Reflections on our Oct 18 workshop of Steep...
I’m writing this after a self-enforced break from working on my musical, Steep Themselves in Night, for the first time all summer, about 2 years on from starting on the piece. I've been relieved to have the chance to take a little break from writing, however much I love it - although I am tremendously grateful for having been so busy. At the start of October, we had the absolute pleasure of doing our first professional workshop of the show down in London, which is always incredibly exciting. After two intensive days of rehearsal in Camden, we shared the piece with a live audience for the very first time at The Other Palace. It was incredible (and absolutely terrifying, for me).
The past 6 months have taught me more about writing, composing, and being a musician than my entire ‘career’ to date, but the 3 days of this workshop have taught me the most, for sure. For the first time in this process I was able to let go and observe a group of talented and dedicated professionals explore and discuss the piece in depth. I was astonished at the effort and the progress the team made in just 2 days in a rehearsal room, and the standard of the sharing, itself! It was awesome to experience.
The opportunity to listen in and watch our actors and director explore the text together was particularly useful as a writer; I was able to sit in my little corner with my script, hurriedly making several dozen notes based on my own thoughts whilst also taking into account the discussions happening around me, considering other perspectives and new ideas, particularly from the actors talking about their characters. Equally, musically it is always really helpful to work with singers on bringing the score to life in person (and there’s nothing quite as magical/satisfying as hearing your vocal arrangements and harmonies being sung by real life people for the first time rather than the awful Sibelius ‘ooh’ sounds on a loop).
I felt it was important to do a lot of note-taking and letting things process in the back of my head whilst also ensuring I didn’t come to any conclusions etc too soon as we went along, however - especially before the sharing itself. On the day we moved into The Other Palace I purposely left my script and score back in my room so I had no choice but to observe the final rehearsals and the performance away from my text, as well as observe the audience watching the show to be aware of their reactions, too.
After a morning of tidying, tech-ing and dress-ing, we presented the sharing in the studio to an audience of about 60 people. The audience had the ability to virtually (and anonymously) offer their feedback on the piece via Sli.do after the performance based on a few questions I had created in advance of the workshop (for example, asking if all character arcs made sense, or asking what the most memorable song was).
The most important reason for making this workshop happen was to get feedback from an audience for the first time, and so I knew going through the feedback was going to be a crucial part of the process post-workshop (although the thought of it terrified me for a while). I was pleasantly surprised by the positive reactions to the performance, the jokes that landed well, especially the ones I was unsure about, and that one or two songs were particularly popular with audience members - numbers I hadn’t thought much of, actually - but there were plenty of constructive comments on elements of the storytelling and things relating to characters for me to go away and consider. Writing the book has been by far the biggest challenge in getting Steep together, and so I knew this was always going to be the hardest part.
On watching the performance and observing the audience, I had my own reactions and initial thoughts, but a few of these were at odds with the feedback and discussions I went on to have with other audience members afterwards - for example, I came away thinking I probably needed to cut or move a relatively major song in the piece as the pace of the story felt wrong to me, whereas someone else specifically wanted to keep it and hear more from those particular characters. Perhaps it’s important to say as well that a few people weren’t into the show, which is completely fair enough, and I certainly didn’t put this workshop on to be told the show was perfect - but I’ve been told by a few people I’ve been working closely with that it’s important to remember to only take stuff away from the feedback that resonates with you the most. There has been so much to process from those 3 days alone and so many conflicting thoughts, feelings and ideas all round (all constructive and mostly positive ones, thankfully) - so this one piece of advice has been really useful!
After considering my own thoughts and going through ALL of the feedback from the audience, I made some quick notes on what I thought I’d need to do when I started my rewrites, before banning myself from touching the work for at LEAST a month. I’ve had an idea or two here and there whilst going about my business, but I’ve been content to let them process and grow in the back of my mind.
The past week I’ve had my first few meetings re:Steep since the workshop, and so it’s been the perfect time to get my writing hat back on and open up my work. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how relatively easy it’s been to get going again - even if my rewrites of the book are going to be more substantial than I first expected. I do rather love the opportunity to once again sit down with my characters in my studio and explore different ways of telling this silly little story.
You can check out some clips of our wonderful workshop cast on my YouTube here, and always, follow me (and/or @steepthemusical) for updates!