Blogito ergo sum. (I blog, therefore I am.)
So why do I blog?
I started this blog in spring 2007, as we started work on returning Grease to its original form, and I think my only conscious motivation was to document the process of making a musical, and maybe also to point out that the Grease we see on tour or in New York the last twenty-five years has very little resemblance to the original production that ran for 3,388 performances and was the longest running Broadway musical until A Chorus Line beat it out.
I knew all this was stuff I would have loved to read about when I was in high school. Yes, before the internet. Starting a blog was also partly about keeping up with social media, to make sure New Line is connecting to our audience beyond the physical theatre building and the two hours' traffic of our stage, about making our audience's interface with New Line a more continual experience.
The first two months my blog got zero visitors. Zip. Luckily, I didn't know how to check my traffic yet, or I might not have continued.
The third month, somehow my blog caught on and I began getting about 2,500 visits a month, and now every once in a while, it spikes and sets a new normal. In November of 2009, suddenly the traffic increased to about 5,000 visits a month and then stayed there. In the last few months, it's spiked to about 10,000, and it looks like it'll stay there for a while.
And with all those people reading what I write, I have become more conscious of what and why I'm writing. I think what has happened over time is that my blog is now an accumulation of evidence that backs up my ideas about musical theatre. It's kinda like I'm a scientist and this blog is my lab notebook, documenting all these successful experiments.
I hope that it serves both to convince people of the value and complexity of these shows and of this art form, and also to encourage others to do challenging musical theatre like we do. If nothing else, I hope this blog as a whole serves as a compelling argument that, as I've been saying for quite a while, the American musical theatre has never been more vigorous or more adventurous.
Since the mid-1990s, I've been writing books on musical theatre, four of them collections of background and analysis essays about individual shows. With almost every show New Line produces, I write a chapter about that show. In the last couple years, this blog has been where I record all my insights, revelations, research, and analysis, and after we close, I form all those blog posts into a single essay for my next book.
I hope my blog (and my books) also show young theatre artists how important – and how fun – dramaturgy is. From time to time, people will ask me why I don't have a dramaturg, and the answer is I love doing research.
I also hope my blog shows young theatre artists that there are no right answers, and that sometimes we all go down wrong roads. It's always been very important to me to blog about those moments when I'm confused, when I don't know the answer, when I can't solve a problem or understand the writer's intentions. I've read several books by the brilliant director Anne Bogart, and it's always so comforting for me to read about her failures, insecurities, blocks. It happens to the best of us. More than that, it's part of the process. Sometimes, a valuable part. Sometimes it helps to get stuck because it forces you to step back and rethink things, return to the fundamentals.
Though it wasn't necessarily true in the beginning, these days a big thing I want to accomplish with this blog is to prove the worth of shows that flopped in New York, and in the process, to give them new life in regional theatre. By sharing all my research and the experience of staging and polishing High Fidelity and Cry-Baby, I hope to convince people that they're both really brilliant works that were hopelessly misunderstood by lazy artistic teams.
Directly because of New Line, there are now further productions of High Fidelity and Cry-Baby around the country, and we hope the same will be true of Hardbody and Bonnie & Clyde.
I've also realized in the last few years that my blog is a place to work through my ideas about this new Golden Age of musical theatre that I think we're in the middle of. It's in these posts that I first started writing about the neo musical comedy and the neo rock musical. As you can see from my blog index, I've written about that stuff here a lot.
I'm very conscious of the fine line I often walk here. I want to put forth interesting ideas. I want to get people thinking seriously about our art form. And yes, I want to be provocative now and then. But I also don't want to sound arrogant or like I think only my own opinions are legitimate. But I do think about this stuff a lot. It's a tough tightrope sometimes, to state an idea strongly, to argue against other ideas, and especially, to put forth a new idea, and yet not come across like a dick. I'm sure I've slipped off that tightrope more than once, but I hope that the force of my arguments balances that out.
Scott Susong, the head of Music Theatre at Illinois Wesleyan University, interviewed me for a Q&A last year for a conference of the Musical Theatre Educators Alliance, and he said something very cool about New Line and me. He said that he loved that we were doing this kind of challenging, alternative work onstage while also constructing an intellectual framework around that work. I had never thought about it in those terms, but he's exactly right. We're doing the work and also making an argument for that work at the same time.
Now that 10,000 people a month are reading what I write, and as my blog approaches 200,000 lifetime visits (I'll probably hit that mark sometime in January), I do feel a responsibility – to the people who read this blog, to the art form itself, to theatre students and other musical theatre artists.
I wouldn't want to put Descartes before the horse, but blogging is part of who I am as an artist and a teacher. The process of making art at New Line now includes as a fundamental element a public discussion of that process. And a big part of my role as a musical theatre artist is to do whatever I can to push the art form forward, primarily by spotlighting those artists and works that are at the artistic forefront of the musical theatre.
hypergraphia. In college, I chose courses that had no final exam but did require lots of papers. (Some Miller Trivia: In four years of college, every paper I wrote for every course was about musical theatre in one way or another. I was mildly famous for it.) And I love getting feedback from folks about what I write, agreeing or disagreeing, or my favorite, folks who are just thrilled to find a serious discussion of this amazing, revolutionary, ever-evolving art form of the American musical theatre.
We've never had more exciting new work to choose from when we plan our seasons. Our art form is currently kicking ass and taking names. It's almost overwhelming to think about the variety and brilliance of our recent shows – Night of the Living Dead, Bukowsical, Next to Normal, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, High Fidelity, Cry-Baby, Passing Strange, bare, The Wild Party, Love Kills... No offense to the traditionalists, but I think all these shows are a hell of a lot more exciting and original and artful than most of what was happening during the 1940s and 50s, a period the older critics and historians call The Golden Age.
This is the Golden Age. I have a ringside seat, and I'm doing my best to chronicle these amazing times, so you can have a ringside seat too. What an incredible, thrilling time it is to be making musical theatre.
In a couple weeks, we start rehearsals for a modern classic, arguably one of the shows that ignited this new Golden Age, the Pulitzer-Prize winning masterpiece of rock theatre, Rent. And members of the cast and staff will be blogging about our process. Stay tuned.
I love my job.
Long Live the Musical!