Interview with the Composer and Lyricist: Adam Gwon,Upstage, November 30, 2009
Written By: Adam Gwon
I like to think that the birth of Ordinary Days is a really good example of necessity being the mother of invention. A couple years ago, I landed a musical theater writing fellowship at the Dramatists Guild—it’s a program run by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty that gives young writers an outlet to develop new work. I had gotten this fellowship on my own, that is, without a collaborator (I usually collaborate with a playwright who writes the book of the musical), and, knowing this, I wanted to design a project that I knew could work with only my skill set in play. I started off just writing a couple songs to see where they would lead me and soon the whole piece came into focus in my mind. I’m a huge believer that form is born out of content, and so, because I knew I’d be stitching together a narrative told through individual songs and vignettes, I came up with this story about people struggling to make connections with each other and with the world around them. It was my thought that the audience would have to actively be connecting the dots of the story as they watched, since the story is essentially told in fragments, and I liked the idea of engaging the audience to make connections in a show about the importance of making connections. You get the idea.
Two other inspirations for the show were my own experiences being an aspiring twenty-something in New York City, and my favorite novel, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which I was re-reading at the time I wrote Ordinary Days. The seed that started the whole project was me feeling a little bit at sea with, well, how—and if—life worked itself out. As you can imagine, aspiring artists in New York are almost inevitably forced to stitch together a patchwork life. You’ve got your dayjob, your multitude of creative projects, your social life, your love life, your friends from work, from school, from shows, your family, and on and on, all seemingly leading in different directions. I felt like I was constantly bouncing from one very specific bubble of my daily life to the next, and the question I was asking as I wrote Ordinary Days was how do all these pieces add up? As I wrote, I think that question evolved to explore more than just the experiences of a twentysomething in New York, but it all started from a very real, personal place. And as for Mrs. Dalloway, well, I just love that book, and I’ll leave it to some astute audience members to try and spot my little homage to it in the show.
Writers Notes for Ordinary Days
Written By: Adam Gwon
In the fall of 2006, I had at least two thoughts spinning around in my brain. The first, as I tried to jumpstart a writing career by running down every path I could find, was: “When on earth will all of this start to add up?” The second, upon winning a fellowship with the Dramatists Guild, was: “What on earth am I going to write now?”
Luckily, I had the good sense to fuse those two thoughts together, and Ordinary Days was born.
Ordinary Days tells the stories of four people struggling to connect. It’s made up of pieces that, like its characters, reveal themselves to be part of a much bigger story than we might have first imagined. It’s about realizing that the pieces of our lives, as jumbled as they may seem, do fit together, even if we have to shift our perspective to see it. “When on earth will all of this start to add up?” It already does.
Some specific thoughts about production:
• There are, purposefully, few notes about staging concepts in the script; I hoped from the start to leave the material open to an innumerable amount of staging possibilities. The show’s New York premiere, at the Roundabout Theatre Company, was produced in an intimate black box theater with three simple set pieces that were pushed around to create each scene. Its very next production, at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, CA, was staged on a huge proscenium with a three-story, automated set and video projections. Both productions were thrilling and captured the essence of the show in equally successful ways.
• The style of the piece, both musically and lyrically, is meant to capture the cadences and rhythms of everyday speech. Tempo markings are merely suggestions, and most numbers should create the feel of conversation. In doing so, however, don’t be afraid to make bold shifts in tempo, dynamics, and expression; this will help maintain a rich musical tapestry even when using solo piano accompaniment.
• The lyric referencing Warren’s height in “Big Picture” can be adjusted to match that of the actor.
• In addition to those specifically mentioned in the script, here are a few additional quotes to use on Warren’s flyers. Feel free to use these or create your own!
“Share your life story.”
“The key to success unlocks many doors.”
“The road of life has no map. Let happiness be your compass.”
“Opportunity is like an express train: there is always another one on its way.”
“Change your socks and your perspective daily.”
“Take the scenic route. Life is not a metered ride.”