Something Bigger

Something Bigger

“Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is, but it is gonna be great!” – Tony, West Side Story

It’s Coming!

 

It’s a new decade. 2020.

We find ourselves here, in the present moment. For me, and perhaps for many of us, it looks different from what we expected. The state of our industry, our country, and the world, are suddenly different. How’d that happen?

I know we all look toward 2020, and the new decade in general, to be something bigger. And better!

Where are you now, as a writer, as an artist, as a person? Where are we as a country, as a republic, as a democracy?

The second question may be out of our hands, beside our participation in the upcoming elections. But the answer to the first and more important question lies totally within yourself.

 

How Big Can You Be?

 

I’m challenging myself to be bigger this year, to set bigger goals and step up to the plate more often. I know that my mission in this life is to create theater – theater that expresses where we are at this point in history. When I teach theater to college students, I like to point out that although our discussions center around a play, we’re really looking at a piece of history reflected through an individual writer’s perspective. When we study a play, it’s a reflection of one individual’s viewpoint of what’s happening around them during that point in time.

Therefore, while studying dramatic literature, my students get immersed in the study of history as well. And they love it.

Many of us find it fascinating to study history through personal stories. You and I, by writing and producing plays and new musicals, are creating the theatrical canon of the 21st century.

I think that’s BIG.

My personal 2020 challenge is to help you put more of your stories on stage. Your challenge is to write the best plays possible that reflect the experience of living in this time, in this culture, at the beginning of this new millennia. And when those stories aren’t produced or published, they disappear.

So, how big can you be? Another Chekhov, Kushner, Sondheim, or Miranda? Why not?

 

Believe in Yourself

 

No one does theater because they think they’re going to get rich. And if that’s what you think, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

You write stories, musicals and screenplays because you believe you have something important to say, to contribute, to the culture. You need to express your own perspective in your own way. And it gives you joy like nothing else when it works, when people stand and applaud your work.

When you know that your play changed something or someone, that makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it? My favorite example is Jessica Blank and Erik Jenson’s Off-Broadway play The Exonerated, a play about six people who were exonerated after years on death row for a crime they did not commit. After watching a “command performance” in the Senate days before the final vote, the Supreme Court overruled the death penalty in the state of Illinois.

It doesn’t get any bigger than that. Yep, a piece of theater saved people from death and changed government policy.

Believe that your gift of storytelling can change lives and impact this world for the better.

 

It Takes a Village

 

Our plays are very much our children. Like our children, it takes a village to make them grow.

Your village are your connections, your theatrical friends and supporters who have nurtured you and encouraged your work all along. And it’s also the new people you’re meeting all the time, through your networking, pitching, and writers’ groups and classes.

I challenge you to go bigger this year – network more, submit more, learn more, write more. And don’t let the money blues, or the not enough time blues, get you down. Know that at a certain point it really is a numbers game, and if you keep at it you’re improving your odds all the time.

Just keep showing up.

Your real enemy is your own insecurity, your own sense of lack, your own depression or even despair. Sometimes it’s so damn difficult to keep submitting, to keep smiling, to keep trying. Despite yourself,  you are tempted to agree that theater is too hard right now to do.

That’s when you need to lean on people who truly know you and like your work – your Village. People who are in the same place and understand the struggle.

And by the way, a village isn’t a town or a city. They’re too big. Some online theater sites feel like cities,  so crowded and big. You want people to know you, who want to journey alongside you as you move your work forward. A village is your small group, your peers, your peeps.

 

CreateTheater is a Village

 

I’ve envisioned my CreateTheater.com community as a village where people can connect online, take classes online, and network online, to make meaningful ties with other writers and theater industry pros who are part of my theater community in NYC. It’s a village, not a city.

But if you’re a person who likes that “small town” feeling of knowing others and being known, then subscribe to our newsletter. Join in our community and take free classes that will come with the membership opening soon. Meet people along the way who are dreaming as big as you are.

I’m planning more for you coming soon.

Make friends in the industry online. Join the CreateTheater village.

