Playmill Playlist Sessions
Creator / Arranger
The Playmill Theatre (2018)
I constantly work to create opportunities that best utilize the talents around me. I try to surround myself with talented people, and then let them perform their craft. To continue with that mindset, I crafted a project for the summer of 2018 at The Playmill Theatre titled The Playmill Playlist Sessions. The idea was simple: Create a collection of eight original and new arrangements of beloved songs and medleys for our audience. After all three shows opened for the summer, a new episode in the series would debut every Saturday.
I’ve had the pleasure of writing each arrangement with such
talented people I’ve been blessed to collaborate with. When I started writing the project in December of 2017, I never thought it would become what it is today.
So enjoy not only our collection of songs, but our collection of stories- new stories. Stories that weren’t yet written, but we felt a need to tell.
Poor Unfortunate Souls
Our first video of the series. I personally think Poor Unfortunate Souls is one of the absolute best Disney villain, so I've wanted to do a new take on it for quite some time!
Fun little fact: I'm a certified hypnotist! I've always thought that Ursula was a hypnotic character. And that hypnosis was a method she would use to cast those under her spell. I wanted to write an arrangement that seemed very hypnotic. We learned a lot from this arrangement. What worked, what didn't, and how to improve on the next session.
If I Could Go Back: I'd use a single camera for the live take, and no other added camera angles. One is enough. If we need the additional shots, I'd be sure to use soft fades as transitions instead of the hard cuts.
A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes
It was such a pleasure to be able to write music for individuals that I already knew really well. I've worked with Dave for four summers now, and absolutely love his voice.
After talking with him about what notes are in his sweet spots and how his voice sat in different places, I was ready to begin work on one of the most enchanting songs in the album. I wanted this to be a song that encapsulated what it meant to have a dream. That one dream that you'll do absolutely anything for.
If I Could Go Back: An constant theme of my reflection on the project is the camera. We were very limited to what we had. The entire series was shot with an iPhone. Going back, I wish we had been able to shoot on a proper device.
Part Of Your World
This was one of the first numbers I started writing for the project. Part of Your World is by far my favorite Disney song, so it only made since to do an arrangement of it in my favorite musical style.
This is the video where we really started to get in the groove. Our visual style was set and in place, and we were really beginning to understand what worked and what didn't.
With their vocals so spot on, it's hard to believe this was recorded live. I work with such talented people!
If I Could Go Back: I'm not a pianist. I'm not a piano player. I simply love to play piano. I can't read music, only chords. I love to accompany people, but I have a harder time straying from my sheet music I've written for myself. This is one of those examples where I wish I hadn't been buried in my music. In what I consider to be a wonderful video, just that extra bit of cohesiveness between musicians would've taken it to the next level.
Anything You Can Do / Let's Call The Whole Thing Off
My goal for the entire project was to learn how to effectively collaborate. This song was a perfect example of such. After months of not being able to move forward on the arrangement, I sat down with Scott (the project's guitarist), and we had the entire arrangement fleshed out within the hour, with a reference track ready to send to Sam and Miriam. With this project taking place on top of the thirteen shows we do each week, it's amazing that it comes together at all. But the moment it does is always so incredibly special.
If I Could Go Back: I wish we could've found a better way to handle the mics. We originally had Miriam playing the tambourine live in the piece, but because her mic was picking it up too well, we saved it for a post production recording. The piano, guitar, and both vocalists were recorded live, but the tambourine would've been a nice edition. Not essential, but fun.
The Lord Is Good To Me
I still don't actually know how the original version of this Johnny Appleseed song goes. I tried to stay focused on the new arrangement I was writing, while trusting Abram (the creative director on the project) to help me keep it true to the original.
This song was originally planned to be on the album, then it was removed. We added it back after a scheduling mishap, and I'm so glad we did! It was a video that did really well with our older audiences, and really tapped into their nostalgia.
