A Night Out With The Girls and The Phantom of The Opera

This week I had the opportunity to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, TX.

If you live in or are visiting Dallas, the Winspear is well worth checking out. The building itself is an architectural beauty in downtown Dallas from the outside, but is equally lovely inside. Before entering the performance hall, you can mill about with others by the wall of windows looking out into downtown, get wine in re-usable sippy cups (no lie, but hey I wasn’t complaining), and pose for pictures against the shiny red wall. At least that’s what we did. For the crowd claustrophobic, like myself, it can get a little crazy waiting for elevators, or queuing up for wine, or when exiting post-performance, but they were well staffed to help move people through to where they need to go.

The best part of the night, for me, was that I saw the musical with the majority of the women in my family: my mom, my sister, my cousin, my sister-in-law and my two beautiful nieces. We all got (sorta) dressed up, had dinner and drinks downtown near the Winspear & then headed to the Phantom. We had never had a night out on the town together like this before, so for this reason alone, the night was a success.

I was very excited for The Phantom, as I have seen it live only once before when I was in London many years ago. Then I have only also watched the movie with Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum. So I know the story, the characters and the music. I love the music. And here I will admit to being very spoiled, having listened to Michael Crawford’s Music of The Night. That man is difficult to beat.

Despite the beautiful venue and the great company with whom I attended the performance, I was disappointed in the production. The stage had a ton of bells and whistles, always moving from scene to scene, literally moving and opening and shifting. It seemed there were very few still moments on the stage. While it was easy to “see” the scene because of the details of the stage, it was hard to see much else. I am no expert on staging, but I have seen it done well with great simplicity This year I have seen Donmar Warehouse’s Coriolanus (via National Theatre Live)and Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s The Tempest, both on very small stages where grand stories were told with very simple sets. I believe it can take very little to suggest a lot, if done well. If the story takes center stage, that is how you will have me.

The music was what I’ve always heard and I couldn’t help but enjoy Andrew Lloyd Webber’s big musical moments, like Masquerade, but overall they all felt a bit hollow. For all the activity on the stage and vivid backgrounds, the heart of the story was lost. I didn’t connect to the characters. The transitions from scene to scene were sometimes quite abrupt and several times I wondered, “Wait, what? How did we get here?” There was no flow.

Probably the biggest issue for me was that the story of the main characters, Christine, The Phantom, and Raoul, which should be the most compelling, felt thrown together as an afterthought to the stage and the need to get all the musical numbers together.

I realized while watching how very important a connection to the characters is to me. And I was ultimately disappointed in this production of The Phantom of the Opera, not because of a lack in the music, which, for the most part, delivered, but for missing the heart of the story.

Perhaps we caught it on a bad night. They did start 20 minutes past the scheduled performance time, and it looked like there were a few small technical glitches on the stage during the show, so maybe there was something off for them all night.

I can only say that for me, it was as my sister said, “underwhelming”.

But the Winspear was beautiful and the night out with the girls was great.

Have you seen a great production of the Phantom of the Opera? What really made it great for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

My Writers (Mini-) Workshop Experience

Today I had the opportunity to attend a mini- workshop put on by the leader of the local library writer’s group to which I belong. The workshop focused on the building blocks of novel writing: plot, characters, setting, point of view, and all the little details that go together to make a novel work.

Most of the material wasn’t new, as we have covered a lot in the course of the year and a half I’ve been in the group. But it was helpful to put it all together at one time and to share the experience with the diverse group of writers we had in attendance.

During parts of the workshop we were given small little exercises to apply the lesson we were covering at the time, such as “Use this room as a setting for your current WIP.” Or “How could you switch Point of View in current project or in a book you love to improve or change it up?”

One of the things I loved most about the exercises was hearing everyone’s take on the same exercise and how representative the results were of who they are as a writer.

The setting exercise for the Fantasy writer became not the room we were in as I would see it, but as he would imagine it to fit his story. The fluorescent lights didn’t work so it was torch lit. The sounds weren’t kids milling about outside the library conference room but creaky wooden floors as characters paced about in heavy boots.

The non-fiction/Motivational Self Help writer described the room quite beautifully as an incubator for great ideas.

Our Young Adult novelist pictured her character looking in the glass window to the room, filled with curiosity about who and what was in the room.

Each response was similarly fitting to the author’s work. I loved watching that play out because I think we all struggle a bit with finding our own identity as a writer.

Maybe we feel we don’t have a voice as a writer.

Maybe we feel we don’t have a story to tell.

Maybe we feel we lack the talent or the nerve to tell it.

Whatever the doubt may be, the exercises today painted a picture for me of how a writer’s identity can emerge when given the freedom to trust his/her instincts. Of course our leader talked about knowing what the rules are, but once you have all those building blocks, it comes down to trusting your instincts to know what you need to write. So what I walked away with today was that our identity as a writer comes out when we trust ourselves.

Rather than say, I don’t have anything to say, remind yourself that no one else can say what you can, the way you can.

Instead of saying I don’t have the talent to write my story, remember that the only way to uncover talent is to dig in and learn the craft as you continue the work.

I don’t have everything down, I still have lots to learn, I still struggle with doubts, but I know I have stories to tell and I need to tell them. Today’s workshop helped get me closer to embracing my own identity as a writer by reminding me to trust my instincts.

Hopefully you will, too.

Have a great week. 🙂