USC NEWS – Musical focuses on the loss of loved ones

By Diana Seyb – University of Southern California News
June 4, 2013

As a widower, Bob Scales, dean emeritus of the USC School of Dramatic Arts and associate director of the USC Emeriti Center, understood the emotional devastation of losing a spouse.

It was Scales who brought Sexy Widows, a musical created by writer June August, the widow of Jay Zorn, former professor at the USC Thornton School of Music, and her writing partner, Sonny Fox, to the Emeriti Center.

“The Emeriti Center is always looking for ways to provide value, resources and engagement to USC retirees and the Trojan Family,” said Janette Brown, the center’s executive director. “Based upon the talents and interests of our retirees, we offer numerous, unique opportunities. This creative project was a chance to explore issues of loss within an artistic venue.”

The show’s origin took shape nearly seven years ago when August and Fox talked about the difficult and challenging phases of being a widow. Fox suggested to August that they write a book of uplifting poems about the subject.

“I write books and plays and songs,” August replied at the time. “Why don’t we write a musical?”

Their talks led to the first performance of Sexy Widows in 2008 for family, friends and colleagues. The show received positive feedback, but it was still evolving.

“Getting it down on paper was therapeutic,” August said. “The dialogue and lyrics expressed: This hurts and I hate it, but it won’t stop me and I won’t let it get me down.”

The story follows two widows and two widowers — searching for what’s next: new love, companionship, a dream long forgotten — something that brings joy and significance to their lives. The characters approach their journey through songs and music with a mix of humor, pathos and amusing revelations.

Sexy Widows was performed at the 24th Street Theatre in Los Angeles on June 1. John Gaspari, executive director of the USC Center for Work and Family Life and this year’s recipient of the USC President’s Award for Staff Achievement, hosted a discussion about widowhood featuring the show’s creators after the performance.

The next show will be on June 7 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit twowidowsproductions.com/ or call (818) 203-1984.

USC News article link: http://news.usc.edu/#!/article/51847/musical-focuses-on-the-loss-of-loved-ones/

For My Playwright Colleagues

By June August

I’m writing this for my playwright colleagues, but everyone is invited to read.  It may explain something about the creative process.    

Our musical, SEXY WIDOWS, is finishing a limited (6-performance) run at 24th Street Theater.  The story is about the recovery process after loss of a spouse.   We knew from previous readings  that audiences would respond with both laughter and tears.   We were thrilled when reviews called the script inspirational, the show vivacious, and the humor  “spot on.”   In fact, we were grateful even to receive reviews for a two-weekend run, and we’ll post them later.

Meet the Cast: (Back row, L to R): Larry Lederman, Bobbi Stamm, Derrel Maury, Robert Towers.

Meet the Cast: (Back row, L to R): Larry Lederman, Bobbi Stamm, Derrel Maury,
Robert Towers. (Front row): Kit Smythe, 
Hank Adams, Karen Culliver

We had a stellar cast:  Hank Adams, Karen Culliver, Larry Lederman, Derrell Maury, Kit Smythe, Bobbi Stamm, and Robert Towers.   Our talented director, Cate Caplin, is especially renowned for her choreography.   Our limited budget didn’t allocate for a dialogue coach.  Next time, we’ll prepare a more realistic budget, just in case.   With a director/choreographer at the helm, the break-out numbers added great entertainment value to a serious subject.  We were blessed with amazing sound and lighting for our almost-bare stage set, thanks to Bob Scales, Will Scheussler, and Tim Davis.

For subsequent theatrical productions, it will be an advantage to have a music director to work with the arranger, a vocal coach, and a separate accompanist.  I asked a lot from Sean Paxton, who did it all.  He was always there for me and the production.

If you choose to write a play—with or without music―about something as devastating as loss, here are a few suggestions:

1)      Make sure you’re healed before you begin the final draft.  

2)      Make sure you’re well-heeled before you decide to produce it yourself.

3)      Have skin-thickening treatments before you go into production―and booster shots during.

4)      Ask prospective directors how much experience they have with autobiographical material by a living playwright.  If the prospect has no or little experience, continue interviewing.   Otherwise you will spend rehearsals wondering whether you expressed your feelings authentically.    

5)      Accept in advance that your deepest emotions will not be portrayed exactly the way you experienced and subsequently wrote about them.   They will be skillfully acted, but not relived.

6)      Be prepared for what can be a painful script-pruning process.   Avoid making snap decisions (especially when the cast is within earshot) that you might live to regret.   Don’t be deferential unless you’ve given it a lot of thought.

As we know, real-life feelings are not well-organized.  Sometimes they come on like a steamroller and sometimes with pauses.   Sometimes they sneak up and leave you in tears.  Sometimes they hit like a sledge hammer and leave you breathless.   In spite of a magnificent cast and director, here’s a heads-up.  You wrote about loss, your emotions.   Expect bumps in the road.  You may clearly indicate a pause in the script, but the director will see it differently and allow or encourage an actor to take liberties.  Conversely, the feelings that you wanted delivered with sledge-hammer impact may end up with pauses wide enough to drive a truck through.   That’s show biz.

While you’re writing, bear in mind the actual sequence of events in your life might not work onstage or not leave time for costume changes.    You’re likely to hear, “I’d like to relocate (or cut, heaven forbid!) this scene.”  And you’re likely to say, “But that’s not the way it happened!”    

Since Sonny and I collaborated, the goal was to represent our experiences and those of our friends.   I did the physical work.  I wrote the book and lyrics (with contributions by Sonny) and composed the music.   I relived my loss over a six-year period through the words and music.   At times my guts were wrenched into knots and/or boiled into menudo―during rehearsals and performances as well.

 Said and done:  this is the life I choose.

                            June August