Cate Cammarata is an excellent coach who has helped and encouraged me every
step of the way, since I first worked with her, when she was the dramaturg for the
developmental reading of my show, CRUDE-The Musical, at the 2016 New York
Musical Festival. This past year, CRUDE-The Climate Change Musical premiered at the Cape Cod
Theatre Company, Oct. 10 – Nov. 10, 2019. The show ran for five weeks, with 17
performances, and generated great publicity. I can’t thank Cate enough for her
expert coaching, over the past 3 years, as I worked to improve the arc of the script.
She’s taught me so much about the industry, about producing and about networking.
Cate has also helped me with specific networking opportunities.
I highly recommend Cate Cammarata as a fine coach for any writer looking to
succeed in the theater industry.

— Maureen Condon, Playwright & Composer

I believe a Mastermind group is essential – for the support, ideas generated, the encouragement, the accountability, the important friendships formed and for a sense of belonging in the theater, whether or not we’ve been produced. Cate’s Mastermind, in particular, is extremely helpful.  Cate knows her stuff and gently pushes us forward, stepping in to help when needed.  She is passionate about getting work onto a stage. She makes you believe it’s not “if” but “when”.”

— Jarlath Barsanti Jacobs, Playwright

Sign up for the CreateTheater Newsletter.

Stay part of the community!

The Place for Festivals in NPD

The Place for Festivals in NPD

Should I Submit to a Festival?

 

I’m coaching with a client this week, and we’re discussing the importance of submitting your work on a regular basis to theaters, festivals and other opportunities that are found on places such as playsubmissionshelper.com, the Dramatist’s Guild website, and on the createtheater.com newsletter.

When we sat down together to create a “best practice” routine, she balked at submitting her play to one of the festivals that I recommended.

“Oh, no,” she said. “One of my friends said to never submit to a festival until you’ve tried absolutely everything else first.”

Okay….

Well, I get it. Why should a writer self-produce a festival show when maybe someone else could produce it for you? The problem is that finding funding, especially at the beginning of your writing journey, is getting harder all the time.

Welcome to the 21st century American theater.

 

But I Don’t Want to Self-Produce!

 

“But I’m a writer, not a producer!” is the common refrain I hear. “It’s hard enough to write the play, much less learn how to produce it. I want to be the writer and let someone else be the producer.”

The reality is that unless you’re already a writer with a proven track record of produced work, no one is going to be lining up, checkbooks in hand, to help you get your work onstage. Sorry, sometimes it’s better to face the truth.

You’re going to have to be the one to jumpstart the process.

I always recommend a proactive approach first: submit, submit, submit. Build your regional portfolio of readings, workshops and residencies as much as possible, since many of these opportunities are funded by a nonprofit theater or theatre company. If your script is good and you submit the suggested 4-8 scripts each week, you’ll start to see some movement forward. But that being said, sometimes it is a long wait, and frustration sets in.

When that happens and I start to hear the frustration of, “but I’m not getting any younger,” then I believe it’s time to start considering self-producing your work in a festival.

With one caveat: to make a festival production count you need to be ready for it – otherwise, without preparation and planning, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, more frustration, and a whole lot of money “wasted.”

 

The 3 Main Tasks of Self-Producing

 

Remember the 3 main tasks of self-producing all start with an “F”:

  1. Finding Your Audience
  2. Funding Your Project
  3. Filling the Seats

 

Finding Your Audience

 

Like any other producer, you have to know your show and who your audience is.

  • Who is your typical audience “avatar”? What is your audience demographic? Who will absolutely love your show?
  • Finish this statement: “People who love _____________ will love [name of your show”].
  • What is your show about, thematically and generally? Have a very brief prepared synopsis of 3-5 sentences and then identify its genre (epic musical, dark comedy, etc.). Talk briefly about the journey the audience will take and what they’ll learn at the end.
  • Do your research: what does your avatar do/believe in/desire? How will your show sync with that or reflect that?
  • Have your bio ready to send, as well as the bio for anyone on your creative team
  • Be prepared to share any production history thus far, with images (if available), 5 demo tracks (for a musical) and a formatted full script pdf.
  • Finally, talk about your WHY:
    • WHY did you write this script?
    • WHY does it need to be produced now?
    • WHY does an audience need to see it now?
  • Have a simple webpage available as your online business card for yourself as an author or for your show. You need it available to say, “Take a look at my website.” Don’t self-produce in the 21st century without it.
  • Make sure to have your “elevator pitch” committed to memory, documents saved on your phone and/or laptop, ready to talk about or present to someone at a moment’s notice.

A little reflection here goes a long way. Document your answers to the above in writing and images, ready to send out to anyone who’s interested.

