Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Tangled Roots

It began with the harsh criticism of an idea that had been percolating in my head for some time. The Artistic Director was never short of rigid opinionated ideas of what worked and didn’t work in her theatrical venue. She knew her audience and what would make for good theater. My idea didn’t fit her notion of a new kind of play. Then she put the icing on the cake with one quip. “Besides, nobody cares about folk music anyway.”

That was it. I knew I had a good idea for a play…because she was right. Musical tastes have moved on and today what I consider good music is akin to calling pen and paper ancient but still effective. Now granted, there is a very limited audience for old time music. ‘So why would anyone care about it?’ I asked. ‘Because I do,’ I answered.  Sounds like a storyline to me. I would call my play ‘Tangled Roots.’

Folk music or more aptly called ‘Americana music’ is as old as this country itself and before that the counties where our forefathers came from. It embodies the American spirit, the Great Depression, riding the rails, an awareness of civil and social causes long before the general public was able to grasp those attacks on freedom and liberty for all.

It includes but is not limited to:

Folk music, Delta blues, Chicago blues, Country Western, Swing, Hillbilly, Zydeco, Appalachian Music and so forth. It is often bunched together under the title: Roots Music.

Having been encouraged in a most indirect way, I was eager to explore this new kind of play…for me. It would be an intermingling of singing, musical demonstration and an intriguing background storyline for the characters involved. It would be a concert, musical theory class and coming-of-old-age saga wrapped up in a small theater. Black Box would be perfect.

The storyline would be simple enough. An aging folk singer who never quite made the grade in Greenwich Village finds employment elsewhere and abandons his dream as a singer-songwriter. He is now facing an undetermined future in his retirement. In his mind there is nowhere to go with his life. His fellow band members are of little help. They’ve grown tired of playing their sets at retirement homes, cheap bars and free summer concerts. There’s no money to be made and little appreciation from their mixed audiences. So along with the conundrum of one’s future life there are no encouraging signs on the horizon for the path presently taken. Add in the first inklings of romance and all the elements were there for my storyline.

Many folks my age find themselves facing an uncertain future in retirement. They’re limited by their economic, physical and social resources. Their past is past and nothing on the horizon looks promising. So it’s not surprising that a lot of folks in that predicament turn back in time to their past and try, in one fashion or another, to relive, revive and review segments of their past that brought them pleasure and pleasant memories.

So it is with my main protagonist. Music was his life back then and he wonders if he can go back to that carefree period when he was young and hungry and eager to take on the world. He can still play the guitar and sing the songs. He thinks he can still pen a tune if given enough time and coffee. Whiskey and wine won’t do anymore.

He wants to explore this option but he is all alone. The other band members see a future only replete with repeat performances and shrinking audiences. Most of them would rather spend their mornings at the coffee shop and evenings staring at the tube. Then a mysterious woman steps into his life or at least the fringes of it and another layer of confusion, conflict and contrasting lifestyles is added to the mix.

The play is still in its gestation stage. There is a lot more work to do before fingertips tap out a tune. The idea is competing for my attention, pitting precious time against a revision of PTV so that play can be submitted to a local venue (but that’s another blog entirely). Pushing up fast behind PTV are at least three new play ideas and two more revisions that need my attention.

Then there is the challenge of finding an actor who can sing and play the guitar. Finding other actors who can back him up will be even harder. Securing a small venue like a black box will also be a challenge. None of these obstacles changes the fact that the core premise of the play is sound. I believe there is an audience out there for my storyline. Now the fun will be to put the whole package together. And in that process prove the artistic director wrong.

Folks do care about old time music. At least some of us old timers do.

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