Any container you put a maraca in becomes a maraca. If you need to stow them for a flight, you can shake around your overnight duffel bag and use it exactly as you would maracas. The same is not true of ukuleles, pianos, flutes, or harmonicas. Even drumsticks, whose simple function is that they are used to whack something, would not function as drumsticks anymore if the container they were put in was too soft. Maracas are special.
I brought my own maracas back from my last trip to Glacier National Park with my brother and my parents. They had brought them from their car in Michigan, where I had left them when they came to see the workshop for my musical in Chicago. We, in fact, didn’t even use them for the workshop, because the theatre we rented out was acoustically very live, and they ended up being too loud to play.
Putting on a musical, by the way, is different from writing a musical. That’s probably obvious from the outside, but if you’re someone who is writing a musical and eventually want to put it on it’s less obvious. Putting on a musical mostly involves producing it – that is, lots of communications and making sure not to forget things. Writing a big list of everything that needs to be handled, and then crossing off the items one by one, very slowly, over the course of hundreds of email threads over several months.
In contrast, writing a musical is like living in a space ship. You commit a large chunk of time to leave the earth and hook yourself up to machines which capture the things you expel – moisture, CO2, poop – gather them up, and turn them into something that can sustain life, or at least not become poisonous and kill you. If you’re a songwriter, all of your song ideas become potential musical numbers. If you’re a comedian, all of your jokes become potential zingers in your show. Producing a show is a beast, for sure, and writing one is another beast altogether.
And perhaps the most surprising thing about putting on a musical that you’ve written is how easy it is. Before you start you think of it as a blackhole. A sort of infinitely far away idea – something for people who already know how to do it. A world you can’t break into, you can only be shepherded into at a young age you already passed. You think it would take some extra-human capacity for not being afraid to take risks, put yourself out there, market yourself, network yourself. That part of you that wanted to move to New York and try to make it big as an artist, to quit your job and just focus on your passion, no matter how scary it is, you think that you have to finally let that part of you take the wheel.
I was once told “If you want something you’ve never had, you’ll have to do something you’ve never done.” This turned out to be true to an extent, but not in the way I thought it would be. I had thought that in order to do something so big, I would have to overcome the fear of doing it. In fact, all I had to do was organize my life in a way where I could make progress without needing to overcome my fears. So if I tend to lose motivation on my projects after a few months, what if instead I worked with a co-writer who would keep me motivated, and just scheduled regular times to work on something with them? And if I was worried about taking risks and networking, what if that co-writer happened to excel at this, and also brought out the social butterfly side of me? And what if I did all this without quitting my job, so I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I’m good enough at it to pay the bills? Well those are all technically things I’ve never done before, and they all technically got me something I’ve never had, and yet there is something still so unextraordinary about those extraordinary things.
A maraca is a hard shell full of something loose inside. Lots of things can be maracas. Marbles in a coffee cup, a bag of uncooked rice, crushed Pringles at the bottom of the can, ice melting in your mouth, the crackling of a campfire, or rain hitting the window. Really even the sound of your voice, at the molecular level, is just tiny loose particles bouncing around their container (your vocal cords) and reverberating in a way which produces a sound.