Random Acts of Kindness Song Cycle: Song Briefs
Random Acts of Kindness (working title) is a new musical conceived by composer/lyricist Tim Gilvin. It will be a song cycle inspired by the idea that small acts of kindness can create large change. Having done an initial general call out for original songs about kindness, Tim has been working with dramaturg Amy Draper to hone the idea and structure based on the responses we received. We now have a first draft of a loose story or through-line, and we have 4 more song spots that we need to fill.
The show takes place in an unnamed mid-sized town that would be recognisable anywhere in the UK. We are in the children’s section of a library. It has seen better days – the carpets are slightly threadbare and the selection of books a little tired. There is a librarian’s desk, a community noticeboard, lots of tables and chairs (adult and child size), a few faded beanbags and an old computer with a wired mouse.
The library building has recently been sold off to a large corporation, who want to turn it into flats. Although the library itself lacks resources, it is an important community hub, and our group of characters – mainly strangers at the start of the show – come together in order to save it. They all have very different reasons for wanting to.
The four songs below are all essentially solos, some with interjections from the ensemble. We are currently looking at having a cast of 11 actor-musicians. The songs either contain acts of kindness, or challenge the idea of what an “act of kindness” is (although these acts don’t need to be at the foreground of your writing). The songs can be written in any style, and in fact we are interested in less standard “musical theatre” genres as well as more traditional approaches.
Below are detailed song briefs for the following songs, which we very much hope will inspire you. The titles are very much “working titles” and so we would encourage you to change those if you would like to. The 4 songs are:
- Tea and Biscuits
- This Book
- What Goes Around
Song One: Working Title – Tea and Biscuits
Character: Kay, female identifying, 57, any ethnicity
Kay is the librarian. She has worked there for about 15 years, following a previous career working in bookshops. She is passionate about the need for local libraries, but has seen her resources and facilities get fewer and fewer in the last decade. When the local community centre closed the library became a stopgap home for many groups (eg the WI, toddler playgroup, Crisis meetings) which have diluted her ability to grow the library. As it has become less resourced, it has obviously been used less, and this vicious circle keeps Kay up at night.
She is polite, eloquent and university educated (she read English Literature at York before returning home), has a quick witty sense of humour and a steely determination. She prefers books to computers but loves people as much as she loves books. She has felt a little overwhelmed by the pace of technology in recent years. She isn’t good at delegating. She isn’t “fusty”, she was a child of the 60s and, if anything, still has something of the alternative about her. She has an allotment but sometimes it’s just easier to get a ready meal from Tesco.
At the start of the piece she finds herself, out of necessity, in an “alpha” position of having brought all these people together and her journey involves learning that her voice is as important as those she enables.
She lives with her partner a 20-minute walk from the library and never had children of her own, which was always a regret. Her greatest fear is the library closing.
Summary: Kay reflects on why the library is so important as she sets up the space and welcomes the new group
Context: The library building has been bought by a big company to turn into flats. Kay has done a call out on social media to rally local residents and library users to come together to try and save it. This is the first meeting. She doesn’t know how many people will turn up, if any, and she’s never done anything like this before.
Details: Kay’s inner monologue as she sets up the space, reflecting on why the library is so important to her, and also its value to the wider community. How it’s been losing funding and resources over the years and she has felt powerless. “This is my second home” It’s a quiet place that is loud with voices and opinions. You could change the world in a library, and that’s what she needs to do today.
As she sets up the chairs and tables and puts out rich tea biscuits, she also starts to greet the group as they arrive in dribs and drabs. They mostly arrive alone and are slightly wary. She greets them, tells them where to sit – “help yourself to a rich tea” etc. These comments could be sung, or there could be space left in the song for dialogue. No need to write their responses. There are up to 9 group members.
Who is she singing to: Mainly to herself with the occasional comment of welcome to a group member arriving. She knows/recognises about half of the group.
Objectives: To remind herself why this is important even though she is scared. To galvanise/ready herself.
Obstacles: Her nerves and lack of confidence. She has never done anything like this and has no experience with activism. She is worried no one will show up.
