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.

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