Takeaways from Day 2 of the ASCAP/Dreamworks Musical Theatre Workshop

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."