“Don’t say no, say how!”
It’s one week until show time for the MMS Upper Elementary students who are rehearsing Dear Edwina. Today, they got permission from the author to make the show their own.
“It’s okay for you to think of things that I never thought of,” said Marcy Heisler, the writer and lyricist who created Dear Edwina with composer Zina Goldrich.
Heisler told the students that the idea for the show came from her own childhood in the Midwest and the pleasure she took in putting on shows with her friends.
She started with what she knew – her life in Deerfield, Ill., her experiences in camp in Michigan – and then wondered, “what if.” Dear Edwina tells the story of a girl who creates musicals in her garage based on the letters from neighborhood children seeking advice for problems.
Heisler, who lives in New York, was invited to MMS by Jeffrey Seller, a dad at the school and a theater producer. She fielded dozens of questions from the children, who wanted to know how she got her ideas and how the creative process came together.
The songs came more easily to Heisler than the story, she said, because for her, a “song has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and a story has so many choices about where it can go.”
She said she is someone who is always thinking of ideas and songs capture the way she thinks. “I have a tendency to dream a lot and I love the way a song takes the thoughts you have and neatly organizes them,” she said. Songs, too, can say things in unexpected ways, because rhyme and melody add extra layers of meaning.
Storylines, on the other hand, present creative challenges for her. She does a lot of saying, “what if” and then the story goes in another direction. “You never quite know how the characters are going to come together,” she said.
Heisler said that she and Goldrich wanted to capture the “home-spun” energy that comes when kids create things themselves. Every cast does something different with the show, she said, and that’s what she loves. “In a way, we are all writing the show together,” she told them. “Take this football and run with it!” she said. “Take this show and find your own stuff.”
She told them that her best advice is to “learn by doing.”
“You can be your own producer,” she said. “You can be your own prop person. Don’t say no, say how!”