Today's panelists included Kevin Bannerman who has worked on story development for Disney Animation (Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), 20th Century Fox (Anastasia), and now Amazon Studios; and Winnie Holzman, book writer for Wicked and writer of TV series such as My So Called Life and Huge. This evening's presentation was not a plot-driven musical, but rather, as Stephen Schwartz called it, a "thematic revue." A show consisting of songs & scenes connected by a theme, but that didn't follow a standard narrative arc (think Cats or A Chorus Line).
- Who is your show aimed at? Answering this may help you keep the thematic threads of your work focused and clear.
- Leaving the audience wanting more isn't always a good thing. Make sure you answer the right questions for your audience so they get a grasp on what the premise of the work is. (For example, clarify the language of the show, real vs. heightened moments, context for songs).
- Schwartz: "I'll accept any level of reality you present, if I understand what it is."
- It doesn't matter how good the individual songs are if you don't provide an organizing principle that propels your audience forward. In a story-based show, this job is relatively easier - the central conflict should provide the forward momentum. However, when you no longer have a story to depend on, you need to give us a reason to stay interested.
- I wish I could recall this verbatim, but Schwartz went through examples of shows that aren't structured around a typical narrative, and he explained what ties Cats together. It went something like: "They keep bringing out this old, sad cat and then shooing her off-stage. And you keep wondering, what's with that old, sad cat? And then she gets to sing her heart out at the end and go to heaven in a tire." True words.
- Also, provide that organizing principle early enough in the show so that the audience isn't left confused or tempted to check out.
- Holzman (paraphrased): "Be OK with living with these questions for now. You don't have to have everything answered." Schwartz: "Yet."