Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spread My Wings And Fly

For our Boogaloo Summer play, I was asked to write a song for one of the young actresses to sing. The challenge with writing a song for her is that her character just doesn't have a lot to hang a song on. She's not involved in the ending, and not even much in the middle. She's just there. She picks at her brother early on, but anything based on that might just come of as petty.

So here's what I did:

I didn't base it on anything in the play. Instead, I imagined a future history for her, and because these plays are loosely historical, I loosely based it on an elderly firebrand of a woman I knew from about 25 years back... a very independent woman who would have been about the right age. So in my fictional future history of this girl, she becomes very independent as a young adult and travels the world. It also points out why a little girl in 1907 would most of her apparent effort just picking at her older brother.

It's basically the "I Want" song. Most musicals have them... think "I Can't Wait to be King" from The Lion King or "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. Even though it doesn't propel this narrative, I like to think that it sets up the character for a future show. (Don't scoff... most of our patrons have made it an annual event, so setting up one show from another is perfectly legit!)

There's a part in the play where she gets hushed up a couple of times for teasing her brother, this gives her a reason to sing the song. This gives her a reason, too, for being disconnected in the last part of the show. Her father can be a little unfair here, particularly if he knows in the back of his head that Missy has the advantage. His uneven treatment of the kids is a way of leveling the playing field, if you follow the logic. Dad pretty much knows that the girl is more quick-witted than her brother, even if he won't admit it.


You'd think my family would see
That big ol' stupid lummox
Ain't good at nothin' much at all
'cept thinkin' of his stomach.

But he's "the boy", and even though
My brother is a slob
He gets respect from all we know
He even gets a job
And I don't think it's fair.
And I don't think it's spite
To say that this is just. not. right.

You won't catch me pouting, or parting with a tear,
You won't hear me sniffle, whine or cry
It may not be tomorrow, it may not be next year,
But I know I'm going to spread my wings and fly.

There's a world out there,
I'm going to see it all!
There are things no one would ever dare
I'm going to dare them all!
I've seen some books and photographs
Of wildebeests and tall giraffes.
Of jungles and of pyramids
That I'd like to appear amid.
Of kangaroos and crocodiles
Of canyons that go on for miles
Of artists on the River Seine,
Who paint their laughter, joy and pain.
Of duchesses and dukes who preen
And bow before their sov'reign Queen
Of icy huts of Eskimos
Who trade their kisses nose to nose

I'm going to see it all...

But sometimes when I say these things out loud
My Ma and Pappa say that I'm too proud.
They think they can protect me
with rules that are like fences
They say I'll settle down some day
and come back to my senses

But, if I could get a word in
I'd say a fence won't keep a bird in
Someday I'm going to spread my wings and fly!


The first verse is a pretty accurate description of the character of the older brother, at least from his sister's point of view; and really from the audience's as well. He's preoccupied with food. The second verse simply expresses her dissatisfaction. It's really the only place in the play where she gets to do that aside from sniping at her brother. Both verses are basically edits of what I said when I described what I wanted the song to say.

The third verse started out as more of me stating what I wanted the song to say, but then I jotted down the line "But I know I'm going to spread my wings and fly," and knew I had the hook. It came to my mind, and rings true to me because the woman who I'm basing this on was a pilot in her youth.

Now I just dive into the "I want" bit. Knowing that she'll be a world traveler, I started listing out the things one might wish to see while adventuring in 1907. By keeping them as rhyming couplets, I can make this verse as long or as short as I wish, and choose to make it just a little bit over-long, as it gives her a chance to start rushing the list excitedly, revealing her passion. "I'm going to see it all..." applies the brakes to this headlong dash.

And this allows me to fall back to the obstacle (Ma and Pappa, and their provincial expectations for their "little girl"), and to set up the "fences" metaphor so that I can deliver the final three lines, which I absolutely adore.
But, if I could get a word in
I'd say a fence won't keep a bird in
Someday I'm going to spread my wings and fly!
In those three lines, we hark back to the "Hush up!" that prompted the song in the first place; we refute the "fences" metaphor, and we re-assert a bright future, which is a recurring theme in the play. And hopefully, it turns a character who's "just there" into one who you care about, and will recognize fondly when she makes her return appearance next year.

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