Because It’s After 3:00 a.m.? Because It’s Me? Because It’s Levi Stubbs?


Good Morning, Incredibly Enough:

Just finished my second draft of a play for a fund-raising 24-hour theater festival. I received my assignment at 8:00 last night: the producer assigned two women actors (one African-American, one South Asian), one director, and the theme “Objects Appear Larger.” The playwrights have a maximum page limit of 12, but I want to shorten mine as much as possible. With three actors in a ten-minute play, each will have roughly 40 speeches, difficult but not impossible to learn in twelve hours. With two actors, the total can exceed 70, and that becomes a brutal challenge for them.

And yes, as of 3:25 a.m., I have already written two drafts, and plan to write one more.

Normally, I wait a week between drafts, but I don’t have that luxury, so I write this post to clear my mind.

Staying awake represents the biggest physical problem, but you probably guessed this already. I have an extra issue insofar as I volunteered to donate breakfast to the 30-35 individuals involved in the show, so I cannot afford to go to sleep until my director and cast have safely received the scripts. The secret consists of taking a nap for no more than 30 minutes  at around 9:00, vast quantities of tea, and irresistible dance music to keep my knees pumping and therefore me awake.

And irresistible dance music means Motown.

Currently listening to The Temptations, but at 3:00 a.m. this morning I was listening to The Four Tops’ cover of “If I Were a Carpenter.” Honestly, I can’t recall if I’ve heard their version before (which leaves me severely disappointed with myself), but somewhere during the second verse, it *finally* hit me, over four decades too late:

Levi Stubbs was one of the gosh-darned greatest pop-soul-R&B singers of the previous century.

It could be just my imagination (once again) running away with me–told ya I was listening to The Temps–but at this crazy hour of the morning, it feels as if I have never appreciated the lead singer of The Four Tops as much as I should have done. It’s not entirely my fault: for one thing, the rest of the Tops were also pretty darn good, and they sang amazing harmonies; for another, Stubbs himself never pursued a solo career, remaining a loyal member of a team that was more together than together, more married than married. The original quartet never broke up; they performed together for 44 years until Lawrence Payton died in 1997.

But Stubbs! What enunciation, power and emotion! What a pure voice! He could deliver a song with such force it feels like he’s grabbing my solar plexus and shaking it hard.

And I missed this until approximately 3:00 this morning.

OK. New cup of tea (or “cuppa tay,” to quote Eliza Doolittle from Pygmalion), brain feeling a little clearer, and The Temptations are singing “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” Back to work.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–My play includes references to 19th Century scrimshaw, the London School of Economics, The University of Washington women’s softball team, and the difference between Madras and Chennai. I’ve completely given away the entire plot of the script, haven’t I?


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