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.
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