As I assume you’ve long heard by now, Stephen Sondheim (writer of Into the Woods, Company, and Sweeney Todd among others) passed away last week. A hero and a pillar in American theater.
On a plane, two days after his death, I watched Six by Sondheim on HBO. A documentary covering the life and career of Sondheim. I was enthralled by this man whose art I had already come to love, and now I’d like to share some of his words from the film.
“Nobody goes through life unscathed. And I think if you write about those things, you’re gonna touch people.”
“I’m not interested in making people unhappy. But I’m not interested in not looking at life.”
“The songs I write don’t really reflect me in any conscious way. They all are about the characters that the book writer has made, and I’m getting into those characters. I never think of them in my own terms.”
“A puzzle, like art, is making order out of chaos.”
“I still get pleasure out of writing a musical phrase I think is really good. I still get a pleasure out of writing a line that I think really encapsulates what I want to say.”
“I love inventing. The hard part is the execution, obviously.”
“It’s all about getting into the character. And you start to make lists of what she would talk about… It’s very much about serendipity.”
“The only reason to write is from love. You must not write because you think it’s gonna be a hit, because it’s expedient or anything like that. It’s so difficult to write… You write it out of passion. That’s what failure taught me.”
Throughout the film, Sondheim stressed the importance of curiosity and teaching and learning. And since watching, I have heard many people talk about the great influence he had as a teacher, friend, mentor, and supporter (I found an Instagram account full of letters he sent, it’s delightful).
Sondheim, in many ways, lived a life I would like to emulate. He laid on his couch and wrote. He created things that moved people. And he supported others in doing the same.