One Way to Write a Script for Your Club or Singing Group

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This script was written for the local (Marin Golden Gate Chorus) Barbershoppers, for an annual show on November 6, 2011, at the Marin County theater at the fairgrounds, a once-a-year moneymaker with about 20 singers and an audience of 200+.

Mind you, I write books and articles for a living, plus review and sometimes improve others’ copy, but in the group I guess I’m the closest thing to a script writer. Poor souls.

Why is this a blog? Because a fair number of folks (even friends) keep asking me about the thought process in putting a show together. What do you do in what order? So here it is, one answer for all, with apologies to those who do this for a living!

One, I started about six weeks before the show date (earlier is much better). What I needed to know is what the show committee had in mind, what songs the chorus was prepped to sing, and what other acts had been contracted.

(It helps that I’ve sung in five other shows at this locale with this group, so I kind of know what the viewers have seen before and expect.)

It seems that they have two other acts already booked (‘Til Dawn and Motley Q), each to sing for 15-20 minutes, and four local quartets, two singing two songs each, two singing one. So that will expand both halves of the program, with an M.C. with simple lines to introduce each group. The curtain remains closed when the first invited group sings, a quartet then appears, and then the second act will perform. The curtain opens so the chorus can sing two favorite patriotic songs, all of the guests who appeared in the show are called out to bow, and the entire group sings “Keep the Whole World Singing.” A collective bow, the curtain closes, opens to bow again, closes definitively. Whew! All that’s left is the first half, with 11 songs and another quartet.

My job is really to create a script that will add some fun, punch, and a loose thread of continuity (some sense too, if possible) to the 11 songs and a quartet. Fortunately, the song committee has chosen 11 love songs and the group is well practiced with all eleven! They even suggested a character, a guy named Joe, and they suggested an order for the 11 as well. (In the script I did change the order of two songs.)

The question is how we get the character to interact with the chorus (that is on stage all the time Joe is present). And how much leeway do I have in Joe’s acting ability. (A miracle occurs. A local actor, David Skibbins, is eager to play the part! So talent abounds…)

My thinking is that Joe will wander in pulling a wagon or a shopping cart, and make some noise just after the chorus director (in a tux) is announced and is raising his baton to direct the first song. He turns around, irked, to see who is making noise, and when the director sees Joe, he asks “Who are you?”

Joe puffs up and shouts back, “Well, who are you, and what’s that motley group behind you?”

That will be the theme and tenure. Joe is a braggart, brassy, dressed like a dandy (with touches of hobo), and continues to insult the singers as too old, half-dead, and so on. He has two or three lines between each song, and sometimes chorus members or the director talk with him.

The theme is that Joe spent his youth looking for the right woman, with related songs about Coney Island, walkin’ his baby back home, and the Nickelodeon (“Music, Music, Music”), and he claims to have had 26 girl friends. “But not a one of them stuck!” Until he met “Mary Lou.” She was his 27th and he was bowled over by her.

But even Mary Lou fled, so singing “I Don’t Know Why I Love You (Like I Do)” to console him is appropriate.

Joe says to forget about Mary Lou because a new love has appeared, #28. She’s Amy, of ”Once in Love With Amy!” Near the end of the song an 83-year-old chorus singer, Roy Harvey, comes in front and tap dances to the music. Joe watches in astonishment as the dancing begins (he even tries to imitate a step or two). When the dancer bows and returns to the stands (in the first row) Joe draws close and looks him over (like he’s an apparition), then finally raises the dancer’s hand in a victory concession so the audience can applaud again. He then tells us that Amy became his wife, is his sweetheart forever, and they have three grand children to prove it.

The front half of the program ends with “When I’m 64,” when he’s an old man.

Once I have the grand design (the linking of the music), I have to put words in Joe’s mouth. That is easier than it seems because in each section he segues into the next song, giving the title or suggesting its purpose. Since he’s a wild spirit he can talk to the audience, bicker with the director (Phil DeBar, a veteran performer as well), or heckle the singers. (I will finalize the words with the actor playing Joe since he has a lot of stage experience and will surely be able to massage the lines to be much funnier.)

The only thing that must be worked in are the four quartets, injected about when the chorus sings their fifth song, to give the chorus and the audience a break, plus our lead in-house quartet, to start Act II. So when I find out what they are singing (love songs for sure) I will have Joe jump backward in shock as this foursome emerges from the chorus, lines up, and sings away. He’ll watch in amazement, then sit on a chair on the stage, heckle them a bit between songs—and shoo them back into the chorus when they are done, when the script and group music will begin again. In short, he will do some physical business on stage but won’t detract (much) from the foursomes.

That’s it. Hardly any props, a hand-free microphone on Joe and a chair on each side, front, of the stage where Joe can go during the singing. The other speakers won’t need amplification because the hall is small and acoustically quite good). That’s it: the audience expecting some sort of routine or variety show around the chorus music.

I wrote the rough script, showed it to the committee and the director, Joe has seen it (where it will be finalized), and the chorus will rehearse it a night or two before it is unveiled to an eager audience composed mostly of kin, friends, and barbershop fans.

The only thing I can’t share is where the script words come from–because I don’t really know. Mostly it’s what I think Joe would do and say in that situation, and what the audience will sort of believe. It’s more fun if there is some tension between Joe and the singers, so I give Joe a healthy disregard for the group and what they are up to. The audience won’t expect that either, so it’s different from the typical MC-driven barbershop script too. I have to stick fairly close to the theme of the song that follows the lines, including a bit of the lyrics. I want a guy who swaggers a lot, is bigger than life, and isn’t afraid of anybody, including 20 odd singers. He’s not the kind to tell jokes so the humor is his irreverence and bragging. Really, it’s what I would laugh at, what I wouldn’t expect, and what adds to the singing.

The second half of the show is straightforward, as is said. The MC, E. Bond Francisco, will welcome the audience back, present the quartet and the two guest acts, and as the curtain reopens introduce the chorus for some final singing. When the guests are then brought out for recognition, when Phil again raises the baton for the last, group number, out will run Joe, shouting that they forgot to bring out the star. So the MC will introduce “the star, Joe, who will ham it up bleeding more applause. The curtain will close, open for a collective bow, then close closed.

I will turn in the final early draft in a few days, get their OK with three weeks to go, and get “Joe” involved putting flesh on his paper person. Then hold my breath (though not too much because I also sing in the chorus!)

Some of you asked how it’s done. That’s how I do it. I hope this sketchy explanation helps.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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