Doing the work before you submit helps you feel like a professional, and creating professional-looking documents makes you look like a pro to the receivers as well.

 

Funding Your Project

 

This is where the rubber meets the road.

Know this: no one will believe in your show more than you do. You must “raise” your “child” as best you can until someone else will see what you see in your darling (your script). In order for others to see your work, you may just have to fund it yourself at the beginning, maybe with a little help from friends and family. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in theater (or in child raising).

Once you’ve decided to go the festival route, it’s best to submit to every opportunity regardless of the expense. Even though if in the end you can’t raise the required “x” amount of money for a specific festival, it’s better to be able to say that a prestigious festival wanted your show than to have nothing to say at all. Any opportunity validates the fact that your script is well-written and sought out.

You will learn some very useful information about your show, the producing process, and yourself. You may also end up networking with other industry people who may be able to refer someone or something to you later on. Hey, you never know when fate will intervene on your behalf, so allow every path to unfold if given the opportunity.

Record every theater that had something good to say about your play, every person who said, “Sounds interesting, let me know when I can see it onstage.” These people will be your first audience and, hopefully, your first fans that will help you raise money.

 

Filling the Seats

 

This is why you’ve already done the first two tasks. You know who likes your script, and you’re prepared to invite people them to your festival show.

Failure to plan is planning to fail, especially at this point. Hopefully you have a following on social media, or a newsletter for your show. If you don’t you’ll want to establish one now.

Preparing for a festival show is exciting, so let everyone know what you’re up to and broadcast it everywhere: social media, personal emails, flyers, newsletters. You’re working to increase your audience, to allow them to buy tickets and to let industry theatre producers know that something so special is happening that they shouldn’t miss it.

Marketing is such a big part of the festival process (and all theater) it’s a shame to discuss it last. Once you decide to commit to a festival, realize that 75% of your time should be devoted to marketing and only 25% of your time to the production. Once you have a director on board your primary job will be as a producer, not a playwright. You must get people in to see your show.

This is where all of your previous preparation will show the most.

  • You’ll have a website to share on social media, etc., with a logo and synopsis already prepared.
  • Each day you’ll put out a new piece of content about your show,
  • You’ll ask your network to “share” on their social media, too.

Enlist the help of the actors and entire team now as well, and you should get more traction.

Write up a press release about your show and submit it to the local press. Make sure to capture any publicity on your social feed and on your website.

 

Use Each Step to Prepare for the Next

 

If you use this festival step as an experience to document your show’s first production, in essence you’re already preparing for the next step for a larger production to be produced by someone else. You’re creating a path for yourself instead of waiting passively by for someone else to notice how good your show is, and to step up to the plate to produce it.

Waiting sucks. It feels so empowering to make something happen yourself.

A festival production can be a valuable, empowering experience, or a depressing exercise that “proves” how difficult theater is. It’s all in the preparation and in your dedication to doing the work.

Don’t take this step until you’re ready. But if you’re frustrated where you are and need to take action, just make sure you’re prepared ahead of time in order to make the best use of your time, talent and resources possible.

It’s all up to you. Good luck!

Like talking structure? Sign up for my weekly newsletter for more tips on writing, producing and dramaturgy.

Do I Need a Star?

Do I Need a Star?

The Need for Stars?

 

 “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin

 

Writing a play and then staying the course to see it produced is a daunting task. It requires tremendous focus and 100% dedication to each step in the developmental process.

 Once you think your play “works,” the next step is to have a staged reading to introduce it to the public, either in NYC or elsewhere. A reading is the step before a workshop or a production.

 So if a staged reading is the step before a workshop or production, what is our goal for the staged reading? Getting people to see the reading. And not just ANY people – specifically, people who could help us get to that next step, a production or a workshop. (We also want to get smart, experienced people to the reading for them to give us feedback as well, but for the purpose of this blog post let’s stay with the people who can help us move the play forward.)

 So, who are these people? How can I get them into my reading?

 

 It’s All About Relationships

 

Since everything in this business is about relationships, you should be developing relationships and networking like crazy as soon as you realize that you want to be a playwright. Specifically, you want to cultivate relationships with Artistic Directors, directors, producers, and generally, almost anyone in the industry.

 Sooner or later you realize that everyone in the theater lives or dies by their network of friends and friends-of-friends. And it’s helpful to be friends with or in close association with someone who knows or has access to a “star.”

