Right now I am in the middle of choreographing a musical for my sonâ€™s middle school. We are doing Aladdin, Jr., and I am working with 60 5th-8th graders. As I draw out diagrams of who goes where and count beats, I realize that all this orchestrating Iâ€™m doing is another form of storytelling, just like writing a book. As Co-Director Iâ€™m making decisions on how we tell the story, just like writers decide what scenes they write for their book.
There are several directions a plot can take, secondary characters to introduce and specific settings to create. Just like there are several types of steps to select and put in a specific order. Where does the cast enter and exit? Do I line them up in a straight line or group them together? What are their hands doing? Their facial expressions? What are the movements communicating? There needs to be emotion, conflict, responses to otherâ€™s actions, and it all has to connect in order to get the story across properly. The choices can be overwhelming. I find I have to just go for it and pick one. If it doesnâ€™t work I can change it if I need to. Thatâ€™s what we do when writing a novel. As I pondered this, I found more similarities between staging a musical and writing a novel. In a musical, there are sets and costumes that make the setting. In a book we write descriptions of clothes, buildings and surroundings to help communicate the setting. In a musical, the ensemble cast adds to the storytelling, helping communicate setting and interaction. In both, main characters have lots of dialogue.
When I listen to the music and read the lyrics, I try to come up with movements that communicate the emotions and feelings in the story. I do the same when working on my novel. As I write different scenes, sometimes I find something not working. And just like watching the kids move around on stage, I seem to be able to tell if something doesnâ€™t fit right and Iâ€™m open to changing it. So how did choreographing lead me to writing a novel? When I was asked to do this three shows ago, I taught dance and choreographed childrenâ€™s choirs in the past, but nothing of this magnitude. I had no idea if I could do something on such a large scale. Honestly, I was scared. That musical was Little Mermaid, which consisted of 75 kids. I constructed something I was quite proud of. And the confidence that grew out of the entire experience was amazing. I stepped out beyond myself. It was so empowering. And that is what helped me cross over into the next challenge of my life – writing a novel.
Up to that point I would read, and read, and read and when I finished a novel, Iâ€™d say to myself â€œI would love to write one like that.â€ Then Iâ€™d look at my life and think, how in the world would I fit that into my schedule? I had thought the same thing about choreographing. But after the show, I realized I had made the schedule work. Whatever obstacle my mind would make up, I pushed through. I had to. I didnâ€™t have a choice because I had made a commitment. I somehow figured it out. And because I did, it helped me see that I can do anything I put my mind to. The next year, I choreographed Beauty and the Beast. It was easier, even though I was still nervous. I trusted myself a little more. Iâ€™m sure that is what it feels like when you start working on a second novel. Iâ€™m not quite there yet.
So now I am working on my third show, believing in myself more than before. Sure thereâ€™s a part of me that is still scared, which keeps me on my toes (no dance pun intended!). But Iâ€™m making decisions faster and not doubting myself as much. Which I find has transferred over to my writing. I love doing this even though it is more challenging to fit in writing time while Iâ€™m choreographing. But, instead of picking one over the other, I find that they complement each other. I can see my choreography become something tangible and it encourages me to keep writing. All the writing and edits are like rehearsals, fine-tuning the details. It keeps me motivated.
So whatâ€™s the lesson in all this? Donâ€™t let anything keep you from doing what you want to do. That first show ended in April 2013. By September that year I had joined OCCRWA. And I am so glad that I did. I have learned so much from all of you. It has been a wonderful journey so far, just like fun rehearsals before the main performance. Thank you for being such a great cast to work with.
If you are interested Friends Christian Middle School will be performing Aladdin, Jr. March 13 (7pm) and 14 (1 & 4pm) at Rose Drive Friends Church in Yorba Linda. Tickets are $7. Call 714-202-8410 for more information.
Denise Colby writes uplifting, encouraging stories that cherish and warm the heart. Her first historical novel features a young lady who has lost all hope, travels west to teach and finds love along the way. Passionate about all types of stories – whether they are from songs, theatre, movies or novels – she loves sharing those passions with her husband and their three boys.