Monday, 17 June 2013


written by Toksvig

Somebody asked me about writing treatments the other day, so here is my experience with that.

There are no rules.

(This is always true in musical theatre, but bears repeating often.)

A 'treatment' might be:

- a PITCH, which might be an A4 page describing the show. It might not even outline the story, just give a basic feel of what the show is about, and some other details that are useful for a producer to know when considering a project. (More of this below.) A pitch doesn't usually involve any money.

- an OUTLINE, which might be an actual outline of the story, from start to finish. Plot, characters, main journeys, subplot. This can also contain other useful info. This might involve some payment for the writer/s, because there is work in preparing an outline.

- a TREATMENT, which might be a couple of scenes and a couple of songs. This definitely involves payment for the writer/s. (See below for more info.)

If you're not sure what someone is looking for, just ask them. If you get an ambiguous answer, here are some helpful hints.

Do they want to know if the show might fit their venue / remit?

That useful info about your show could include:

- the size and type of venue you have in mind

- the kind of audience, and audience engagement, you're aiming at

- the style of show

- the size, and type, of cast

- the size, and type, of orchestra

- any special or noteworthy requirements

Being specific helps them know straight away if it might be logistically right: "This is a small-scale, one-act musical for 3 actor-musicians, with minimal set requirements, aimed at young audiences."

That stuff is the most important info you can give them, right up front, because it allows them to say yes or no immediately. It doesn't matter whether the show is any good. If you're offering a three-act opera for a cast of hundreds to a fringe theatre, they're very likely to say no without even looking at the material.

If you're making the approach, the first thing to do is actually not send anything. Just get in touch, and find out:

- if they welcome unsolicited material
- to whom you should send it
- what you should send

You can, and probably should, offer to send a one-page pitch. A pitch is a great way to open a dialogue with a producer. It won't take them long to scan one page of info, and it should give them all the stuff they need to know in order to decide whether or not to ask for more.

Don't start by sending a full script, links to all the songs online, and instructions on how best to listen to a new show - "It's best if you listen to the songs as you go through the script..."

You're talking to seasoned professionals. Perhaps best not to tell them how to do their job.

If invited, you can send something else. Ask what they'd like, and think about what info they're looking for.

Do they want to know more about what kind of show this is?

They might ask for an outline, just a couple of pages, which tells more about the show, if there are specific things they need to know more about. Like how much audience interaction there is, for example: "The show opens with the characters encouraging the audience to sing Happy Birthday to the main character..."

Do they want to know what your writing style might be?

They might like to see a sample of other work you've done: a scene from something similar, or a song.

Do they want to see some of this actual show?

If they ask you to write a proper treatment of the show in question, then you have to do some actual writing, and you should be paid for doing actual writing.

Either the Writers Guild of Great Britain, or the Musicians Union, whichever you belong to, can advise you about that.

(You have joined, yes?)

There are no rules about what constitutes a treatment, but you want to deliver something that gives them enough of an idea of the show, without being asked to write half an act.

In my experience: two scenes, at least one of which has a song in, plus another song, is adequate to demonstrate your style, and the style of the show. The songs should show different styles that you're using in the show, eg: an up-tempo and a ballad.

Does it need to be a professional recording?

No. You're showing your work to people who know how to tell from a very basic recording. Just make sure the recording is clear, lyrics audible, singing on pitch. It can be you at a piano, recorded on your phone, as long as it's clear.

In summary...

- Ask if you can send something, and whom to send it to.

- Ask them what they want you to send.

- Also ask them what info they're looking for, from that stuff. This will help you know what to send, and what not to send.

- Send the minimum amount of stuff for them to look at. Minimum. MINIMUM.

- If you're being asked to do some actual writing, you should get paid for that. Speak to your union.

It bears repeating that there are no rules. This is just in my experience. When in doubt:

1. Ask
2. Send the minimum

And a final question to ask yourself: are you trying to get this show put on, or are you trying to make work as a writer?

Pitches are fast. It's one page, and you can send lots of them to lots of people in a very short space of time. You'll get a faster, more accurate response from a pitch, and it offers you the opportunity to start a relationship.

Because that's what you are: a writer. You're not a marketing executive trying to sell a one-show product. You're a writer, looking for people to collaborate with.

You're not pitching a product to someone. You're pitching a person to someone. That one show you initially talk about may not be the thing you end up making with that producer, so start by just saying hello.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Who is 'we'?

written by Toksvig

We're about to send out a proper newsletter, all pretty and MailChimp'd.

In it, there's a lot of reference to 'we'. So, here's who 'we' is.

The Copenhagen Interpretation consists of Jenifer Toksvig (who makes stuff, often out of words or wool) and a core group of creatives that includes performers, producers and composers who all have multiple disciplines. There's more about the core group here.

It's not really a partnership, or anything official like that. It's just a group of people who like to work together whenever we can. Most things that Jen does fall under the Copenhagen umbrella, and everyone else joins in when they fancy it.

So 'we' often just means Jen, who is currently running The Larder, which we've recently realised is a sort of 'activism' hub for writers and composers of musicals. And independent producers. And probably everyone, actually. Everyone who makes new musicals and feels that they need some, er, active. - ism. 