 

Getting a “Star” Interested in Your Play

 

 I can hear the plaintive cry from many of you: “I don’t have access to a star, and don’t know anyone who does!”

 Sigh. That’s where most of us start, but if you’re in this industry for any length of time and make an effort to network, you’ll inevitably meet someone (or hire someone) who knows someone to make a connection for you. And if your work is good enough (and your price is right), you’ll probably be able to hire someone that’s worked on Broadway before to be in your reading. Often it’s not as expensive as you think.

For a quick answer, you can contact your intended celebrity by signing up for the IMDbPro, which is what most people use. You can also try contactanycelebrity.com.

 BUT the real answer is that quality work shows up very early, in the writing and in the score (if we’re talking about musicals). Sometimes I start to read a script and quickly become riveted to the story. When it’s this good, I smile and say to myself that “the magic is starting to happen.”

Losing yourself in a theatrical world established by a talented writer is a completely magical experience. The “magic” is found on the page long before it makes its way to the stage, and if you’ve read a few hundred scripts or so like many of us have, you know it doesn’t happen all that often.

“Star” actors see the “magic” when they read your script; the same with “star” directors, music directors, and yes, theaters and producers. The cream always rises to the top. Eventually.

 Unfortunately it usually takes its damn sweet time getting there.

 

I Don’t Have a Star – Yet

 

Notice the operative word here – YET.

In order to find that “star” you think you need to attract the theaters and producers that you think you need to help move your script forward – the most important thing you need to remember is that the first star of your show is …. your script. 

Let me say it again.

Your writing should be so good that your SCRIPT is your very first “star.”

 So, while you continue to network and develop each of your plays, remember it’s the constant fine-tuning to your scripts that is the real work.

No amount of networking or self-producing expensive staged readings can substitute for the nitty-gritty down-and-dirty daily work of meeting with yourself every day to sit down and write.

  •  In order to make your writing the true star it needs to be, remember to acknowledge the daily discipline to write (or re-write) every day.
  • Remember to recognize the need for real craft in your work, and
  • Understand the need to constantly keep learning.

You must be a constant student of life and of the craft of writing to master the craft of writing.

 

As Steve Martin quipped, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Want more ideas for writing your script? Sign up for our newsletter

 

 

 

Like talking structure? Sign up for my weekly newsletter for more tips on writing, producing and dramaturgy.

5 Top Takeaways from the “How to Write a Musical” Workshop

5 Top Takeaways from the “How to Write a Musical” Workshop

The World & The Want

 

Yesterday I taught my favorite workshop, the “How to Write a Musical That Works” Workshop through Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) in NYC. Along with the Executive Director Bob Ost and a stellar panel composed of Dramaturg/Producer Ken Cerniglia (Disney Theatricals, Hadestown), Tony Award winning Director/Lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. (Ain’t Misbehavin’, Fosse, Big, Miss Saigon), Kleban and Larsen Award winning Librettist and Lyricist Cheryl Davis (Barnstormer, Maid’s Door) and former Artistic Coordinator of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, Skip Kennon (Herringbone, Don Juan DeMarco, Time and Again), we hosted seven new musicals as they presented select song-scene presentations from their projects.

 

In this safe incubator environment, the teams came from all over – New England, Atlanta, Upstate NY, Long Island – to participate in our workshop and solicit feedback about their early developmental work. Some of the songs had just been writen the week before; most had never been performed. 

 

This is a three part Workshop, roughly divided into the “beginning,” “middle,” and “ending” of a script. This first Workshop, “The World and The Want,” spoke about the need for clarity in your storytelling in the very beginning of your script and the presentation of the “I Want” song.

 

Everyone had surprises that day. One person learned that her beginning to her musical didn’t work at all – she is headed back to the drawing board with lots of ideas now on how to make the opening number work. Another writer learned that his I Want song communicated something very different to the audience than what he had thought, and is revamping the beginning of the song. Another writer was happy to learn that we were excited by his presentation, but confused by a few points – he now will be editing his opening for greater clarity.

 

Top 5 Takeaways: The World and The Want

 

Here are the top five things that we learned from the Workshop on October 27, 2019:

 

1. Clarity of storytelling must be established from the very beginning of the show

  • Establish WHO these characters are
  • The audience wants to know who we’re going to watch, and what they’re about
  • SHOW don’t TELL. If you describe your lead character as “the Lady Gaga” of that time period, don’t tell us – SHOW US.