By the end of the song all 9 participants have arrived and are sat awkwardly around the room. Kay is spurred on by their attendance and ready to welcome them officially.
Song Two: Working Title – Crisis
Character: Ari, male identifying, 32, British-Asian
Ari grew up in Kidderminster, where he had a loud and playful childhood before his parents separated when he was ten. He then moved with his mother and two brothers to just outside Ilford. He became quiet and withdrawn and was bullied at school. His mother found it hard to cope. He left school at 16, despite getting good grades, to work as a labourer to help his mum. However, money was difficult. The final blow came when his mother became ill and died quite suddenly when he was just 18. His younger brothers were taken in by relatives as they were underage, but he was expected to fend for himself and ended up sofa surfing. When the good will of his friends ran out, he wasn’t stable enough to keep his job and eventually ended up sleeping rough, which he did on and off for 5 years, spending some time in local hostels. It was during a particularly difficult winter when he was 23 that he ended up at Malachi Place, which provided him with more security and enabled him, over 2 years to straighten up. They helped him into his own accommodation and work and, by 28 he was working at Crisis.
He is a positive person, softly spoken and bright eyed. He just wants to make a better life for himself and those experiencing the same. He is naturally friendly, hates confrontation and loves nights on the sofa with a takeaway and boxset. His greatest fear is ending up back on the streets.
Summary: Ari shares a personal story of how sometimes small change can make a big difference. https://www.ilfordrecorder.co.uk/news/first-tenants-move-into-malachi-place-1-6529535
Context: The group are meeting for the second time. Their petition against the closure of the library has been successful in that they are now preparing to meet with a representative from the company that has bought the building. However, they are out of their comfort zone and pessimistic about their chances to make change and Ari, who is advocating for strong communication over escalating their activism, shares his story. He tells the story of how Malachi Place was set up, along with the story of how it helped him. The group have not heard of Malachi Place before this.
Details: It’s the story of how one 5-year old’s tiny act of kindness led to a new hostel for the homeless to be built. It’s personal because Ari was homeless and ended up living there – it helped him change his own life around. Now he works for Crisis and helps others.
Who is he singing to: The whole group except for Craig, who is outside smoking. He doesn’t know them well but they have had one meeting before a couple of weeks ago.
Objectives: to encourage and calm the group – to convince them that together they can save the library. To convince them of the power of communication rather than activism. By the end of the song, the group are feeling positive and focussed. Jason has been quietened and Ari feels listened to.
– the group are nervy and energised
– his own nerves about sharing such a personal story with a new group of people
– Jason, a political activist, interjects a few times advocating for action over communication – these interjections can be through song or just space left for them as dialogue.
Song Three: Working Title – This Book
Character: Beth, female identifying, 17, any ethnicity
She is a shy teenager who loves reading but is embarrassed to use the school library (or the school library has closed / doesn’t have a big enough collection) and so uses the library as a place of solace. She reads Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Oscar Wilde, Angela Davis, Virginia Woolf. She lives with her father, step-mother and older brother, who largely keep themselves to themselves and give her a good degree of independence. She has been on a journey of self-reflection over the past couple of years, and although she has been attending pride marches (on her own) for the last two years, she has only recently come to the firm conclusion that she is gay. Although she is open about going to marches, sewing a pride flag on to her backpack etc., she has not had an open conversation about this with her family. She has a few friends, but does not actively socialise. She likes drawing and rock-climbing.
Summary: This is a song about the passing on of objects. The group has decided that Beth would make a good spokesperson for the library, but Beth isn’t sure what to say. When Kay, the librarian, prompts her to say why she values the library, she pulls a book out of her bag and begins to think about books themselves. Beth is clearly unsure of herself when speaking in front of the group.
Objectives: To find something to say about the importance of the library.
Obstacles: Getting lost in her own thoughts. Not everyone in the group has a deep love of books like she does. Afraid of public speaking. She needs to communicate to them how a book is a vehicle for a sharing of experience, ideas and emotions. The attention of the group might begin to wane at points.
