing continuity, a technique I endlessly employ.)
The collaborative process is a wonderful thing when you find a partner that shares the goal of ‘getting the best entire work’, rather than serving personal needs and egos. Rick is just such a person. I’ve worked with quite a few playwright/lyricists, and he’s up there in the top drawer.
I really really enjoyed working with Rick Shiomi on this one, we got some honest to goodness gold out of the effort. I wish I had some audio I could offer, but the music is in chart form only for the time being.
Anyway, please visit the links above to learn more about Rick Shiomi and his new theatrical adventure, and check out the three works we’ve done together that we DO have in the catalogue.
ALWAYS more to come!