Happy as I am with the new direction I’ve taken the past couple weeks with the Hurley Falls Mysteries, I am also still dealing with the theatrical adaptation of my screenplay, Tell My Bones, the life story of the Outsider Artist, Helen LaFrance. I’m adapting it for the stage specifically for Sandra Caldwell.
When I first wrote the screenplay, things like #BlackLivesMatter hadn’t happened yet, although it was getting ready to. And even while the screenplay was well received at film festivals and among producers, the climate Off-Broadway for plays about African-American lives has changed considerably in just a couple of years. So, even while I’m okay with how I’m staging the play, how I’m presenting the music, the sets and the characters, I’m finding that the entire way I present Helen’s life has to seriously be re-framed to fit the tone people want to experience now.
5 years ago, when I went to Kentucky and met with Helen, she was already in her 90s, in a nursing home, and in a wheelchair due to a paralyzing stroke. I walked into the day room of the nursing home, where she sat in front of a canvas, preparing to paint (she’d taught herself to paint with her left hand because the stroke had left her paralyzed down her right side), and I said hello.
She barely looked at me. She knew I had come because I wanted to write a screenplay about her life. Still, she was not impressed, and her greeting to me, after I’d driven 12 hours to meet her, was: “What do you want?”
After a couple hours of talking, she warmed up and ended the conversation by giving me the rights to write her life story, and after that, I had access to all her paintings, her interviews, and even her private diaries. In all the research I did, while it was clear she had to contend with racism and the unfairness of how blacks were treated in Kentucky, her art, her diaries, and her conversation were focused more on simply being a woman who was always trying to find enough time and money to do her art.
There was so much beauty in how she saw her life. Just so much beauty. A lot of heartbreak that centered on the people she loved who had died, but not very much about having to rise above oppression. Just needing enough time & money to paint. And so I told her life story in a very particular way, which now has to be re-framed. Same life, but I have to focus on it in a different way.
My seriously long-time, good friend in L.A., producer/composer Peitor Angell, is eventually going to be helping me with the musical arrangements for the show, but yesterday he agreed to help me try to re-think the telling of the story, too. So I feel excited about that project again. You know, the energy of one good friend can turn your whole world around.
I don’t need to have this adaptation done until the end of this year, since Sandra and I will be focused on doing the staged reading of her one-woman musical in NYC this fall. Still it has bogged me down emotionally that I couldn’t make better progress with Tell My Bones, so it feels good to feel encouraged again.
The other thing that has taken me unaware, that is also a really incredibly wonderful thing, is that the Muse has come back into my life! [Muse – noun – a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.]
After having been blessed all my life with the beneficence of a Muse, I haven’t had the energy of the Muse in my world for several years now. It has been depressing. Even though I can still write without a Muse, it’s more laborious, a lot less joyful from moment to moment. And when I least expected it, and had pretty much given up on ever feeling that energy again, in he walked. Right into my field of vision.
I felt like Bill & Ted in their excellent adventure:
I don’t know him at all, although I’ve now seen him a few times. Yet suddenly life in my inner world is 360% not the same. So beautiful. I am so, so blessed. My inner world now is a deluge of inspiration, keen feelings, intensely beautiful images that my mind & heart respond to. And all of that makes its way to the page, to benefit you, gentle reader!
That is simply the very best way to write. And on that note, I’m going to go… get some lunch!! Yay! Have a super Saturday, gang, wherever the Muse takes you. Thanks for visiting. See ya.