Five years and three months ago, Shakespeare & Company produced Satchmo at the Waldorf, my first play, in Lenox, Massachusetts. An earlier version of Satchmo had previously been staged in Florida in 2011, but the Lenox production was the one that brought the play to the attention of a wider public and led in due course to its being produced off Broadway and throughout America.
I didn’t expect Satchmo to do nearly as well as it has—truth to tell, I never expected it to be produced at all—and I still can’t quite believe that it ended up being a commercial success. I’m proud of that, but I also think that I’ve been realistic about its unexpected success. Among other things, I took it for granted that I wouldn’t have the right to call myself a full-fledged playwright until and unless I managed to write another play that received at least one professional production. So it’s a very big deal for me that Billy and Me, my second play, goes into rehearsal tomorrow morning at Palm Beach Dramaworks, where it will open on December 8. As of this week, in other words, I am officially a playwright.
I’ll be flying down to West Palm Beach later today, and I’m in a state of what can best be described as nervous delight. Few things in the world are as much fun as rehearsing a show—so long as it’s going well. The good news is that I’m feeling optimistic about Billy and Me, at least for now. Bill Hayes, the director, has workshopped the play three times, in the course of which I saw more than enough of Nicholas Richberg and Tom Wahl, the stars, to know that they know what they’re doing and then some. I love Victor Becker’s set designs, and I’m sufficiently familiar with the work of the other members of the design team to expect that their contributions will be no less satisfying. As for Bill, he’s one of my favorite directors, and his plans for the staging sound completely convincing to me.
None of this means that Billy and Me is a sure thing. All I know is that the script is as good as I could make it going into the first rehearsal. Working on Satchmo at the Waldorf taught me that you don’t really know how well a play works until you get into the rehearsal room. That’s when you see for the first time exactly what you’ve got and start to figure out how much more work remains to be done. I wrote the character of Miles Davis into Satchmo after going home from the first rehearsal in Lenox. While I’m not expecting to do anything quite as drastic as that to Billy and Me before opening night, I’m also taking it for granted that we’re in for a day of surprises, some of which may prove to be less than happy. But that’s all right, too: I enjoy solving problems, and I work well under pressure.
Enough, then, with the waiting. It’s time to go into the rehearsal room, close the door behind us, and start playing for keeps. We have five weeks to turn the script of Billy and Me into a show. Ready or not, here we come.
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To order tickets to Billy and Me or for more information about the play and production, go here.