Thursday, 8 August 2013

Never mind our work, how are we developing ourselves?

written by Toksvig

At the recent D&D on Musical Theatre, the sessions called were posted on Twitter. Although I couldn't make it to the event, I responded to them in tweets.

Some of them were about how to break out. Here they are, with my responses:

"How does a newcomer break out?" Graft. Until they're not new. WRITING #MUSICALS IS A JOB OF WORK. #DDMTN

"New Boy. Got a musical. Staged once. Now lost in Jungle. His does a newcomer break out?" GRAFT. You learnt from that show. Move on. #DDMTN

The choice may have been mistaken; the choosing was not. How to get started? #ddmtn

By the last one, I stopped responding because I was too busy thinking about how we, as a community, address what I think is a big problem for new musicals.

Today, on Facebook, someone proposed a series of 15-minute musicals, and several people responded that a showcase of the larger shows people are already working on sounded more appealing.

As one person commented: "To write a fifteen minute musical for a showcase which which will never be seen again seems a bit of a waste of energy, when a writer could be working on a full length show that could actually see the light of day."

The thing is, you can't just go ahead and write a successful musical, any more than you can just go ahead and bake a successful cake. But you can write a more successful musical than you did last time (and bake a more successful cake).

Full, two-act shows take a long time to make, and tiered wedding cakes take a long time to bake. I don't know about you, but if I was serious about wanting to bake a successful cake that I felt I could interest someone in buying, I'd start with cupcakes.

Yet most musical theatre writers I encounter start with a two-act show, even though narrative can be really challenging across a two-act structure. And substantial casts of characters with complex relationships take some handling. By which I mean: more than three people.

So you'd think we would start with 15 minute musicals. In fact, I'm currently developing a project for shows that are smaller than that: 6 minutes or less. The plan is to gather these tiny shows into a gallery showing. A Tiny Musical Festival, if you will, of incredibly short work. Instead of a handful of writers getting the chance to showcase a bit of something, a large group of writers might get their work on its feet in full, and learn from seeing the whole process through from start to finish.


Here's the problem: we don't want to bake cupcakes because, unlike the world of baked goods, there is no perceived market for tiny shows. So our first instinct is to cry "What's the point? Why make something new and small when there's no market for that?!"

Which is to say: my first cupcakes will be perfect.

To which I say: how?

I feel the frustration of writers who work for a very long time on a very long show, and then cannot get anywhere with it. Can't break out. Can't get into the business.

One of the reasons I wanted to start The Larder was because of a desire to support writers with information. And some opportunities, yes, for learning about your own work, but it is extremely difficult to organise opportunities that provide writers with the chance to learn about their own work: much of what people ask for is opportunities to show their work.

I hear: who should we be showing our work to?

I say: yourself.

Instead of being frustrated about one or two writing long shows that don't get on anywhere, we could be joyfully making small work that costs little to put on, and collectively putting that work on. Collaboratively supporting each other with constructive critique. Exploring, learning, growing.

Or, if we feel we're not in that place with our writing, then we should be collectively experimenting, risking, liberating our writing from commercial constraints and making something small and New.

I need the right kind of support for a Tiny Shows Festival. Not in terms of funding - although always that - but in terms of the writers and composers who make musicals.

Without your support for this kind of opportunity, those of us who would like to make it happen cannot make it happen, because there is no call for it.

I'd be fine with that if I thought that the 15 minute showcase opportunities out there were making enough of a difference to enough of us. I don't think they are. A showcase looks at one show, and in a very specific way: it's purpose is to develop that show towards getting it on somewhere.

WTF? Why would it not be about that? Isn't that what musicals are for? Yes. And cakes are for eating.

Having frequent opportunities, supported opportunities, for making small work, from start to finish, isn't just about the show, it's also about the writers.

Especially, precisely because there is no commercial call for small work. It's incredibly freeing.

I think that a 15 minute piece is quite a substantial chunk of work, as it happens. I don't think it's small. 10 minutes is getting closer, but I want something even smaller, something quicker, easier to get on its feet.

And I'd like to know if there are any writers who think that writing something small would be a great / exciting / useful / fun way to take a risk / learn / discover something about your work and explore new collaborative relationships, new ways to use song, new stories to tell, without making a massive commitment.

I'd like to know if there are any writers who think a Festival of Tiny Shows would help them bake more successful cakes.

Because if we're going to do this, we need to do it ourselves, and we need to do it together.

To voice your support, get in touch by email: writers(at)acompletelossforwords(dot)com or shout on Twitter @AnotherNibble #tinyshows

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