Archive for category Theater

An Exhausting Week: Google Code, Winesburg, Haskell.

Posted by on Friday, 6 March, 2009

What a long week!

I was in San Francisco all week visiting Google teammates, cooking up our latest exciting plans for Project Hosting on Google Code. Our whole team is eagerly awaiting the upcoming Google I/O developer conference in May (for programmers who want to use Google technologies in their own works). Still, it’s really exhausting to sit in conference rooms all day with co-workers while working out designs and strategies.

At the end of that trip, I stopped in Kansas City for a day on the way home to Chicago, to check in on the latest re-mounting of our musical Winesburg, Ohio going up at KC Repertory. (This is a huge production, and you can even hear a sample of a song on the theater’s website.) Andre and I got to rehearse the 5-piece pit orchestra, and listen to an unbelievable cast sing the show. The cast is made up of local folks, Chicago folks, and a bunch of famous Broadway pros. I’ve truly never heard the musical sound better… it just gave me goosebumps hearing the vocal harmonies stack on each other in various climax sections!

Now I’m finally home, and I can try to remind my kids who I am again.

On the plane, though, I finally finished my mini “learning Haskell” project. Because, you know, I wasn’t feeling like enough of an oppressed minority — I had to start teaching myself an elitist functional programming language just for kicks. 🙂 I’m having a blast re-wiring brain to solve problems functionally. I wrote a cute little program to compute a Julia Set on the complex plane. Here’s a sample session with the Haskell interpreter:

*Main> :load complex.hs
[1 of 1] Compiling Main ( complex.hs, interpreted )
Ok, modules loaded: Main.

*Main> let win = ComplexWindow (ComplexNum (-2) 2) (ComplexNum 2 (-2))
0.1 100 100

*Main> juliaWindow (ComplexNum 0.1 0.2) win

In all seriousness: if you’re a programmer, it’s important to always be learning new things and new ways of thinking. It keeps your brain in good shape!

Winesburg, OH in Kansas City, MO

Posted by on Tuesday, 27 May, 2008

In case you forgot, I used to have an active career in as a composer for theater. From 1995-2005 my buddy Andre and I worked our way up the theater ladder, starting as a couple of naive college kids who had written a college rock-musical adaptation based on Dante’s Inferno. We wrote hundreds of scores for plays, and at least five more musicals as contracted by various small theaters. Over the years, though, our career paths slowly diverged. As the theaters got bigger and more professional, rehearsals moved to daytime hours — and thus we had to quit our day jobs to keep going. Andre took the leap to become a “pro” designer; with my family and mortgage, though, I wasn’t able to bring myself to walk away from the lucrative and exciting world of professional software development.

Andre now travels around the country writing scores for dozens of regional theaters, and he’s been gracious enough to let me ride his coattails now and then. When a rare “musical theater” opportunity presents itself, we’ll still work together in the studio like the old days. Since I had a kid in 2005, I’ve had even less time to work with Andre, though we did write a children’s musical adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” for the Steppenwolf theater last year.

The work I’m most proud of, though, was a very dark musical adaptation of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. If you’re not familiar with the book, you should be — it’s a collection of twisted short stories about life in a small town around 1900. Think “Our Town” on crack. Sherwoood Anderson’s book was scandalous when it was released about about 100 years ago, but his groundbreaking style had a (self-admitted) heavy influence on later writers such as Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Faulkner.

In any case, as with all decent musical theater, our “Winesburg” show has gone through numereous evolutionary iterations. It started as a tiny production in 2002, followed by more workshops, followed by a bigger production in Chicago which garnered a regional Jeff Award… then a workshop in NYC, a production by some kids at an arts college in Connecticut, and finally a much larger regional production in Philadelphia which won a Barrymore Award. (The Philly show actually produced box-office royalities, which paid for my banjo!) While I’m skeptical the show will ever go to Broadway, I do hope it gets refined and popular enough to get published and make the rounds at regional theaters around the country.

So: we’re ready for round 7! The show will be playing at the Kansas City Repertory in March 2009. Mark your calendars. One more chance to improve, rewrite, or add new music. I’m pretty excited to be involved again.

Incidentally, this musical is the reason why — about five years ago — I gave up my life as a jazz pianist for folk music on stringed instruments. It was the first show Andre and I had written where the piano plays only a minor role. Many songs have no piano at all, in fact. I remember running rehearsals without Andre, and discovering that certain songs simply couldn’t be rendered at the piano… the only solution was for me to quickly take some guitar lessons. From there, my teacher introduced me bluegrass, and then off I sailed into banjo-land. I’ve not really gone back to the piano since then!

More Goings On

Posted by on Monday, 23 October, 2006

The Subversion Summit was a huge success, you can read various bits about on the shared Subversion developer blog.

I’m currently heads-down, working on a new musical-like chidren’s play — Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, which is opening at the Chicago Children’s Theatre next month.

And finally, a local magazine published an interview of me and my two engineering cohorts at the Google Chicago office. Whee!