The Singing Room: A Playwright’s Thoughts

I’m taking a break today from my usual neurosis today to write about my new play, The Singing Room which opens here in Denver on April 27th and runs through May 18th. It occurred to me that even though I rewrote the show itself about 13 times, I’ve never actually written about the show itself. What was it about a story that revolves around a birthday party in karaoke bar that I was drawn to?  How did this play start out as one thing and morph into something else? And why was I obsessed with writing a show about karaoke?

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I guess should first explain what the play is about. The central plot revolves around April, a fashion writer celebrating her 25th birthday at Sunshine’s Singing Room with her friends- Dan her timid  co-worker, Leslie her controlling but out of control childhood friend and Ava, her actress neighbor with a surprise of her own. This birthday party mixes with the regular barflies at Sunshine’s Singing room including Leroy, a karaoke legend in his own mind, Ruby a former, would-be rock and roll goddess and the owner of the establishment as well as our salty emcee for the evening Sunshine, herself. My own tireless research in bars in Los Angeles helped inform these folks, naturally.On the dubious occasion of her birthday, April finds herself at a crossroads and before the night is over thanks to the help of some friends and some strangers, her life might just get turned upside down. I was compelled to write about April mainly because that moment in a person’s life when you start to see through the cracks of how you live and start to think “Hmm. Maybe this doesn’t work for me anymore” is one that interests me very much. In my own life, I needed a series of those moments to happen before I made a change but since we’re trying to make an entertaining little show here, April gets to experience it in two acts. Lucky girl. But leaving the people and things that don’t work or that are no longer good for you isn’t always a happy ending either. Therefore, the story since its inception has never been clear-cut and the ending in my mind has always been ambiguous. This decision gave the show from the first draft to the last what we in the production have been calling “funny-sad”. You know, that hilarious yet kind of real and heartbreaking quality. The first few versions were primarily focused around just the birthday crew and April’s conflict. While funny and entertaining, there were parts that  read like a bad episode of “90210”. Something else was needed to give the story an edge. After toying with even more rewrites, we figured out that the story really needed more of the bar folks to help express the themes of love, disappointment and transformation. Duh. They were sitting at the bar the whole time.

As far as karaoke goes, I’m a huge fan. I love that normal people  can get up on stage and rock out, whether they suck or not. Karaoke is less about vocal prowess and more about selling it to the crowd. It’s also huge to face your fears to just get up there and do it. I myself, suck at singing but it doesn’t stop me from having fun and being ridiculous although now that I’m sober it takes a little more coaxing than it used to. Go figure. But these themes of fearlessness and self-awareness were interesting things to infuse in the script too. We spent a lot of time at karaoke with our casts from previous shows and we both always thought that a karaoke bar would be a great setting for a play. Just the very nature of karaoke gives real life this musical/music video quality which is otherwise impossible to achieve. Also, karaoke is so random and sporadic and putting that energy on stage was an exciting and terrifying proposition. A little terror, I find, is a good thing and certainly keeps the work fresh.  Since karaoke is different every time so is The Singing Room. The characters all have a set of songs they’ll be performing throughout  the run and the show will have songs by the audience too.

My husband, Michael Emmitt, who is also directing this crazy show (bless his heart), talked me off ledges, reorganized the script and even wrote some of the shows best lines. Like April, we recently had to look at things that weren’t working and make huge scary, changes. This winter, we both finally left the theater company we built. It was painful but as April discovers, it was even more painful staying in something that we didn’t feel good about. Yet, The Singing Room has survived! From rehearsals in our living room to last-minute cast and script changes, the show, like most of them do, has gone on. We’ll be performing in an incredible theater space that we were blessed to find. Miraculously, it feels like the show we always wanted to make. And when it comes to life and art you really can’t ask for more than that.

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