I often wake up in the middle of the night with what seem like truly inspired ideas. Sometimes I write them down, convinced that in the morning I will be able to turn them into fully-fledged artistic masterpieces. More often than not, I wake up to a barely coherent scribble that has no chance of being turned into anything half-decent, never mind Booker Prize-winning. Even on the rare occasion that my semi-conscious brain hits on something worth articulating, writers’ block ensues and pretty soon the idea has completely disappeared.
Creativity is hard to capture, often passing in an irretrievable moment of brilliance. It is not built on logic, but on something uncontrollable and often inaccessible. How can something that is so innately a part of the creator be so difficult to pin down?
Part of my problem is that my life is not very dramatic. That’s not to say it’s not interesting, but it’s hardly as eventful as the popular culture I immerse myself in – no affairs, no long lost family members, no life-or-death situations, no hospital shoot-outs (yes, I do love Grey’s Anatomy). By no means am I longing for any of these negative things to invade my life; I am simply stating that in a world where everything plods along quite nicely, where am I going to gain the inspiration to create something truly original?
This desire for drama springs from the martyrdom that comes with being a tortured genius – in the words of Queen eulogising the great Freddie Mercury: “only the good die young”. Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Cobain were all consumed by their talent to the point of self-destruction. Take this expectation of being completely messed up and add to it the seeming impossibility of creating something original in a world of copyrighted ideas, and the task of creation doesn’t seem so innate after all. With the romanticised image that surrounds past artists, is it possible to make quite the same impact without sticking your head in an oven?
Well, quite obviously, yes. Plenty of creative-types are making an impact with out pushing themselves to the point of annihilation or wildly plagiarising past greats. The trick comes (not that I have any authority on ‘tricks’ since I have yet to create anything particularly outstanding) with finding something that is inspiring in your everyday life, and twisting it to make it new. Rather than striving for life-altering moments and attempting to construct your creativity around these glimpses of brilliance, search for significance in the ordinary.
To make my point a little clearer, take the extremes of two musical creations: the massive blockbuster Wicked, versus Adam Gwon’s understated Ordinary Days. One requires an absolute suspension of disbelief as you are hit with the spectacles of light, special effects, and a sizeable all-singing, all-dancing cast. The other is simple: accompanied by a tiny orchestra, staged in an intimate theatre and with only four cast members to capture your attention. Yet both are illustrative of great talent and have – for me, at least – an equally resonating impact.
The fact is, songs about the ordinary are the most relatable to for the audience. Take Jason Robert Brown, who has a remarkable talent for encapsulating the feelings of an entire auditorium in a single note. A musical such as The Last Five Years – which sees the stage primarily inhabited by only one person at a time – truly has to make the characters’ inner thoughts hit home in order to make an impact, and Jason Robert Brown has this technique nailed. Anyone who can use the phrase “look, whatever” in one song and “I hate these fucking shoes” in another, and make them both completely resonate, deserves the label of musical genius.
So the real question is: how do I take a casual phrase such as “whatever” and turn it into as something as emotionally hard-hitting as ‘See I’m Smiling’? It’s not just Jason Robert Brown who has done this successfully; whilst ‘Omigod You Guys’ is hardly going to bring the audience to tears, it works as an upbeat and catchy opening to Legally Blonde. When sandwiching a small detail amongst the layers of wider emotional context, the result is something far more complex than a throwaway “whatever”.
Clearly, the balance needs to be hit between the outrageously dull and sensationally dramatic. Whilst I don’t think it’s the best idea to build a masterpiece around a phrase as ridiculously compacted as ‘LOL’ (apparently this has actually been done, and not particularly successfully in the opinion of A Younger Theatre’s Eleanor Turney – case in point?), if done in the right way the ostensibly everyday can become strikingly relevant. Just take Avenue Q; if I left the house without putting on underwear, I would choose to eradicate it from memory, but the 28-second confession ‘I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today’ is totally justified in the circumstances of a sexually charged puppet-based musical.
In the end, creativity is subjective, and accessing that elusive original idea doesn’t require a hardcore drug habit or multiple spouses. I once read that the idea for Harry Potter walked into J.K. Rowling’s head, fully-formed, on a crowded train. Whilst waiting for a similarly profound creative epiphany, I’m going to use the everyday to inspire articles, essays and perhaps even novels that will have at least some impact on the person reading them. Creativity is not limited to the tortured geniuses, but to anyone with the talent to unlock it.