You write a musical. It’s called “The Nightingale”. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. It’s not finished yet, different drafts and versions abound, each getting its own try-out in the form of a workshop. You put a lot of work into it. You want it to succeed.
“The Nightingale” being set in China and involving Chinese characters, there is of course one workshop where all the roles are played by Asians. Duh.
But you didn’t like that version.
Something about it struck you as …
Well, it felt small.
Small when it should be grand. “The Nightingale” is a myth (well, more accurately a fairy tale, but who’s going to parse the difference?) and being a myth, it should be … mythic.
Grandeur. That’s it. That’s the word you’re looking for.
Grandeur and universality, a mirror into which so many different people can see themselves, unalienated, because a myth has to have universal application, universal endorsement, universal, um, you want help, you’re running out of words …
But in the workshop, one Asian face walked on stage, followed by another, and then yet another, a whole chorus of them, and suddenly …
Well, it just kept getting smaller and smaller.
It was literal. That’s it. Literal. And not mythic.
Literal when it should be mythic.
Literal because well — you’ll just say it and risk a chorus of disapproval — an Asian walks on stage and he can only be himself. He does not bring the world with him. Ingenue, lover, fighter, villain, protector, monarch — nuh-uh, none of these. He reads small. And that smallness will transfer to your work. And a small work is an unendorsed work. You have ambitions. You want endorsement. Of course you do.
An Asian walks on stage and he reads small. Case-study-sized. Life-sized. Literal. Only himself, and no other discernible qualities that would make the surrender of heroic transference by an audience easy and pleasurable.
Civic lessons, yes. Well, if this were a musical about civics lessons …
In the audience, you among them, watching the Asians making “The Nightingale” smaller and smaller, you thought of each act of heroic transference that couldn’t occur marked by a dollar sign. You’re smart. And pragmatic. Such a thought would be no stranger to someone smart and pragmatic.
Think of the negative hole that puts you and your work in.
Nuh-uh. Let’s do another workshop. The monarch in China is white. White is the universal solvent. Into him so many other colors will fold. In white is yellow, black, brown, red. The size of the world. Grandeur. That’s the word. Grandeur. And mythic. Grandeur and mythic. You will repeat the words in tandem or singly over and over. A mantra.
Bu in white is yet another color. In white is green. But this is something you will never say.