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WORDS, WORDS, WORDS, Part Three of Three

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

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The story version of Prodigal God is a fusion of three different types of writing. It’s a series of theatrical monologues on one level. And on another level, it’s the book of a musical. This adds a layer of complexity to the writing because these monologues must serve the songs and weave them together into a cohesive journey. Simultaneously, the script is also a form of radio theatre (without the cheesy sound effects) because it’s meant to be heard and not seen.

It was unexpectedly painful and difficult to write (but I’ve said that already about all writing). Though the theatrical script for Prodigal God has existed for several years, I decided to start from scratch when writing the story version. I went back to the single most essential detail: a man who had two sons. This became my “in the beginning”. The Elder Brother narration was dropped in favor of an omniscient third person narrator – a modern storyteller. The story was broken down into seven episodes, with songs evenly distributed (and sometimes taken out of original sequence). Making these slight adjustments provided me with the opportunity to let the story come to life again in a new way. That’s always fun and difficult.

Because I knew I was writing it for performance by Morris Ertman, I had the pleasure of being able to stuff words into a specific mouthpiece. As mentioned previously in a post about Morris, he’s a fiery, mystical sort of guy who doesn’t pull his punches or beat around the bush when it comes to telling you what he thinks. (And he likes to sound all of his consonants which is any wordsmith’s dream.) Morris also happens to be a father of two sons (and one daughter), so his performance is quite intimate and personal.

And this was perhaps the most striking discovery of the story version: the Father became the central character, and the daughter’s homecoming became the climax. (Don’t remember a daughter from original parable? That’s called dramatic license.)

Here’s the wordplay I’m left with in the face of all this writing: how many times can you tell a story before you actually tell it? Or, put another way, how many times can you rewrite something before it is considered finished? Let’s extend the question into the future: Once it’s finished, how many times can you retell a story?

The obvious answer to each of these questions is infinity. Which is why I’ve titled these posts “words, words, words”. Our project, like the blogosphere through which it is being delivered, just seems to go on and on and on. And yet…

Prodigal God hasn’t lived fully realized, as it was created to do, in front of a live audience. So as much as I may’ve told the story, rewritten the story, and handed the story over to others to tell over the past 4-6 years, I’m still telling it, as if for the first time.

I’m reminded of jazz artist Sarah Vaughn’s contention that you’re not truly ready to sing a song until you know it so well you’re sick and tired of it. And then the singer’s task is to bring it to life as if singing it for the first time. Any story worth telling is a story worth repeating.

But stories can lose their hold on us and turn into words, words, words on occasion. Which may propel us into the arms of another story. We mysteriously return to the best stories and songs which can speak again in new ways to us, depending on where our personal story has planted us at a given moment. Familiar shoes can comfortably take us into virgin territories so long as we don’t lose them in the back of the closet, surrender them at Goodwill, or throw them away.

A story, regardless of its medium of delivery, is most alive while it is being told and while it is being listened to. It’s all just words, words, words, if no one’s listening or when the creative team stops committing ourselves fully to the telling.

In the album and story versions, this team has committed fully to such telling. And we’ve heard back from many of you who have committed yourselves fully to the listening. Can we strike a deal – will you keep listening so long as we keep telling? And if there’s any storytelling you want to do, by all means, we’re all ears.

 

By: Christopher Grecco

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