Hobbies are fundamental aspects of ourselves. They help define who we are as individuals; they are the things we choose to immerse ourselves in with what little free time we have. This column aims to explore the vast range of unique and interesting hobbies and pastimes hidden within the Lawrence community, and to grant insight into what makes each Lawrentian unique.
Broadway is known by all as more than a theater in downtown Manhattan. It is the image that comes to mind when one pictures a musical: the red curtain, the stellar score and the masterful performance. As one sits in their finest attire in an auditorium fit for hundreds, they lust for the excellence associated with the name “Broadway.” What they witness is the final draft — the culmination of thousands of hours of excruciating work and dedication — of what has transcended into the realm of perfection. But, there were first drafts to these masterpieces at one point —infant versions that have since grown into what they are today — which we will never see. Senior piano performance major Liam Wood sat down to grant insight into the process of writing musicals.
“It usually starts with one scene or a line,” Wood said. “Something dumb or silly. Musicals are inherently goofy.” He laughed and continued, “Every other minute someone is breaking into song! But, that means you can really do whatever you want, storywise. I throw a bunch of ideas on a page and try to figure out what works, what fits and what does not.”
Wood explained the tragic plot of a musical he wrote for his high school AP biology class. Following a “Romeo and Juliet”-esque forbidden love plot, the self-written, composed and produced music video involves a T cell who falls in love with a Legionella bacterium. “I was really proud of that one,” he said. “It was fun to make and I got a ‘B,’ which I was pretty happy about.”
Wood described the humble origins of his involvement in making musicals, which started in middle school as a way to spice up group assignments. “It started with school projects and presentations in which my group was given leeway as to how the projects could be done,” he said. “We made videos and skits. Eventually, since we were all in the musical department, we started writing and putting songs into these videos.”
As someone who had been playing piano since preschool, writing songs came naturally. Wood described doing a similar project for his piano recital for his junior year at Lawrence. “I pictured myself as an audience member for my recital and thought, ‘I would never want to go to my recital!’,” he said. “And so, I needed to do something interesting. I wrote a quick story, composed five songs and tied it all together.” He added, “I enjoy writing musicals for required projects that would normally be boring. It is adding spice to something that would not have spice in the first place.”
Currently, Wood is taking an independent study course with the topic of writing and composing musicals — the assignment being the first full-length, two-act musical he has attempted to write. “It is hard, I am not going to lie,” he laughed. “I need around 20 songs for a full-length musical. But, I also need to figure out the plot and write the script for both acts on top of writing and composing the songs.” He continued, saying, “Starting something of this caliber, I began with the first scene, figuring out the ambience and tone of the piece. I do not even have a plot, just the world I want this musical to be in. It does not come fast — what I am working on for my independent study comes from an idea I had two years ago. It has evolved since then; every month I would have another idea and add it or change something about the previous one.”
Wood gave the SparkNotes version of his work-in-progress: a murder mystery involving Irish fairies. This diverse collision of worlds is reflected in his musical interests. Such musicals are those written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man responsible for the world-famous production “Hamilton.” Wood admires Miranda’s ability to blend distinct genres together into something wonderful. He mentioned his favorite musical, “In the Heights,” also written by Miranda, which fuses salsa and hip hop into a unique and beautiful sound.
But, such great productions do not come easily. “The hardest thing about making musicals is starting them and ending up with a finished product,” Wood said. “Writing down an idea is super easy — I do that probably once a day, at least —but once you have an idea, you cannot obsess over it being perfect. You have to let it be bad in order for it to grow and expand into something good.” He continued, “Sometimes you have a good idea, but you have to spend time with it, walk away from it and come back to it before you have the perspective essential for it to be good. It’s hard to let it be.”
“Ultimately, “it is a product of who I am,” Wood said in closing. “Musicals helped me get over my fear of singing, which I’d always had trouble with. I had never been in a choir or taken voice lessons, so being forced to go out there and sing changed my perspective on the whole thing.” He continued, “It has made me accept that certain things are going to be bad, that these low production value shows were not going to be amazing. And that is okay! It has helped me find worth where it exists, to find and have fun with it regardless.”