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Clews Clues - Act IV (All's Well That Ends...)

RECAP - March 23, 2024

I have one week left in my month-long artists’ residency at La Napoule.


I have written only 1/3 of the play-meets-guided-tour I vowed to finish and present by the end of the residency.
Am I freaking out?
It’s kinda strange - but no, I’m not.

Deadlines, I love.
It’s paralysis and inertia I hate.
Indecisiveness born from fear.

It’s easy to be fear-free here. There’s no “bar.” Not the drinking kind, the professional standard kind.

Me in Marie's hat. She loved costume parties so we get to play dress-up.

I’m in the south of France, not New York. Nelcy, the director of the program, has said there is no output required of us residents. Everyone is sooooo lovely.
But still…in 5 days, it’s Showtime. 20 people watching. I gotta finish this thing.
What is “THIS THING” again?
It’s a first draft 
of a visite théâtralisée 
(a combo play/guided tour)
about Marie and Henry Clews -
 the American chatelains
of the French Château de La Napoule -
their art and lives.


As a good little playright, I have Major Dramatic Questions for the show. I’m a big believer in suspense, to keep the audience desperate for answers to questions. Mine include:

Will Henry get recognition for his art?
Will Marie keep him going, despite his demons?
Will she stay hidden, remain "unsung" – or finally sing out?

And the biggest question/theme of all:
Why did they make their choices – aka -
Why do we do what we do?
But I don’t yet have what I really want:
A sign from Marie and Henry that I'm getting their story "right"
While most everyone else is winding down from the Open Studio on Friday – the culmination of their residency – Saturday 6am, I am up and att’em.

This view never ceases to inspire me. I am here almost every morning. I do some yoga as the sun comes up. Bow to this metaphor.

Fly, he says. Heart wide-open.
Recently, my aging brain has been on my mind (pun intended). Word retrieval snags are my biggest fear.

Anyone else?

Ring a bell?

But now, with my single-pointed focus, the perfect words flow again. The intensity of the final sprint forces my brain to hold all the facts, every dramatic beat.
I have a punch list, like a contractor, of all the moments I don’t want to forget.

My OH NO! Moment

I realize this last “week” is only 5 days long, not 7.

Not a big deal for the others, who are dismantling their installations, documenting their work, taking last-minute field trips.
But I’m not them.
Which, to be honest, I kinda like.
Being the different one.

 Anyone else? Ring a bell?

(St Paddy's Day at O'Sullivan's in La Napoule.)

I really want to include at least one - there will be more down the road (if there is a road).
The very first time I visited here, I had a vision: the gargoyle creatures singing to Henry.
But do I have time to do this? Write the words, the music, record a track?

I spend time in the studio with Henry's creatures. Time I should be writing the real play.

But I totally love these guys!

I dig in.
A song needs a dramatic purpose. What does it achieve? What is the conflict?
How about a fight between the creatures? Between them and Henry?

“Make ME, Henry. Make me FIRST.”

That works. I have the lyric idea.
Now I need the music.



(Feel free to steal my way of cheating.)

Most classical music is in the Public Domain, meaning I can legally "steal" the music and write new words to it.

That’s how Forrest and Wright wrote Stranger in Paradise etc and Rimsky-Korsakov didn’t complain (he was dead).
For this creature song, I need to figure out the right music to "borrow."
O Fortuna from the Carmina Burina!

But too well known.
I want a piece with fewer associations.
I search up "Music that sounds like O Fortuna." My Beloved Google sends me 6 pieces of music.
The one with the simplest melody line is my baby. Borodin's Polovtsian Dances.
Next, I need a second section that offers contrast – either lighter or darker.
I repeat the process from above and the Bacchanale by Saint-Saens.
DANG!  I’ve spent a few hours of valuable play-writing time on this perhaps “impossible dream” of including a song. Remember Henry thinks he’s Don Quixote?
Too bad I can't just sing those - but then I'd have to license them. No time (or $ for that).

Besides - this is fun!!

But again - dang! It’s already dinner time. 7pm. I haven’t stopped since dawn.

I pulled the old person’s version of an all-nighter.
I can’t ignore an elephant in my play-room:

I wrote a show for two people, not just me.
Which I now regret.

I’ll play Joy, the tour guide character.
But it is hard to find a native English-speaking actor down here. Raeden, who read at the Open Studio, is smart and charismatic. But I need someone with training, who can read a script and perform it cold with no rehearsal.

Me and wonderful Raeden at the Open Studio. He wears Marie's fab coat. I wear Beth's blouse from Zara.

A lovely French man who is hooked into the theatre world down here, Jean Bidon (grand-father to Lauriane in the office), goes actor-hunting for me. I need people who really speak English. Pas de problème, he says.
Meanwhile, I send emails to literally everyone I know here in the south of France. Which is not many people, since I’ve been living here only seven months.
Again, it's crazy - I’m not stressing.
I don’t have time.
I spend most of the day on the play, checking items off my punch list.

But then -

I can't resist working on THE SONG!

