Arkham (Staying Sane)

Imagination Sing-A-Longs: Why Musicals Recharge the Brain

Musicals indulge all of your senses and reset your brain to create.

Writing is hard work. Let me rephrase that: Writing is HARD work. Maybe it isn’t the most physically demanding career out there – which is why you need to add exercise to your daily routine – but it exhausts the brain. And if you want your mind to keep functioning at peak performance levels, you have to treat it properly. That means feeding it (not junk food, either), granting it appropriate levels of sleep (five-minute power naps don’t count), and taking occasional breaks. No one said you couldn’t feed your imagination when you step away from the computer, though. And musicals – those fantastic creations of acting, music, and song – are one of the best ways to recharge your body and mind, all under the guise of taking a break.

Musical Theatre (Nerd)

In their simplest forms, musicals involve a theatrical production where multiple songs are inserted into the action or even replace the dialogue. And they encompass anything and everything:

  • Book adaptations
    • Bad Cinderella
  • Movie adaptations
    • Aladdin
  • Opera adaptations (I know, technically, you could argue those were already a kind of musical)
    • Aida
  • Cartoon adaptations
    • Annie
  • Comic adaptations
    • You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
  • Music adaptations
    • Green Day’s American Idiot
  • Play adaptations
    • Carousel
  • Real-life adaptations
    • Hamilton

The list goes on and on. And musicals are designed to cater to every kind of audience, whether you’re talking children experiencing their first theatrical performance (Elf), theatre snobs hunting for a classic drama (The Color Purple), or skeptics who need immersion in a hilarious comedy (Avenue Q).

(Yes, I’m a huge theatre nerd, in case you couldn’t tell)

You’ll find shows with minimal sets (Rent) and shows that transform the theatre into another world (Beauty and the Beast). Music that spans the spectrum from every genre (although I’ll admit the new trend seems to be pulling from popular songs). And just because you think you know a story, the show is guaranteed to catch you off-guard with a different twist and presentation (Anastasia).

There literally is something for everyone. And considering we’re discussing works of imaginative genius, that goes double for writers.

Musicals and Writers

I could make this easy and say, “Attend your favorite – or new – musicals and gain inspiration.”

But that isn’t what I’m driving at here.

I don’t actually use my trips to the theatre for inspiration (not intentionally, anyway). They’re part of my self-care routine. Because all I want to do when I step past the doors is breathe in the familiar smells of grease paint and powder. (Okay, fine, no one uses grease paint anymore)

Remember the touch of the velvet curtain against my fingers.

Regain the flutter of excitement in the pit of my stomach as the houselights lower and my inner ear hears the hiss of “Places!”

I’m there to lose myself in the magic and wonder of painted set pieces and costumes. To marvel at the deft coordination of crew members shifting props and costumes in the blink of an eye. And to feel the emotion and power of the actors’ voices filling the auditorium.

For the space of a few hours, I’m transported to other worlds or other times – my imagination lifting me from the soft embrace of my numbered seat and the constant litany of worries and half-formed plots dancing through my head. Nothing matters except for the story playing out in front of me. All of my attention becomes captured by utter strangers I somehow know and care about – deeply.

So that when the lights come up as the curtain closes (actually, that rarely happens these days due to enormous set pieces), I struggle to remember where I am.

But my brain surges with an incredible burst of energy and interest, eager to return to the computer and my story. To infuse the same passion and depth into my characters. I regain my drive and eagerness.

And all I did was sit and watch a show.

Pinning Down My Favorite Musicals

I can hear the question coming: “So, what are your favorite musicals?”

A fair question, too, considering I’m advocating you hunt down your local theatres and scour the playbills.

But I don’t have an answer. Not a reliable one, anyway.

The first musical I saw was Cats. My mom took me when I was in middle school. Not the best seats (we were in the back of the orchestra seating and off to the left), but it didn’t matter. I could hear, and I saw enough of the stage to become enchanted.

Not too surprised there are scratches on my CDs (selections and Original Broadway recording).

Seeing the touring production of Rent in college proved another milestone. Obviously, at that point, our theatre group was discussing producing musicals (and we did perform A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum before I graduated). But sitting a handful of rows back from the stage, speakers blasting in my ears – I have no words. All of us sang the entire ride back from Orlando, gaining looks from strangers each time we stopped.

When another tour came through for the 20th anniversary, I lip-synced and cried through the entire show. (To be fair, I had warned my mom ahead of time)

Watching a lady – who obviously ignored the warning signs everywhere – die of embarrassment during the puppet sex scene RIGHT IN FRONT of her and her young son during Avenue Q remains one of the highlights I’ve taken from Broadway. (Strangely, they didn’t return after Intermission…)

And finally getting to see Hamilton? After shrieking at my husband for placing worry over my being in surgery over getting us tickets?

Musicals mark moments in my life. Choosing a favorite among them is impossible. But I can pinpoint highlights shows have left throughout my personal history.

And the burst of writing frenzy I experienced after watching them.

Can you tell me your favorite show? Or one you’re dying to see?

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