Who they are singing to: This could be sung entirely to the group, but could dip into inner monologue at points. (It might even work entirely in inner monologue).
Details: The book Beth pulls out of her bag is an old library book. Glued to the inside of the plastic dust cover there are a few library stamp sheets (stuck on top of one another) with the dates of borrowing. These stamps tell their own stories of how this book has been passed through many hands, and how the ideas of the writer of this book have entered the hearts and minds of this many people. There may also be a name inscribed in the book, implying that the book was second hand when the library acquired it. The song starts as being about passing on and sharing books, but gradually becomes more of a song about the passing on and sharing of ideas.
Song Four: Working Title – What Goes Around
Character: Ed, male-identifying, 78, white
Ed lives alone with four cats, having never married. He has a degree in history from King’s College, which he obtained in 1963. He worked as a civil servant for 20 years before moving out of London to work as the finance officer for a railway museum until he retired in 2004. He went on the first pride march in 1972 (he bonds with Beth over this point elsewhere in the show). He had a relationship with a junior cabinet minister for several months in the sixties but has never had a long-term relationship.
Summary: This is a song about how things go in cycles. Ed is offered a tupperware freezer meal by Agnes, a lady from the WI, and he feels slightly offended by this; he feels like he is old but not that old (respect your elders). He says that the group shouldn’t be mollycoddling him or sidelining him, but asking his advice, as he has lived through successive governments, times of revolution and of conservatism / building and dismantling.
Objectives: Retaliate against the offence he has felt at being offered a freezer meal (and the tacit assumption that he is too old to be of value). Ed seeks to show off the amount of knowledge he has and disprove this.
Obstacles: He is not meaning to seem unkind, but his firmness might further alienate the group. He sees the group’s optimism as delusion. The fear of not being respected.
Details: “I don’t need patronising. Let me tell you about the times I’ve lived through. Respect your elders…” This is a song about how governments have done good things in the past (e.g. building/funding libraries and community centres) but that he has lived long enough to see those acts of kindness/benevolence undone and redone. From the optimism of the 1960s and 1990s, the economic problems of the 1970s and 2010s, the strikes of the 1980s; things come round again. He specifically makes a point about libraries, which have been underfunded in recent years, but it was the Public Libraries and Museums Act of 1964 which effectively created the library as we know it today. Governments give and they take away. http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/2014/07/time-for-a-new-public-libraries-and-museums-act/
This song could include any examples from history of things moving in cycles, but some food for thought is: The library of Alexandria was built over several centuries, but gradually fell into decline before being destroyed by fire. From the 20th and 21st centuries, other things that have gone and come back could be: music (Funk and Disco music have come in and out of the pop world); racism (ever-present, but specific waves of racism against bangladeshis, jews, muslims, Irish perhaps); fascism (1930s vs. 2010s); women’s rights (women marching in the ‘60s with no make-up vs. Britney Spears in 2000.) Ed’s train of thought might perhaps not be the most direct. He doesn’t set out to be negative, but his final point is that things don’t change (or at least, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”).
One potential way of structuring this could be as an ensemble number: a member of the group offers something optimistic positive (the creation of the NHS), and Ed offers the negative (its unsustainable rising cost).
Writers may submit anything from one to four songs per individual, based on one or more of the above briefs for consideration, whether written solely by them, or in collaboration with others (i.e. a writer might submit a maximum of four songs each written with the same, or different, collaborators).
Please send each song submission in a separate email, and include the following:
1. an mp3 demo
2. a lyric sheet (Word doc or pdf)
3. indicate which song brief you have written to.
Email your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org and ensure you enter the following as the subject line of your email:
10 to 4 Productions – Round Two Song Submission
The deadline for submissions is 10am on Friday 28th August 2020
Note: The intention is for a production of the resulting show and, should this be the case, all participating writers will receive appropriate royalties. 10 To 4 Productions will option the selected material for three years initially, with a two year extension and if there is a production writers will receive standard royalties. If for any reason no production can take place in this time, rights return to the authors. All materials not selected of course remain the property of the writers.