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Director's Statement

by Wren Ross
Wren Ross photo

One April morning in 2006, I was reading The Boston Globe and uncharacteristically turned to the obituary pages. I was taken by the photo of a beautifully radiant woman and this headline: “Marilyn Clayton-Felt had an unstoppable creativity that propelled her work as a researcher and curriculum developer and a playwright, activities she immersed herself in until her death this week at age 68.”

I cut out the notice and showed it to my partner, Daena, who agreed with me that we would have liked this educator and playwright very much. I’ve never cut out an obituary of a stranger before, nor have I done it since.

A year later, George Lukas, (whom I had never met), contacted me and eventually asked me to direct Lightsong, a radio play written by his wife Marilyn Felt, about her gifted son Josh who tragically died young. After I got over my surprise, I realized that this was going to be my opportunity to get to know Marilyn, and in a way, become her friend.

When I first heard Josh sing, “Waiting to Be” on the Josh Clayton-Felt website homepage, I was moved to tears by his beautiful melodies, pure heart and intimate insights:

Cause you're waiting to be
What you already are
You're the only one left in your way
Waiting to be
What you've been from the start
And you don't want to wait another day

It hit me that I wanted the process of working on Lightsong to be a celebration of the creative process so that each of us involved in the project could fully be “what we already are.”

Knowing that Josh created a supportive and playful atmosphere when he rehearsed, performed and recorded inspired me to do the same. I wanted everyone to enjoy the process because, like Josh, I believe that people do their best work when they are having a good time. Both Marilyn and Josh were adventurers on the creative path and often opted to follow their muse and choose the road not taken. How could we do less in their tribute?

This project was a delightful labor of love. Right from the start, the audition process set the tone of festivity and freedom to take risks. I was so fortunate to have Daena Giardella, a master improviser, collaborate with me as Assistant Director. She helped me set up improvisational scenes for the auditioning actors, as well as read opposite them. It was the most enjoyable audition process I’ve ever experienced, with the only downside having to choose the cast because there was so much excellent talent to select from.

The Lightsong ensemble members were not only brilliantly talented, but it was great to hang out with each person. There was lots of laughter, stories, music, and even some dancing and singing. Rehearsals and recording sessions often felt like a party that just so happened to be productive in the end.

Because we were working with a new form of media, a podcast, and hadn’t set a deadline or opening night, there was an expansive feeling of time, which gave the cast and me more freedom to explore and develop the characters in the play. And character exploration was to be very important to this project since the medium was purely audio. Using only voices and sound effects, we wanted to make the people in the play specific and recognizable so that the listener can see the character and their environment vividly in their imagination.

In addition to interviewing the real people close to Josh to hear stories about him and the other roles in the story, and collecting photos and videos, we relied heavily on improvisation for character investigation.

We began by asking a lot of questions about the characters in the script and then answering them through improvised scenes: Who are they? What do they want? Why do they want it? What is their relationship to their listener? What they are doing in the scene? What did they just do the moment before the scene began and what will they do the moment the scene is over?

It is exciting to investigate the moments in between the words of the script. This exploration is infinite and keeps the acting process fresh—there’s always more to discover about the role you are playing.

I got the actors up on their feet to improvise the scenes generated by these questions so that they could experience the action and feel what it is like to be inside their character’s skin. For instance, I wanted Josh and Alex to explore the beginning of their friendship, so I set up scenes where they met at Hebrew school when they were eight years old and another scene when they went to their first school dance. Another improvisation explored how they played music in Josh’s garage. That way, the actors could actually feel their character’s history in their body and form memories to draw upon when they were speaking dialogue.

Sometimes if I needed to loosen the actors up and get them out of their heads, I’d ask them to sing the script as though it was a musical comedy, or an opera, or a country western tune. Or I might invite the actors to do their script as though they were super heroes using super hero gestures. Or I would invite them to use expletives (one of their favorites!). After laughing and playing, they invariably found more vocal variety and emotional nuance in their scene.

When I look back, was it an accident that I first “met” Marilyn through her obituary? Maybe there is a message in it. A well-known phrase keeps echoing in my head: “We are not here for a long time. We are here for a good time.” There is nothing like death to remind us to be alive and seize the moment.

When Josh died, Marilyn felt compelled to write “Lightsong” as a way to pour out her soul filled with profound grief and love. The creative process was her medicine through her own journey with cancer. The process of making objects and statements of beauty and truth gives us hope and inspiration. It’s also a way to try to make sense of this often-difficult world. We can find our good times while we are creating and experiencing art.

My wish for you, the listener of Lightsong, is that you will hear this story and feel inspired to sing, dance, tell stories and make art. Whatever you are burning to say––– express and create it…now.

Like Josh says…

You don't have to wait any more for your ship to come in
You got to build your boat
You got to dream your dream
And raise your sail to the wind
Ride the ocean within
When your lips move
Yeah your heart sings
And I hear every word you say
Cause you're waiting to be
What you already are
You're the only one left in your way
Waiting to be
What you've been from the start
And you don't have to wait another day