I print out the music.
Then I play the melody over and over on the piano.
Marie’s piano.
You will get a song, Marie, I promise. You were the singer in this story!
I make a vocab list for the creatures, find rhymes, start giving them personalities based on their physical features.  
By dinner, I’ve got a good start.
I’m still hoping for a sign from Marie and Henry.
In fact, I may have had one…

The day before the Open Studio, while rooting through the closet with the costumes, Lanie from Nashville finds a banker’s box. She opens it (brave girl!). In it, we glimpse hand-written documents. In pencil.
I see “Mumbo Jumbo.”
OMG, it’s the original manuscript for Henry's book!
I close up the box, fast. It's old. Original. I don’t want to mess with it.
For some odd reason, I don’t pursue this possibility for a couple days.
Is it that I don’t want more documents, more research? Is it too late in the game for it?
Or do I want to be more intuitive – ie really creative. Hear real voices.
So I "forget" the box, keep power-writing, crank through my outline.
I present to my loving writers group, which loves what I’m doing.
I present to the tougher group, which loves it, too – with useful critiques.
I haven’t paid off the Treasure Map yet. Why are visitors doing it?
I have “Pick your favorite thing in this room – sketch or describe it.”
I have “What’s the dream you gave up? Or What’s the meanest thing anyone ever said to you?”
I finish! It was fun to do – and it’s funny. Very happy.
Talk to Possibility One from my network. He’s great - but not available Wednesday. How’s Friday?
Uh, no.
Jean finds me one guy. His English is not good enough.
Jean finds me another guy. Ditto. Zut alors.
I’ve made it all the way through the outline to the end!
It’s 64 pages.
Whoa. That’s way too long.
Gotta cut.
Cut what?
Kill your darlings, that’s what they say.
I opt for a glass of rosé first.
Talk to Candidate 2. A Brit, a real actor. So real, he teaches acting and isn’t available.
Talk to Candidate 3, from Jean. He may be “anglophone,” but I can barely understand him.
Jean’s Candidate 4. Even worse than Candidate 3.
Mirabile dictu! I find someone!
The good news: he’s a Native English speaker. Has some dramatic training.
The bad news: he’s my friend’s babysitter. Only 18 years old.
A tad Oedipal to have him play my husband.
But he lands the jokes and does funny old lady voices. He’s hired.
After all that time crafting the song, I nix the idea. It’s too much to ask this young Henry to do with no rehearsal.
Instead, I give Marie a couple snippets from La Boheme, O Sole Mio, Man of La Mancha (gotta have it, with Henry’s fixation).
I’ll sing them myself. Badly, I’m sure. I’m shameless.
I have to know .
I steal valuable time from writing. Get permission to open the box.
I put on the clumsy white muslin gloves.
As I open, the box, I pray: please send me a sign.
It is indeed the original handwritten copy of Mumbo Jumbo. OMG
The first galley. The first type-written copy - on onionskin.

Folders of notes, clippings of stories that inspired them. Photographs. Footnotes. Edits.
All their hard work!
I realize - this is my sign:

They didn’t “channel.”
They worked. Hard.
And that’s what I do. I work. Research. Writing and rewriting.
There's my sign - in black and white. With a little red.

I'm up early, polishing and trimming the script.
I’m not nervous. I'm focused. I’m good.
I print out two scripts, punch and binder them.

2:30 - Henry arrives - aka Freddy. So British! Like "My Fair Lady". But yay - his American accent rocks.
We do a cue-to-cue rehearsal.
He’s awesome. Remembers his blocking, lands the jokes, does funny voices.
4:40pm. 20 people assemble. I’m ready – as ready as possible. Remember: my blessedly low bar?
It went really well!

Yes, it’s too long – 58 pages and 1:45 minutes. A visite théâtralisée needs to be half that.
But people stay engaged throughout. They fill in their Treasure Maps. Laugh at the jokes.
And the folks at the château are pleased. They want me to keep going. I hope to pare it down and share it again as a visite this summer (or even sooner!).
At the same time, I want to keep working on the full-length play version. It could be done in a theatre with projections – and could hold my bigger ideas.
Marie’s memoir was called “Once Upon A Time.” A fairytale version of their lives.
My last question of the Treasure Map was, “What would you title your memoir?
I was thrilled people warmed to this last question. There were some amazing answers. Which I should have written down :(

MIne might be "The F Word." F for Focus. And for Finish. My bugaboos. There are too many bright and shiny objects in my to-pile. Too many stories of Forgotten Women of France clamoring to be told.

But on this residency, I had one object:
Marie and Henry.
I focused. And finished.

I’ve never been happier

(ok, my wedding and the birth of my son might have the edge.  A slight one).


Do one thing and one thing only

for a while

for me



What would be the TITLE
of YOUR memoir?

Share below. Please.
Even anonymously.

I got the gig! I’m going back in July to present the visite - three times!
Gotta cut it down almost by half.
Gotta write real songs.
Gotta translate it into French. (only one presentation will be in English)
Gotta go – I’ve got my work cut out for me!

Can't wait to be back at the château with these lovely people!

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Jun 01

Loved the post, Beth. The creative process is endlessly fascinating and you’ve given us a nice close up of yours. How generous! And congrats on your return engagement, which will no doubt contain a new set of discoveries.


May 29
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I love your recap, Beth, and especially the Treasure Map! I’m not sure about my memoir just yet and that’s OK cuz (I hope!) there’s still a chapter or two to be written. “I Should’ve Been There,” maybe, or “How’d That Happen?”

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