 

2. The Opening Number

  • Why is this day different from any other day?
  • Set up your world and tone immediately, and keep it consistent into the next scene (and the next)
  • Can characters we “know” be used in a different way to tell the story?
  • Don’t refer to pronouns like “this” in a song without having established what “this” is.
  • An opening number should immediately get us into the ACTION of the story

 

3. Don’t Betray the audience into creating the expectation of a group I WANT in your opening number by introducing different characters, and then explain that we never see them again.

  • If you introduce specific voices in the opening number, your audience expects to see them again.Your audience wants to learn whose journey we’re on from the very beginning.
  • Don’t set up the expectation of A CHORUS LINE if we will never see these characters again.

 

4. Every song must have a complete arc – a complete beginning, middle, and end – to it

  • A song must travel and push the plot forward
  • We need to learn something within the song – the ending idea isn’t the same as the beginning idea.
  • By the end of the song, we must be in a very different place than we were at the beginning of the song.

 

5. The style of the song must reflect the action and intention of the character singing it

  • The tone of the song must serve the character in that moment
  • A laid-back, jazzy rhythm doesn’t serve a moment when the character has a driving, insistent intention to her action.
  • Instead of a ¾ time, a driving 4/4 may be more active a choice.Sometimes it helps to read the lyrics of the song as prose to discover the intention behind the action.

 

Want more ideas for writing your script? Sign up for our newsletter

Like talking structure? Sign up for my weekly newsletter for more tips on writing, producing and dramaturgy.

Pitching Your Show to Producers: The Elevator Pitch

Pitching Your Show to Producers: The Elevator Pitch

Pitching Your Show to Producers

 

Learning to pitch your show to potential producers is a skill set that can be developed like any other skill set. The secret is in learning to see your show from the producer’s perspective.

Recently I was the pitching coach for eight writers in Theater Resources Unlimited’s (TRU) Pitching Workshop, part of the TRU Writer/Producer Speed Date. The event is an intense experience, where twelve writers pitch to eleven producers within one hour. Like regular speed dating, you’ve got approximately seven seconds to make a great impression and two minutes to perfect your elevator pitch, engage in a quick conversation with a producer, then move on to the next producer and start the process all over again.

Needless to say this demands focus. Both parties are hoping for “instant attraction,” and sometimes that does happen. Options have resulted from our Speed Dates. But more importantly, writers get better and better at pitching their projects to producers and learning to discern what producers are looking for, what is most interesting about their own work and how to sell their ideas.

Your Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a quick introduction to your show to a potential producer or investor, geared toward creating interest in the listener. It is more of a marketing skill than anything else, and like any skill it can be learned and gets better with practice.

An elevator pitch takes approximately two minutes. That’s it. You’ve got a mere two minutes to make the producer lean in, smile and ask for more information.

Many of my writers, in this recent workshop and in others I’ve coached over the years, spend way too much time on their synopsis. Others undersell themselves, leaving major awards from their other work left unspoken, or merely get so flustered under the pressure to persuade someone whom they perceive has the power to make or break their show that they repeat themselves or stumble over their words.

Relax. You’ve got this. It’s all in the preparation ahead of time. 

Just as an actor has to always be ready with a couple of great monologues to perform in an instant to showcase his talent, you as a writer should always be ready with a prepared elevator pitch “just in case” you are introduced to someone with the potential to move your show forward.

It’s a Conversation

Always remember that your pitch is the beginning to a conversation, so make your style conversational. Some writers are such good wordsmiths that they try to memorize their pitch word for word and recite it as a speech, or worse, have the pitch written down and then read it verbatim. They then sound “market-y” and artificial, which is definitely not in their best interest!

I recommend that you write your pitch on index cards using bullet points in the beginning. This keeps my writers on track and focused, yet still maintaining that all-essential eye contact and smile during the conversation.

The Pitch Template

A good organization strategy for your pitch should follow this template, written by TRU founders Bob Ost and Gary Hughes and used in our workshops and in my own personal coaching.

1. The Attention Grabber

The first thing necessary is to grab the producer’s interest in those first seven seconds. You want to give them a reason to remember you and to engage with you in a conversation.

