It's Turkey Lurkey Time

There was this thing my mother used to do. We don't let her do it anymore. I'm sure other mothers do it too.

Every year when we'd sit down for Thanksgiving Dinner, she'd suggest we go around the table and each say what we're thankful for. Usually the protests were loud enough to quash the idea, but some years enough of the family gave in and so we did it anyway. When pressed, I would give some cynical meta answer, like "I'm thankful we're almost done saying what we're thankful for." Smartass. And the years when we voted her down, my mother and aunt would both say what they were thankful for anyway. Same stuff every year. Yeah, we get it, you continue to be thankful for all the stuff you've been thankful for the last thirty years... Now will you pass the turkey?

But after years of hipster cynicism at the Thanksgiving table, I think I'm gonna betray my Ironic Age self, and think about what I'm thankful for.

In all serious, I frequently stop myself and take a moment to remember how lucky I am that I get to do exactly what I've always wanted to do, not just as my job, but for the majority of my waking hours. I still sometimes ponder why I love the musical theatre so deeply, but whatever the reason, it goes to the core of me. My love of musicals literally goes back to before my first memories. I cannot remember a time I wasn't crazy in love with musical theatre.

But the reason I get to do what I do is because a whole lot of people have stepped up to work with me, help me, support me, and encourage me. Literally, thousands of people over the years. I think part of the reason people are attracted to New Line is its unique artistic aesthetic and its collaborative work atmosphere. But I think the biggest part is that the thing I'm attracted to, the power and the joy of the musical theatre live in front of you, is something that a lot of theatre people are attracted to. It's not that they're following me; it's that I am able to lay a good road down in front of us, that we can all travel together, to really amazing destinations.

So I'm really thankful to all you people who've gone down this road with me... and there are a lot...

First on my list are the New Line actors -- talented, intelligent, imaginative, fearless theatre artists who follow me down whatever bizarre path I set out for us. I've spent my life thinking about musical theatre, writing about it, and making musicals (my first musical was Let George Do It in seventh grade), but none of my ideas, none of my experiments would be of any value whatsoever without artists onstage using my ideas and making our experiments succeed, show after show. Theatre is not a solo art, especially not musical theatre. I realized a while ago that I actually have very little control over a show -- the actors, designers, and musicians have to choose to follow my road, and the weirder the road, the more grateful I am for that agreement. Our actors trust me. And no matter how many times I test that trust, they keep trusting me. For a guy like me, that's the greatest gift anyone can give me.

Next on my list would be the New Line audiences. Just as I can't make theatre without actors, I also can't keep a theatre company in business without an audience. That's about ticket sales and donations, sure, but also that old but true theatre cliche that "without an audience, it's just a rehearsal." Art is about communicating. If nobody experiences that art, it's worthless. Hundreds and hundreds of people each season put down their hard-earned bucks because they think we'll have something of value to share with them. I have learned that audiences don't seek entertainment for escape, as conventional wisdom would have it; they seek connection. (People think love stories are escapist, but those are stories about human connection, which we all crave.) I'm so lucky that there are that many people in St. Louis who connect to the kind of storytelling I know how to do. My theatre friends in other cities are so jealous that we can do the work we do and find an enthusiastic, growing audience to share it with.

And for me personally, part of my audience is the people who read my books. As lucky as I am to get to run New Line, I'm even luckier that so many people want to read what I have to say about our art form. A couple of my books are in their seventh and eighth printings! Occasionally it hits me that tens of thousands of people have read what I think about musicals. And on top of that, over 100,000 people have read this blog. That's both wonderful and terrifying.

Next on the gratitude list are all the other artists and staff at New Line, our brilliant designers, all of whom are so easy to work with and deliver such thoughtful, intelligent, exciting work show after show; our brilliant choreographer Robin Berger; and our incredible musicians who tackle some of the most challenging music ever written for the stage and nail it every time (even when some of the orchestrations don't all arrive till opening night -- long story); and also our awesome staff who have mercifully taken a bunch of jobs off my hands.

And a special shout-out to Justin Smolik, our conductor and pianist. Since I did that job for years, I know how very difficult it is to do well, with not nearly enough rehearsal, often very difficult music, and because we do so many premieres, sometimes scores full of errors. And he has to hold the whole show together in performance. It is a godsend for me that I don't have to do it anymore, and it's a godsend for the actors and for New Line that Justin's as good at it as he is.

Also on my list is the amazing St. Louis press. Since our very first show, the local reviewers have treated us with such respect and have been so eager to do preview pieces and interviews. Our local reviewers write really thoughtful, intelligent reviews of our work, and that's so gratifying. I honestly believe that reviewers are part of the theatre community as much as the rest of us, and they have helped us so much over the years in finding and reaching our audience.

Last but not least are all my cyber friends, including all my new Facebook friends working in the theatre and our New York scout, Amy Francis Schott, who used to be our stage manager. And everybody across the country who has followed the New Line model, producing smart, interesting, original, adventurous, aggressive musical theatre. There is an audience out there for that. Believe me.

And that's what I'm grateful for. That was fun to write!

Finally, because I do it every year, I leave you with the greatest Thanksgiving song ever written, the amazing "Turkey Lurkey Time," sung and danced by Donna McKechnie, Baayork Lee, and the original cast of Promises, Promises, on the Tony Awards, with the original Michael Bennett choreography.

Long Live the Musical! And Happy Thanksgiving!