'We' also means Jen and anyone she's collaborating with on a project: the unions, support groups, or co-creators, or people who tag along because Jen persisted until they did.

And sometimes, 'we' means all of us. All writers, all composers, musical-makers, supporters. So if we seem to be referring to all of us, and we seem to speak out of turn, let us know.

We're always looking for new ways to support and nurture new musicals, particularly in ways that encourage diversity of the form itself. If you have thoughts about that, come and say hello on Twitter @AnotherNibble - and keep an eye out for guest Twitter hosts.

Our emailed newsletters will be predominantly Larder stuff, but occasionally they'll contain performance projects that The Copenhagen Interpretation are doing. We are a theatre company who is doing some active -ism, rather than vice versa.

(We're also not lawyers or legal experts. So don't actually take our word for anything.)

('Activism' feels really political, as a word. 'Active -ism' feels altogether more approachable. As a thing.

Which it isn't.

Paragraph breaks within parentheses are awesome.)

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

I Am British Theatre - a response

written by Toksvig

This post is a response to Fin Kennedy's blog post here:

I am British Theatre

I think the video project is a great idea.

I think this problem is massively widespread, and affects us in ways we don't often think about.

I write musicals, and every time a cab driver asks me what I do for a living, the conversation goes like this:

"I write musicals."

"Do you?! Anything I'd have heard of? Got anything on in London?"

The implication being that everyone who writes musicals must either have something massive on in the West End or, if not, be aiming for that.

I often hear myself saying "Yes, I really do. It's a ridiculous way to make a living" as if I somehow need to apologise for the fact that I do not have anything on in London, and I have not written anything with global renown.

For me, this is about some major misconceptions.

1. The misconception that the public has about who we are and what we do.
As in Fin's blog, and as in every conversation I've had with cab drivers, hairdressers, new neighbours, people at parties: the focus is invariably on the commercial paths of theatre - and this is especially true and especially inhibitive in the world of musical theatre.

"Two Act American Book Musicals for Proscenium Arch Fourth Wall Presentation" - catalogues, revivals and new work alike - is the most dominant path, and it has a commercial goal, the continuing perpetuation of which we, as an industry, must admit some responsibly for.

Yes, people must be paid. No, this should not be the only creative path upon which they are able to be paid.

2. The misconception about what we do: that it is somehow only entertainment, and therefore only to be judged as creatively successful if it achieves a broadly visible commercial success in an entertainment forum.

Most of my work has been for young people. I get emails from schools thanking me for my work, and telling me how much of a difference it has made to the kids who performed it. How much difference to their self-confidence, their collaboration and communication skills, the nurturing of their imagination, and more.

Theatre is not just entertainment.

It is a collective experience, and we have so few of those left.

It is an accessible way to communicate about vital issues.

It is an opener of dialogue, for each and every audience member, who will take their experience away with them and start conversations about it.

All of these things, and more, need to illustrated in order for people to notice them. Alongside the wonderful and vital subjectivity in our experience of theatre, wouldn't it also be great for us to have some objective awareness of the process? Audience and maker alike. Then we could start to use it as a social tool, which we are clearly not doing as well as we could right now, precisely because of these misconceptions.

3. The misconception for us as creative artists, that our success should be measured that way precisely because that is the popular conception of how it should be measured.

It is terrifying how many conversations I have with writers where I suggest that the show they're describing might be amazing in community theatre, and they react as if that would somehow be 'settling'.

There are massive opportunities to develop your writing craft in this country, and they all lie in youth and community theatre projects, yet of all the hundreds of writers I have ever said that to, only a handful pursued that option. Because it is seen as some kind of 'lesser' writing. Or different writing.

(It's not different. And in many cases, it's much, much greater.)

The longer we continue with this social attitude towards theatre, the more writers will succumb to the commercial path in order to pay bills - and who can blame them? - and the more our desire and our *ability* to take risks will atrophy.

It is not our fault, and all that, etc. The government, the recession, etc. None of those things will change. We need to make some change happen. And we can. We're very creative :-)

4. The misconception of many opportunity-makers within the theatre industry that the opportunities we need are ones which will take our work down that commercial path.

And by 'opportunity-makers', I mean all those of us, from producers to writers, who have the ability and the drive to push our own work forwards, to keep learning more about this stuff we do, and to co-nurture not only our own community and industry, but the broader social engagement with, and valuation of, theatre.

I mean me.

I mean you.

I mean us.

I am absolutely on board with your videos, Fin. I will support the project, engage with it, help you make it happen.

I suggest that we might find some support from within the world of film, where it's possible that everyone finds it hard to take risks in a culture of Hollywood Hits. If that's true, how about a collaboration that serves all of us? How about we all work on something collectively?

There is the potential for funding in this, from the Arts Council. Maybe from some kind of film fund? Maybe this isn't a kickstart: instead of asking for each other's money, maybe we ask for in-kind support, make it with a collective of co-creators, see if we can get some funding for the stuff that has to cost money.

We could co-create it in open space, gather a big group of volunteers together, let people come and go as much as they feel they can commit to it, with a few people committing to holding the space open?

Please do engage on Fin's blog if you want to comment or get involved, so he can keep track of responses.