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Some of you may ask: What on earth is “Seven Lively Arts” supposed to mean?

Well, that’s a reasonable question. And there’s a short answer, and there’s a long answer.


Short answer:

It’s the opposite of Seven Deadly Sins! (I kind of love the idea of the arts being the opposite of death.)


Long answer:

“The Seven Lively Arts” was a book written by respected cultural critic Gilbert Seldes in 1923. It was the first time that popular entertainments were given the intelligent appraisal and analysis that is usually afforded to the fine arts.

2014.7.17 Gilbert Seldes

Gilbert Seldes | Photo by Carl Van Vechten


The book included chapters on jazz, silent comedies, comic strips and more. What it did not include, however, was a definitive list of which particular arts to which the “Seven” referred.  He wrote, “There were those who thought (correctly) that you couldn’t find seven and there were those who felt (stuffily) that the seven were not arts. Lively was for the most part unchallenged. The sacred 7 came from the classics, from ‘the seven arts’… and I never tried to categorize the contents of the book to conform to the figure.”

So that is where the name comes from—both the intelligent analysis and application of popular art forms, and the embracing of a wide variety of art forms under that umbrella.

Is theater one of the seven lively arts? Filmmaking? Street performance? Museum design? Historical reenactment? Taxidermy? Science fair projects? Jewelry making? Penmanship? Origami? Line dancing? Anthropomorphic insect shadow box making?


2014.7.17 Insect Shadowbox

Photo by ObservatoryRoom.org


Another project on the table is a peaceful coup.

Specifically, I am in the process of becoming the new president of a 100+-year-old music club, called Musical Research Society.

I had plenty of interaction with the club when I was a child. My mother was a member, I performed at meetings, and received scholarships from them. And somehow, Musical Research Society just made its way into my heart.

Over the ensuing two decades since I graduated from high school, the club has seen a decline in membership. Like many social and service clubs around the country, membership is aging, and a new generation of members has not stepped in to participate. And of course, over the years I have had many ideas on how to re-energize the club. Ideas which I may have sent to their board of directors in long, rambling letters.

And now, somehow, beyond any reasonable explanation, I am living back in my hometown and am stepping up to see if I can actually bring about this club renaissance I’ve dreamed about for so long.

The first step has been assembling a new board, and I am very happy with the talented, brilliant people who have been willing to serve—including my mother, a past president of the club who has a skill for planning club meetings that are entertaining, heartfelt and very welcoming.

So now, as we start to work on the business of getting things ready for our new season that starts in the fall, my mind wanders pretty quickly to the myriad of possible projects to offer.

Some seem like clear winners, and not hugely intensive to carry out:

  • We could create groups that function like book clubs, but to study music. Each month a small group might meet to discuss a new composer, or a specific symphony. I might lead a group that discusses a new musical each month.
  • We could start a series of concerts for area music students to perform in rest homes. It would provide a great opportunity for service and to practice performing, as well as being a blessing for the residents.

Other ideas are more ambitious, and may take time and fundraising before they are possible:

  • I would like us to be able to set up an amateur orchestra for all of those people who played an instrument in high school but haven’t had an opportunity to use it since then. It would be a welcoming sort of performing troupe, more focused on enjoying the shared musical experience than on being polished. (My inspiration is the Scotland’s Really Terrible Orchestra, which is so popular that it has toured internationally.)

But one of the big questions is, what would people actually be interested in doing? What activities are so compelling that people in this city would be willing to make time to put a little more music in their lives? All of the lovely ideas in the world won’t matter if no one wants to come play.

What musical activities do you wish you had in your life?

Last night I had a phone meeting with my writing partner, composer Scott Murphy, and a friend named Kate Garst. Kate was on the producing team behind The Bridges of Madison County, and has been a long-time fan and supporter of our work.

This meeting was to talk about our Kickstarter goals, and how to best make them happen.

One of the key things I took away from the meeting was the fact that we, as a team, need to have an online presence already established before we try Kickstarting anything. Or rather, that we probably should have set up an online presence, oh, maybe a decade ago.

We’re not rock stars in the self-promotion department, Scott and I. Scott has always espoused the belief that if you produce good work, then someone else will do the promotion for you.

That’s how the traditional concept of “getting discovered” or “getting your big break” works, right? And yet, there are so many voices out there, and they all have the tools to be heard much better than ever before.

So, I created… a Facebook page. (Oooooooh.) And a Twitter account. (Aaaaaaaaaah.)

Yeah, I know, it’s not cutting edge. But I am excited to have a way to connect with our fans and share the things we are working on.

