When I was undergoing treatment for testicular cancer, I began reading “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. For those of you not familiar with it, its basically a course to help you become more creative. Two of its main tenets are that you should journal every morning and have a block of time each week where you go do something fun just for yourself. One thing Julia Cameron wrote would happen, is that after some time you’d start noticing these epiphanies, or creative ideas, that would occur while writing your journal entries. Well, I did experience that, and one day I had something happen that basically changed my life. I had been toying with writing a song or songs about my experience with cancer, but that day I got this clear idea to write an entire musical show about it. The whole idea started fleshing itself out in front of my eyes as fast as I could write it. I turned to a new page and wrote “Turning Thirty” at the top, which was the name of the musical. The reason for the title was that I was diagnosed with testicular cancer right around my 30th birthday. Then I started writing titles to songs – about five of them right on the spot (which ultimately turned into 17). Then I’d write one of the titles at the top of a new page and start writing as fast as I could about that topic. Eventually, I’d take the two or three pages of what I wrote for that particular title, picked out the specifics I really liked, and formed them into a lyric, editing and rewriting them until I had a lyric I was happy with. Finally, I sat down and wrote the music. The whole musical came out this way, in a very top down fashion, which was the first time in my life I had ever done something like that.
Here are some pictures of the actual pages I wrote back then (click to take a closer look):
I began recording all the songs myself, while I was writing them and still going through treatment, even though many of them required multiple “characters” singing different parts. It took me a year to get through all of my treatments, and about the same amount of time to finish all the songs. You can hear those original recordings here:
Once I finished all the music, I started looking at writing the book, or script for the musical. Since I had never written a musical before, I enlisted the help of a friend, Jonathan Uffelman, who had a Masters of Fine Arts in theater. He suggested I write the main outline of the story first, then we’d go back and forth in emails with edits. I had already submitted my new musical to about six local theaters, three of which expressed some level of interest. This pushed us to write the book quickly, and we finished our first version in about a month. As it turned out, nothing with the three theaters panned out, and I got discouraged and let my new musical collect dust for several years.
Finally, my experiences with my music “career” over those years reached a tipping point for me. I decided that I wasn’t really doing what I wanted to do with my music, and that I had been sitting on this body of work I had done that I was very pleased with that I needed to get in front of an audience. I (half) joked that I needed to do something with “Turning Thirty” before I turned forty. So I set about scheming how to make a show possible. I knew what I didn’t know, which was how to stage a musical, so I turned to someone who did. I met Bill Duncan at my kid’s school doing a fundraiser show for the arts department. I approached him about my musical, and he graciously accepted the task of helping me turn it into a show. Ultimately, together we recruited about ten other people to help make the show a reality. We presented the live debut of Turning Thirty on October 25, 2008. It was recorded, and I created both a CD and DVD of the performance. We had an audience of close to 150 people and received a standing ovation. You can hear the recordings of that show here:
and watch a video trailer of highlights here:
Since then, we have performed variations of the show three more times, and it has raised over $6000 for charities, mostly for the American Cancer Society. You can find out more about the show at the website turningthirty.org. I’ve started dreaming up new ways to take it to the next level, but, as with most experiences in my music career, some of the attention I got from this show led to other music opportunities. More on that in some future post.
I hope you enjoyed the first post in my series on independent musician stories. What did you think? I’m thinking about doing this as a podcast as well – would you like that option?
This is great Tom! Artist's Way was a big part of getting me going as well. Do you still do morning pages? I've let it go over the years, and your post was a nice little nudge to think about getting back to it. So thanks for that. Look forward to more posts! As a budding independent musician myself, I'm excited to hear other folk's experiences.
Thanks Chris! I haven't been doing morning pages for a while, particularly with getting kids off to school and such. I've been toying with starting up "evening pages" even though Cameron strongly recommends doing them in the morning. I'm thinking something is better than nothing. Also, with your new CD imminent, I bet you have some great stories, too. By all means, let me know if you'd like a "guest" story here sometime! In the meantime, I'll keep 'em coming. If you know others who might like this, please spread the good word!
Most excellent first post. Bring the noise!
Thank you for sharing…it is cool to get the story behind the story!
Also thank you for inviting us to be a member of the debut audience, it was a huge turning point in our lives, as you well know!
Congratulations & continued success!
`terry & Don