Don Seybold

Interview with Don – part 2

continued from part 1

Are any of the characters based on real people?
In one sense all characters are based on real people, but I don’t write autobiographical material. In every character there are elements of people I’ve known, people I’ve observed, people I’ve read about, people I’ve imagined. And it is also probably the case that there is something of me in every character I create. I rather not even know what that might be in terms of Leroy and Joe Bob, for instance. Some events have analogues in my own experience but most don’t and they are never the accurate, factual depictions of a memoir or autobiography. Fiction is reality distorted into truth, Albee once said. My characters are amalgams and with their amalgamation comes the distortion that reveals a bit of truth.

This is the first musical you’ve written, right? How is it different than writing a novel?
You write a novel, more or less, in complete isolation – you move things, you create and kill off characters at will, you put them where you want them and move them when you want to. [They frequently resist but if too strenuously there’s the delete key and they somehow come to know that.] If you want them to dance or sing you can have them do that, but if you don’t want them do, you don’t give them lyrics, music, or a place to dance movement. You just shut them up and move them out of the scene. In a musical, however, the lawyer has to have at least a song if not a dance before you send him to court. In a novel you don’t have to worry about pace in terms of tempo or the order of ballads and uptempo tunes. You just keep the narrative and plot moving. No one ever has to burst into song.

Other than programing, hosting, and engineering my own radio programs for years, writing a novel is as close to being god as I will ever get. On the other hand, when you commit to writing the book for a musical, you better lose your god toga immediately, come down to earth, and get yourself some substantial work clothes and boots. You are there to serve: first, the composer/lyricist’s songs and then the director’s vision – which comes after the script but trumps always it. The script is the bones – the skeleton upon which they hang the flesh, the vital organs, and then give it breath and blood. And they are always, as it were, gnawing on your bones, sometimes breaking your bones, sometimes casting them aside, or asking you nicely but firmly to adjust them or replace them. It is as complex, dynamic, and compelling a process as I’ve ever been involved in and it is as collaborative as writing a novel is solitary; the writer is as far away from being god as the bat boy or ball girl is from being the pitcher. But there is this! When you are involved in a musical, there’s always someone to drink with – and sometimes they even buy. When you write novels you always drink alone and you always pay the tab.

When you and Lynn disagreed about something in the show, how did you resolve it?
When Lynn and I disagreed [which wasn’t very often and never violently] we each would articulate our position, listen to the other’s position, discuss the the various ways in which the differences might be ameliorated. Then we would have a nice cocktail [Manhattan for her, Martini for me] and a lovely chat about any number of things that had nothing to do with the disagreement, then we would go back and do what Lynn thought best. Or she would say I’ll ask Kenny the next time we saw him.

What are you working on next?
Lynn and I are planning to get together very soon to throw around some ideas I have, she has, and to listen to a couple of new tunes she has written and I hope to be into writing a new script before the end of the year – maybe a first draft by Groundhog’s day. If I see my shadow it will be six more weeks . We have both agreed that we will do it in the more conventional manner this time – script, then music and lyrics. But I need to make sure I work faster than she does – which isn’t easy – so she doesn’t ever have more songs than I have script.

I also have other projects – both collaborative and solitary at various stages of development

It’s important for me to say that this collaboration with Lynn, then Kenny and Eric, then the entire cast and crew has been as exciting, as satisfying, as educational, and as enlightening as anything I’ve ever been involved with. I make no bones about that. I look forward to doing it again and again as long as I can keep up – and as long as I can also work in solitude on projects where I drink alone and pay the price.

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