I’ll never forget seeing West Side Story for the first time. Until that moment I had thought the American musical could never accommodate what Bernstein, Sondheim and Jerome Robbins would stage for audiences.
West Side Story’s impact was like St Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band, 2001 A Space Odyssey—these are not insignificant moments, we don’t just wake up the next day and forget what had happened the night before.
The best of our creative class try to seize the high ground, when they do the work is unforgettable, the experience penetrates, it triggers revelations, you may believe you could never do something like that, or you can spend the rest of your life trying. You are passionate about the experience. You’ll find you are not alone; others you speak with feel the same way.
I was a lucky young man, before I was even 22 years old, I’d already been part of several shows that had gone ballistic, launched for the moon, and by many accounts had eclipsed even that far off target.
If you are Kevin Costner, you’ve made your opus, Dancing with Wolves, you’ve thrown down the gauntlet, told your distributors to take a hike, and release a three-hour epic that goes on to be regarded as the best film you have ever made. You spend the rest of your career trying to outdo what you’ve already done. That’s a hell of a problem to have.
Here’s my cheat sheet, my rocky road and creative journey. First clue I was onto something was in seventh grade, I fell in love with writing and nailed a poem start to finish, so good in fact my teacher accused me of plagiarism. Second clue came my last year of high school when I shot and edited my first short film— it starred my high school sweetheart who played a woman lost in the wilderness in a search for her authentic self.
The biggest creative break shows up in what feels like an eternity, four years later, when I get a chance to play with the Royal Lichtenstein Quarter Ring Sidewalk Circus, and this isn’t just some funky mud lot operation with tired elephants and chain-smoking clowns, this is a rocking hot small alternative circus with a host of religious/political/social ambitions fueling its ascent into the rare stratosphere of hit shows.
It took another decade, but what a ride, literally a ride that included a nonstop five years living in the back of my truck while building the next vehicle, this was my street show, it included my performing dog Sunshine, mostly based out of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, and by 1984 I was on my way to the top of the lowest rung in the show biz ladder.
In 1998 there was every reason to believe my work as a variety act, whether on the street or stage was dead on arrival, but never underestimate the washed up, desperate or the inspired. I acquired a second dog, this time a Jack Russell terrier, together we put an act together and I will never forget the moment when I knew we had something special, it was Easter weekend 1999, I was playing in front of a movie theater, it was a Saturday night in Tempe, Arizona. This would be Lacey’s first full show, where she did her entire routine, and for her finale leaping over 7 volunteer youthful members of our audience. The roar from the crowd at the end when Lacey made her successful leap sealed the deal— this would be the best show I’d ever been a part of, the best since 1973, this would only have taken 26 years, but there it was, there was no denying it— I was back and in top form.
The two of us crisscrossed North America for more than a decade, by far this was the best of the best of my work, and it arrived in the latter half of my career, and after all the hard knocks and let downs I knew what to do, savor every single moment, be humble, stay hungry, enjoy it while it lasts—
That gets us to here— four novels complete, none ever sold, so be it, that’s not uncommon. The number of flops any of us produce are all the prices paid for making something that hits—
And remember we’re not talking about merely making a buck here, that’s not the goal, the idea is to work on something that takes off, has wings, takes you and your audience to places they’ve never been.
I’ve like the idea of creating climate change comedy’s. I’ve finished one, this is a screenplay, and I’m working on a second, while I’m hustling a producer for the first. Took me 26 years to go from one hit show to making my own second next hit solo show. So, what? What’s time anyway.
Time to take a deep breath, sit back down at my writer’s desk and get after it— I’ve only barely started, will let you know as I know, so far what I’ve got is a nightclub on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, somewhere in some mythical corner of California and the club is besieged by wildfire, heatwaves, drought, flood and now a threat to its survival when the hillside cliffs erosion threatens to topple everything the club owner has worked so hard for collapses back into the ocean, and with that collapse the end of the club and perhaps the end of hope.
Comedy in case you do not fully understand makes its living by showing us the redemptive aspect of suffering. The end of a nightclub while sad in some sense is also an opportunity to rise up and strike back against all the odds—
For my theory of the present moment to work creatively I’ll need to inspire my audiences to be willing to give it the good fight while acknowledging the uncertainty of the outcome, we don’t know if humanity has what it takes to beat back what apparently is our own species self-destructive behavior. A really good story is one where the stakes cannot be higher, where if you lose the whole world loses and if you win the whole world wins too.
I like the odds— a good climate change comedy is just what this world needs now—