Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want

PC: Aron Van de Pol

I saw a couple new plays over the last few weeks, and it got me thinking about structure.

There seems to be a trend with young playwrights that rejects the “restraints” of traditional structure. With nothing worthwhile to replace it, however, rejecting traditional structure feels like a rejection of any structure at all. The resulting play feels like a meditation on a theme at best and a plot with no climax or catharsis at worst.

There are two general kinds of structure that I’d like to distinguish: Flow and Story. Continue reading Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want

How to Write a Song for the Musical Theatre

PC: Dayne Topkin

Consistent writing with consistent quality requires consistent habit. There are always a lot of variables when you’re writing something new – new characters, new circumstances, new voices, new points of view. Given that there will always be lots of new unknowns, when it comes to your process you don’t want to have to always be reinventing the wheel.

When I’m writing a new song for a musical, I start by asking myself a series of questions. The order of the series is not important, and I will usually stop at whichever point I feel I’ve answered enough to begin writing the song. (I am taking for granted that at this point I’ve created a musical language for the world of the piece as well as the individual characters.)


1. What is the EVENT of the scene/moment? This is often but not always coupled with the second question on the list (What is the conflict of the scene/moment?) This question allows me to identify what the major dramatic event is. The story in a musical is communicated and moves forward via song, therefore Continue reading How to Write a Song for the Musical Theatre

Draw Me to Life

My friend Kim blogged this post about Pixar director Mark Walsh, whose recent short Partysaurus Rex is playing before Finding Nemo in 3D.

Here’s a peek at Mark’s film.

I love animation.  Pixar in particular.  But something I miss – something I think a lot of my generation misses – are the Howard Ashman/Alan Menken animated movie musicals from the 90’s.  Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin.  I’m gonna throw Lion King in there as well, though that’s Elton John and Tim Rice, and was the beginning of a drift away from true “musical structure.”

Howard Ashman

If you’ve seen Waking Sleeping Beauty, you know that Peter Schneider was the man who spearheaded Disney Animation’s journey back from the brink.  (Anecdote: I had the pleasure to work with Peter Schneider recently.  The man responsible for my childhood happiness. It was like meeting Willy Wonka.)

  It was Peter’s idea to hire musical theatre writer Howard Ashman to create these animated films.  And what Ashman brought with him was an impeccable sense of musical structure – literally, story-structure specific to musicals.

To me, nothing kills a musical like bad structure.  An “I Want” song has to be there.  HAS TO.  It can be disguised, it can be non traditional.  But you need a song that defines the main character(s) want.

If you think of a musical like a house, then this is, oh I don’t know, Dance of the Vampires:

And this is Beauty and the Beast:

But I digress.

My point is how much I love animation.  I love it because of the endless possibilities – because you can go to a spaceship where human being are fat slobs; or the bottom of the ocean where an orchestra of fish accompanies a singing crab, or a rat can become a great chef in Paris.  Even TV shows like Family Guy and South Park (and Simpsons before them) have characters randomly break out into musical numbers, or have characters graphically murdered, or all sorts of nonsensical things occur.

And these days, nonsense is the only way to really take a look at what’s happening around us.  We live in such absurd times.  We might as well be animated.