Posts tagged #ASCAP/Dreamworks

Takeaways from Day 3 of the ASCAP/Dreamworks Musical Theatre Workshop

Tonight's panelists were Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary, the writing team responsible for Broadway's First Date among many other impressive projects.

  • Solve the problem of your story's superstructure before you tackle its musicalization.
  • Don't take the path of least resistance when it comes to your song moments. There are moments that write themselves, but there will be times that require etching and digging to find the songs that have yet to be.
  • "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." - George Orwell, Animal Farm. Some characters have to be more important than others in order to give a solid through-line for the story to fall back on. Answer the question - "Whose story is this? Who am I rooting for?"
  • Don't leave vague empty gaps in your writing when it comes to action/staging. Even if the director changes it eventually, give her something to start with (I thought of Mrs. Lovitt's opening solo in Sweeney Todd and how it's very clear musically that she's busy pounding dough with very specific musical figures).
  • Don't rely solely on your lyrics to get the point across. Your music itself provides emotion, subtext and other storytelling elements. Don't ignore the effect your music is having on a scene's mood or premise.

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."

Takeaways from Day 1 of the ASCAP/Dreamworks Musical Theatre Workshop

Notes jotted down from the first evening of the ASCAP/Dreamworks Musical Theatre Workshop with Stephen Schwartz. The other panelists for the evening were Bill Damaschke, head of Dreamworks Theatrical, and Suzi Dietz, producer.

  • Writing a musical theatre show is hard. Writing an ORIGINAL musical theatre show is harder.
  • Schwartz: The first 20 minutes are hardest to write. How do you launch your show? How do you make exposition into character action so that it doesn't feel like you're spewing exposition?
  • An "I Want" song can be made stronger if it coincides with character action.
  • Good lyrics fall on the ear with ease and are understandable (not as in enunciation, but as in the words are set to the music and rhythm in such a way that the audience does not need to strain to understand what is being sung/said).
  • Find the meat of your story, and make sure we don't arrive to the meat too late.
  • Avoid the "traveler-in-a-new-land-gets-mugged-on-her-first-day" cliche.
Posted on February 17, 2015 and filed under Composition, Creative, Musical Theater, Performing Arts, Writing.