If I Could Go Back: While I love this arrangement, I wish we could've performed the original piece I had arranged for this week. I just didn't feel confident enough changing it at the last minute to accomodate for the changes with a new vocalist. I wish the stars had aligned, but was relieved we had this already up our sleeves.
Sebastian Love Medley
We broke away from our established camera style on this medley, which was easily our biggest number of the entire series.
15 individually filmed squares synchronized together to create a story highlighting Sebastian and all of his gang's quirky shenanigans.
I had a lot of fun on this original medley, and learned a great deal about planning, scheduling, and directing.
If I Could Go Back: The concept was very fun, but I think I fell short on delivering a quality storytelling experience to the audience. Had our audience been expected to use larger screens, I think this format would've worked. As storytellers, we need to understand our market. I think the arrangement would've fit a different camera style better. Going back, I think I would've elected to do a "Lip Dub" style of video instead. One that would be able to reach more people using smaller screens. The movement and direction wasn't clear enough to direct people where to look. Mickey's 6th commandment (Written by Marty Sklar) is to avoid overload. "Resist the temptation to overload your audience with too much information and too many objects." This rule, among others, were broken in this episode of the series. While the overall response was still positive, a lot of lessons were learned from this week's arrangement.
New York Medley
Our first big, live, group number! A lot was learned this session about scheduling and working with a large group in this epic one-take medley.
One of my favorite moments of the entire project was when the lights shifted and we began filming our first take.
I asked our tap specialist to lay in some tap dancing to act as a percussive element to the track, and then let him loose at the end of the medley where Billy Joel usually features soloists in his live shows.
If I Could Go Back: I was incredibly happy with the production of the video. There are always minute details to be changed, and that's part of the beauty of a live performance. The real issues here were behind the scenes; conflict management issues that had to be dealt with. It was a wonderful lesson of expectations, clear roles, and appeasing others.
Quite easily my favorite number from the entire sessions. Abram and I wanted the song to really amplify the internal conflict Dumbo's mother felt while trying to comfort her child. We wrote the number around the idea of having a Cello as the central instrument to the piece. Everything else would act as support.
We were fortunate enough to be able to work with Dr. Robert Tueller (whose daughter was featured in our cast). He graciously recorded our cello piece, and I couldn't have been happier with his brilliant performance.
If I Could Go Back: Again, camera is a huge thing. I felt our overall production techniques improved every week, but there was only so much our lense could do. Listening to it again, I would've backed off on the reverb just a tad bit more, and I wish we had been able to get the last few girls in the cast to be able to join us on filming day.
The response has been overwhelming! At the time of writing, the series has collected nearly 60,000 views on our theatre’s Facebook page, and even more across other social media platforms. The weekly sessions have even captured the attention of a news station that will be covering a story on the project.
When I began the project, it was clear to me to keep the story central to each arrangement. Story is always my main focus, and this was no exception. That sense of emotional depth to each video has struck a chord (no pun intended) with our viewers. The tenderness and vulnerability in A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes, the hypnotic and subtly wailing guitar of Poor Unfortunate Souls, and the constant shenanigans of The Sebastian Love Medley. Each song has a story, and we’ve made sure to stick to it.
This project has taught me so many things. Rules of composition, the importance of early collaboration, streamlining a process, and how to schedule, direct, and manage a large group of incredibly talented individuals. I love what I do, and the people I’m able to create this art with.
I knew the project would take a significant amount of time to complete. I had been writing the arrangement for over 6 months before we started our first day of filming. Every week was met with constant hours of rehearsal, planning, filming, and editing- and I loved every second of it. I was not expecting it to be such an incredible learning experience. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I could not be more proud of the end result. There's always going to be things I wish I had fixed, changed, and removed- but I will always be proud to put my name to this.
I'm a live entertainment designer, composer, computer programmer, and frozen treat enthusiast with lots of stories to tell and a wide variety of ways I like to tell them.