If you would like to learn more about my musical theater writing, you can follow “Scott Murphy and Nathan Christensen” on Facebook, or @ScottAndNathan on Twitter.

A lot of people think of me as a “theater person” or a “music person.” And those people are probably confused when I spend a lot of my time running off in other directions.

What really excites me is creating experiences. That’s part of why I like the name Seven Lively Arts—because it doesn’t pin itself down to one particular discipline.

For example: The Hearst Collection

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Photo Credit: LA Times

The name may sound like a fine art gallery, but it’s actually more like your most thrilling, Mission Impossible dreams. The “gallery” is protected by a network of laser security sensors, and it is your job, as a world-class art thief, to navigate your way through the maze without triggering the alarms.

What a cool experience, right? To get to play out in the real world the kind of adventure we only see in the movies?

Watch THIS: http://youtu.be/PLVExmAs520

What if we brought The Hearst Collection to Bartlesville? Do you know people who would pay to come have a fun experience like this?

One of my favorite creative enterprises out there in the world is a company in the UK called Secret Cinema.

Every couple of months they have a very special movie screening—except you don’t know what the movie is! (Well, these days it’s not much of a secret, but that’s still the concept.) Instead, what you are given is the dress code and (at the last minute) the location.

And instead of just going to watch a movie, what you get is an immersive experience. You dress in ‘80s style and wander through a building watching scenes from Ghostbusters being reenacted before making your way into the large screening room. You make your way into a speakeasy for Bugsy Malone, where the climactic cream pie fight is interrupted so that the entire audience can have its own cream pie fight.

Secret Cinema is on my mind today because of this new addition to their offerings: costume pop-up shop for those who want to come in their best Back to the Future attire.

What a brilliant idea! Both as a business and as a creative endeavor.

What makes Secret Cinema so extraordinary is that it is offering what film itself never really does—an authentic experience. I love movies, but you would never mistake watching one for actually doing the things depicted. But we live in a world so full of media that it is easy to fill our time and forget that we are missing out on something authentic.

Here, we are offered some entertainment that is also something we can participate in.  Something we can experience. And because these are films with which we all have an existing familiarity, it becomes a shared, collective moment, like theater or church.

If film can adopt the practices of theater in order to give us a revolutionary new experience, what techniques does theater need to play with in order to remind us that it is more than watching a movie on stage?

As a follow-up to yesterday’s thinking about creative CD packaging: today my mind flashed back to something I came across a couple years ago. Somehow, I found this right as the concept was being announced—it wasn’t even available for sale yet.

playbutton 1

Designed by: Fabio Kawabe

It’s called the Playbutton. Basically, it’s a tiny mp3 player in the form of a pin-backed button.

Sounds simple—except where else have you seen it done? You can customize the graphic with whatever image you want, and in back are buttons for play/pause, skip forward, and skip back, as well as a headphone jack.

Imagine having a whole album tucked into such a stylish little package! How cool it would look to have your headphones plugged directly into this badge celebrating music that you love?!

I’m really excited about this idea, and think it should definitely be one of our rewards. What do you think? Would you like one of these that plays the cast album of Broadcast?

I’m continuing to puzzle on the Kickstarter for a Broadcast studio cast album.

In Kickstarter, people can buy into your project at various levels—different amounts of money will get you rewards ranging from thank you cards to invitations to exclusive events and more.

I thought about how, these days, we primarily buy our music digitally. So a digital download of our recording would be the “standard” purchase.

A physical CD will also (theoretically) be available, but what could be done to increase its value, so that it doesn’t just feel outdated, but truly special. My first thought went to packing—for example, a letterpressed CD case would have that special, handcrafted feeling that would set it apart.

So I went online to look at letterpress companies that do CD cases.

There’s THIS ONE:

package 1

And… what I realized was that I had no idea what I was doing. Sure, the pictures were pretty, but there are thousands of different kinds of paper and inks to choose from, not to mention all of the different kinds of CD case layouts.

So I went to an expert: a graphic designer who works with me at UncommonGoods named Hannelore McElheny. Hannelore happens to be knowledgeable in the areas of both letterpress and package design.

Hannelore said my instincts were correct, and that the packaging could really elevate my CDs to be something unique. She liked the letterpress idea, but also had a much wilder notion. She suggested packaging the CDs within some kind of found object. She didn’t know this is a musical about radio, so her suggestions included a vintage wooden box, cigarette case or handbag.

I immediately headed over to eBay, wondering what kind of radio collectible could be used to package a CD.

Believe it or not, I found these—which would be glorious.

package 2

That is an old radio loudspeaker. Can you imagine receiving a CD packaged in something so glorious? Sadly, there are not many of this kind of thing available, and they can get pretty pricey.