Sometimes this is most effective by asking a question:

  • “What do you do when …”
  • “What happens when …”
  • “Did you ever have an experience where …”

Sometimes you can make a statement to move your listener and get them on the same emotional wavelength:

  • “Imagine yourself …”
  • “How would it feel if …”
  • “What would you do if you were faced with …”

Some writers make a statement that is surprising in some way, or use a quote, a song title, or anything the listener can readily identify with that describes the content of their show. Especially helpful is when you can help the producer make comparisons with something they’re already familiar with, for example, “This show is Once meets Torch Song Trilogy…”

The important thing to remember is that at the beginning you must engage your listener and start a conversation, not talk at them. This is a brief – very brief! – introduction to you and your work, useful for marketing your show to someone. Your goal is to get them to smile, lean in, and want to hear more.

2. A Brief Synopsis

As a writer you’ve spent months, perhaps years, writing and rewriting your plot to get the structure right. It’s natural that you would want to share the entire story with someone, since it’s so doggone interesting and engaging.

It probably is, but this is a two minute pitch so time is of the essence. You want to choose your words carefully and leave out anything that doesn’t absolutely need to be said.

Often a concept synopsis is more helpful than a true plot synopsis. A producer wants to hear the essence of your show, not a play-by-play retelling of each detail in every act! And don’t tell them what they’ll feel in the show; instead, evoke the feeling itself through the careful choice of your words in the pitch.

What can be included in this brief synopsis?

  • The 5 W’s (who, what, where, when and why)
  • The 6th W (want), which is the main characters’ wants and why they can’t get it (the obstacle)
  • The major conflict
  • The universal theme
  • What the audience will see when the curtain goes up (the world)
  • An overview of the dramatic arc of the show, or the emotional high point (climax)
  • Don’t forget to tell the genre of the show and the sound of the music (if it’s a musical), or if it’s a dance-heavy production, the style of dance.

Remember, less is always more and time is crucial here. You don’t have to address each of the above bullet points, but know which ones are most pertinent to communicate the idea of your show. Know your basic dramaturgy and be prepared to answer the above questions if they come up.

Also, you may not be the best editor of your own synopsis. Try it out on a few friends and listen to what they find engaging or unnecessary.

Both steps 1 and 2 should take approximately one minute or so of your time, in order for you to really sell your show during the last minute.

3. Benefits

Don’t tell ‘em, sell ‘em! Show why your show has significant advantages and why they should produce it:

  • Timely and relevant – this show must be produced now! There is a recognized audience for this material
  • Premise – illustrate how your premise is unique or special in some way that will make it stand out
  • The show is based on a pre-existing property or well-known source material, which has recognized branding
  • Stars associated with the project (directors, actors, composers, etc.)
  • Previous production history (share photos, reviews, audience quotes)
  • Give other benefits that producers find attractive:
    • Cast size (if it’s on the small end – otherwise don’t mention it)
    • Unit set, minimal set requirements
    • Developmental steps or awards
    • If there’s money behind your project, please mention it during the pitch (no need to be specific yet)
  • Always give your brief bio, especially if you’ve won awards or have other work that’s been produced.

Sometimes it’s helpful to remember the acronym SAFE (Stars, Audience, Financials, Environment) as a way to think of possible benefits your show may have.

4. Concept Recap

At this point you are almost out of time (I hope you’re still relaxed, smiling, and not out of breath! ) and you need to summarize your pitch.

Briefly recap your original concept with only one or two sentences. Remember, you’ve got a really great show here that you’re presenting to someone!

Ending Your Pitch 

After your two minutes are up, thank the person for listening and offer to follow up with them by sending them an invitation to a reading, sending them the script or music files, forwarding them to your website, or leaving behind a packet of information for them to read later.

Then BE QUIET and LISTEN.

Have a Conversation

Now it’s the producer’s turn to ask you questions. Hopefully there are a few, as that shows your pitch has successfully engaged his/her attention and interest.

Answer any questions they present honestly, and again offer to follow up with more information and then do so. Speak with passion and confidence, and always leave them wanting to hear more.

Your job is to create both a favorable impression about yourself and your work to a new contact that may be interested in your show. Get them to want to read your script, to come to a reading, to advise, to recommend to a friend – or even to produce or invest in the show personally. It happens all the time.

Don’t be caught off-guard. Be ready with your practiced pitch.

Need some help with YOUR pitch?

Contact Cate to schedule a practice pitch session or ask about group coaching: cate@createtheater.com

 

 

Like talking structure? Sign up for my weekly newsletter for more tips on writing, producing and dramaturgy.

