Caught in the Middle: A musical filled with stolen words, purloined ideas, and personal philosophy

I spent this weekend watching the first two productions of Caught in the Middle, a musical that my writing partner, Andy Mayo, and I wrote about life in middle school. It was produced in full for the first time ever by a local theater company.

This was the second show that I have written that I was able to see performed onstage, and it never disappoints. 

It's thrilling, to be honest. The writing isn't always fun, and getting it produced can be a pain in the ass (though truthfully, it's my partner's pain in the ass), but the final results are fantastic.

I wrote this show more than two years ago, and while I remembered the story and its characters, I didn't really remember it. With about ten minutes to go in the show, I found myself wondering, "How is this thing going to end?"

It's also fascinating the listen to the influences and personal history that I have embedded within the story and the dialogue. Watching the show was like peeking through a notebook full of thoughts and ideas that I have espoused, stolen, appropriated, or admired over the years. 

I heard myself in the voices of many of the characters, speaking about the nature of teaching, the sadness associated with growing up, my ever-present existential crisis, my internal struggle for meaning in this life, and the absurdity of homework.

I heard the words of my colleague of almost two decades, Donna Gosk, on the nature of getting older - words that were originally spoken by her late mother.

I heard the voices of so many of my former students as they return to elementary school after having been away for a year or two in middle school. 

I heard a haiku that appeared in the New York Times years ago that continues own a piece of my heart. 

I heard inspiration derived from children's author Mo Willems.

I heard the words of my daughter. 

I also saw moments from my own life reproduced onstage.

  • A moment in a gym class at Maloney Middle School circa 1984.
  • A moment in a high school cafeteria circa 1987. 
  • Moments from many of my high school relationships with girls. 

Having forgotten much of the show before seeing it for the first time, it was a great reminder of how the work that we do is so influenced by the people and events around us. How those influences become a part of us, embedded in our DNA. 

I do not write in a bubble. I don't create in a void. I do not start with whole cloth. The tapestry that I weave is a patchwork, filled with the words and images and people of my lifetime.  

It was a great show. I can't wait to see it again. I really hope that someday, I will have the opportunity.