But some further searching took me down the rabbit hole of “portable tube radios”, and I think they have some potential as well.

package 3

How charming is that?! I don’t have any idea yet how you would actually use it to house a CD, but what better home for a musical about the history of radio?

Then I found this one:

package 4

The question remains, though, just how to convert something into packaging for a radio? And what is it that needs to be done to them that “elevates” them, and makes them different from just buying one of these things on eBay for yourself?

What do you think would transform these old radios into must-have, collectible presentation cases?

Today I’m making bits of progress on my Kickstarter fundraising campaign.

Kickstarter is a “crowdfunding” platform that essentially lets you raise money for projects by having people purchase in advance. The project that I want to raise money for is a professional-quality, studio cast album of my musical Broadcast.


In order to raise money effectively, though, there’s a lot of advance planning that has to happen. This includes making a budget, and since numbers are not one of my strong points, I am grateful for friends who possess the skills that I lack.

Today I reached out to my friend, the multi-talented Farah Alvin. In addition to being the nutritionist who helped me to lose 70 pounds so far, she was also one of the actors who performed in our workshop of Broadcast at the National Music Theater Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in 2013.

Farah has performed on a lot of recordings, and is going help as a kind of consultant on the recording side of this project.

My first question: How much should I be paying my actors? Some people would be willing to do this for free, but I am a firm believer in paying people for their work.

Her first suggestion was paying $100 per song. That sounds like a lot of money, but once you factor in rehearsal time, practice time at home, and time in the recording studio, it doesn’t work out to much of an hourly rate.

So… if I paid every actor $100 for each song they perform in, that would work out to… (gears grinding as I attempt to do math, and then give up and set up a spreadsheet) …$6400.


That took my breath away at first. And while further discussion brought that number down a bit, it was a reminder of how much it actually costs to make a professional recording—and of why we will need to be fundraising for it in the first place.

Among the many things I’m working on, I am currently in the process of becoming president of a 100-year-old music club in my hometown. Called Musical Research Society, it is an organization dear to my heart. Like a lot of cultural organizations over the past couple of decades, this one has been dwindling, and it is my goal to revitalize it, and help it connect with a new generation of music lovers.

Today my mind has been on the subject of branding—specifically, the idea of giving the club a logo. (I should point out that I am not yet the elected president, and even if I were, this kind of thing would be decided by committee. But that has never stopped my imagination, so this is just what I have been pondering.)

The club began in 1908, so I feel like the logo should evoke that history. I love the scrollwork you see on some vintage logos.


As well as the richly detailed typefaces and the flourishes that might frame a logotype.


I’m also aware that a horizontally aligned logo will be a lot more versatile than a vertically aligned one. This one below is gorgeous, and makes a great title page, but would be really tough to use as a letterhead.


I had figured that, if we wanted something that hearkened back to this style, that we would need someone to hand letter us a logo, which would be very expensive. But today I discovered that such things exist premade and pretty affordably.
Here are some of the best that I found. Try to imagine these with the name “Musical Research Society”.

StarlingMemory on Etsy.com, by designer Em Armstrong

Her designs somehow manage to feel both vintage and youthful. I like how welcoming they feel.

Option 1:


Option 2:


Option 3:



Logomotive on Etsy.com, by designer StevieM

These feel very clean and professional, and also grand and expansive somehow. This first one is one at the top of my list. “Musical Research” would be large in the center, and “Society” would be slightly smaller (though bigger than in the demo) right below.

Option 1:


The next one I think would be really cool, but I’m not sure how the club name would fit in the shape of it.

Option 2:



Cruzine on CreativeMarket.com, by Peter Olexa

This guy does some pretty extraordinary and intricate work. This is very different from the other two designers. I love that it harks back to the art deco and art nouveau of the early 20th century, but I wonder if maybe it’s too complex.

This is a whole package of logos to work with:


He also does some that feel more ‘40s-era:


Not sure yet which direction I think we should go. What do you think?

Tonight was our 12th celebration of Miracle Mike.




Miracle Mike was, of course, a Vaudeville star back in 1945, following an unfortunate missed chop by his farmer. With the ax just barely missing his brain stem, he lived another 18 months without his head.

It’s a story of valiance and courage to be honored!

We honored Miracle Mike the Headless Chicken with a game of strategy by playing Angry Peeps:





And a game of agility (pecking at paper bags):


And a game of courage (egg roulette):


We finished with a game of wits and creativity (a contest of sock puppet plays):






There was lots of time for visiting, plenty of food, and prizes!






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