Thursday, September 13, 2012

West Slide Story

If you're just tuning in, I am devoting a blog a day to the influences that drove me to spend five years (and counting) mapping out a novel called JIHAD COMIX, which I hope to complete as part of National Novel Writing Month.

I am working my way up to my obsession with Shakespeare, who probably deserves to be the star of all the blogs, but I'm going to start with Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, who were kind enough to write the great musical WEST SIDE STORY for me. 

This piece introduced me to Shakespeare, because my dear mentors Art and Joanne Blum, founders of the beloved and long-lost San Francisco School of the Arts, made sure we studied (and practiced pieces from) this musical while reading ROMEO AND JULIET in our Shakespeare course. Of course, the musical is an adaptation of the play.

Tony and Maria and the Jets and the Sharks had their world; Romeo and Juliet and the Montagues and the Capulets had their world; the two slid in and out of each other.

That's what I remember about discovering Shakespeare and discovering Bernstein/Sondheim: the their sliding in and out of each other. I remember the joy of spotting the similarities between the two works, the joy of finding their sharp differences; the wonder at the sheer audacity of Bernstein and company ripping off ("stealing," as I would say now) a plot by Shakespeare. Could you DO that? Apparently you could. And anyway, it turned out Shakespeare lifted his plot from Bocaccio ... who lifted it from someone else ... who lifted it from someone else ... 


It was about this time (late 1976) that I started writing very bad plays. I still have most of them, upstairs in a metal file cabinet. They're a secret resource. I never show them to anyone else. If I am in an arrogant or self-absorbed mood, which is an event that those who love me can tell you occurs fairly often, I can take those plays out and read them. And that fixes the problem.

What brought the Bernstein/Shakespeare connection to mind was this quote, which I came across yesterday, and which seems appropriate to NaNoWriMo:

  • “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” ― Leonard Bernstein

Alhamdulillah! I've now got both!