Story vs. Plot

Story vs. Plot

Where in the Story Does Your Plot Start?

 

A discussion about the difference between plot vs. story is anything but an academic question. Instead, like most talks about structure, how a plot is designed defines how the audience experiences the story.

An early point of attack gives you the musical Les Mis, where you see the epic story in its totality play out in front of the audience. There is little or no need for exposition, since the audience sees every important moment play out in front of their eyes.

A late point of attack gives you Oedipus Rex or just about any contemporary drama or musical that you can think of.

 

Plotting Your Story

 

The “wright” in playwright means “maker.” It is useful to remember that plays are constructed; they have a shape that is chosen for a reason by the author.

A story is a chronological sequence of events: this happens, then that happens, then that happens next.

A plot, by contrast, is carefully constructed by the writer to create meaning out of those sequence of events. A playwright sifts and sorts, edits and rearranges the sequence of events in a story to tell the story in a certain way to create a certain experience for a certain audience.

This is the craft of playwriting . There’s a reason that plot is #1 of Aristotle’s six elements. A writer uses his or her own unique perspective to create a meaning, a message, a takeaway for the audience. A writer is not a historian nor a journalist.

And a weak plot will get the dramatist nowhere fast.

So let’s ask the question again: Where in the story does your plot start?

 

Early or Late Point of Attack?

 

It’s a generally accepted saying that in writing a play today you have to “get in late and get out early.”

In other words, start the plot or scene as late in the action as you can, show the action, and then get out of the plot or scene as quickly as possible. This is how most contemporary dramas are built, with a late point of attack. (Classical plays also have a late point of attack,fyi.)

This climactic structure with a late point of attack allows the plot to focus on building the “suspense,” or on engaging the audience’s attention in an entertaining way while playing out the dramatic question that forms the spine of the story. A late point of attack begins in the midst of the conflict, and we find out important details about the past on the way to a much greater conflict in the rising action.

Contrast this structure to the opposite, the early point of attack. In Les Miserables, written by Victor Hugo in the 19th century, the action covers many years, over a vast sequence of events that all play out in front of the audience’s eyes and ears. An episodic structure like this unfolds scene by scene onstage, with little backstory. It too has a dramatic spine, but this plot takes us from the very beginning of a story and allows us to experience each moment leading up to the main climax for ourselves, with little to no exposition needed. Shakespeare also uses an early point of attack, as his average play length was three hours. (You can show quite a bit of history in three hours.)

Plots with early points of attack tend to emphasize the past, and understanding the causes of events that took place. Those with late points of attack seek to make us understand the dynamics that lead up to a conflict and the repercussions that followed.

One is not better than the other. It is simply two ways a playwright can attack a story.

 

A Writer’s Checklist: Plot

 

A plot is a roadmap to get you where you want to go, and a blueprint for what you want your audience to experience at the end. A plot builds a definite structure from the story’s sequence of events.

Here’s a quick Writer’s Checklist for Plot:

  • Get in late, get out early
  • Stasis: start right before the inciting event. Identify the world of the play and start the action quickly.
  • Inciting event: generally happens within the first 10-15 minutes of a play or musical.
  • The inciting event immediately launches the rising action, the journey the hero undertakes to get what he wants.
  • Clarify wants of the main characters early in the play and their obstacles by the first 20 minutes.
  • Midpoint reversal
    • Surprise twist – end of Act 1 in musical, and halfway through a play
    • New goal or intensified goal accelerates the action
    • This could be a subtle event, even an internal (psychological) reversal
  • “11:00 Number” traditionally occurs right before the climax (in musicals) for fun or theatricality
  • Climax, with an anagnorisis (where the hero and others fully understand where the journey has brought them or taught them), and a peripeteia (a reversal of some sort), which brings about an emotional catharsis in the audience.
  • Resolution – plot points are resolved logically (no deus ex machina)
  • The Finale (in a musical) delivers the theme in a rousing tune that stays with the audience as they leave the theater.

 

Helpful?

 

Are you writing a play or musical? Would you like someone to look over your script, or to help overcome writer’s block?

I’d love to speak with you. Email me at cate@createtheater.com or post a comment below.

 

Are you looking for more inspiration? Sign up for my weekly newsletters for opportunities and discounts that I only offer to my subscribers.

Best of all, they’re all free.