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Crafting Theatre, Part 1: The Idea

I thought, since I am premiering and touring a new show this year, that it might be of interest to theatregoers/friends/fellow artists exactly how artists (or at least THIS artist), goes from an idea to a touring theatrical piece.

For me, it all starts with an idea. This can, of course, be the most difficult part of the process - the idea needs to be both personally compelling and widely marketable. It needs to work in a variety of spaces and in very different cities, and it needs to be something that challenges and interests me both as a writer and somewhat of a historian. The show needs to be easy to describe (as in, ‘It’s a show with wartime knitting songs’, or ‘Music of Piaf and Brel’), and have a ‘hook’, that will interest audiences without me having to sell it personally to each person.


I had been considering a show about Deanna Durbin for a while - first, because she was Canadian (From Winnipeg, actually, which is one of the cities where I’ll be mounting the show), and also because she was classically trained and sang music the way I was trained to do. (As much as I love performing the music of Piaf or Sophie Tucker, it’s not exactly healthy to belt for long stretches.) Apart from a vague idea of who she was, I didn’t know anything really about Deanna - I had seen two of her movies years ago, and although doing a show based on her life was one idea I’d been considering for a few years, there were several other contenders. I suspected that for the most part, people felt the same about Deanna Durbin as I did - the name sounded familiar, possibly they could recognize her photograph and describe one of her most famous movies, but that’s all. And so even though I had somewhat of an idea (a muical retrspective about the life of Deanna Durbin), I wasn’t sure if there was enough of a ‘hook’ for the show to sell itself.


Because at festivals, that’s important. Yes, in some cities, I am well known as a performer. But in others, where I’ve not performed before or haven’t been for years, the marketing is considerably easier if the show I perform is straightforward, and sells itself based on the concept (the description and show image is also important, but that’s another post).


Anyway, I was hoping that once I started doing research, that the right idea and the ‘hook’ would appear. And then I mentioned the idea to my mum as we were driving to the candy store (yes, the best things can happen when there’s candy involved). My mum casually responded, “Wasn’t that the one who had a rivalry with Judy Garland?”


That was it. The hook and the idea, all in one. Regular candy turned into celebratory candy - because if people don’t know who Deanna Durbin was, they certainly will have heard of Judy Garland. And a historic rivalry? Perfect!!


Yes, I still didn’t know what I was going to write, or if there was enough there to flesh out into a 60-minute show, and how I would do a show about two actresses with only me onstage... but never mind, the idea was there and I couldn’t wait to start researching.

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