Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Hangout Archive

Telling Tiny Tales (15 April 2015)
With guests Stella Duffy and Joanne Harris

Applying for Arts Council Grants For The Arts Funding (10 April 2015)
With guest James Hadley of Arts Council England

Women Who Write Musicals / Tiny Shows / MMD (8 April 2015)
With guest Teresa Howard, Board Member of MMD

Why Musical Theatre? (25th March 2015)

MA in Writing Musicals #1 (18 March 2015)

Hangout: Applying for Arts Council Funding - a live video chat

*FRIDAY* 10th April 2015 @ *3pm*

NOTE this Hangout is a different day and time than usual: Friday 10th April at 3pm
We'll be talking with James Hadley from Arts Council England, about the finer details of how to apply for Grants For The Arts funding on your projects.

James will talk us through the whole application form, page by page, and you'll have the chance to open up your own application in a separate window, so you can make a template to refer to in future.

Before this hangout, we recommend creating yourself a profile through the Arts Council's website, so you can be ready to create your template form alongside us as we go through the process.

You can sign up (for free) by visiting

1. Click on the 'funding' tab near the top of the page

2. In the pink links to the left of the page, click on 'Grants For The Arts'

3. In the pink links, click on 'How to apply'

4. At your leisure, read through the available guideline documents / information sheets

5. To continue registering, scroll down to the pink link near the bottom of the page 'Begin your application online'

6. Register and log on. You should see "Welcome..." and your name at the top of the page. We will be working from this page during the Hangout, starting a new application, and you'll be able to work alongside us in another window.

If you can't join in with this Hangout while it's actually happening, but you have questions you'd like us to specifically address, please get in touch via Twitter @AnotherNibble or by email lookinthelarder(at)gmail(dot)com and we'll make sure we address your questions. Then you can just watch the video at your leisure another time.

See this blog post for other Hangouts happening before this one.

Google Hangouts: live video chats online in The Larder

Google Hangouts are live video conferencing events online. You can join in with the conversation by posting questions / comments.

We're going to try having a regular Google Hangout every Wednesday evening at 7pm UK time. Sometimes we might be joined by a guest or two, and sometimes we might open up the Hangout to include Larder members who want to video-chat with us.

Google Hangouts are very easy to use (although Google might prompt you to install a plugin). Just follow the links we include with the announcements.

You'll need a gmail / Google+ account in order to ask us questions via the Google+ system, and you might need to install the Q&A plugin. Once you're in the live feed, click on the small set of squares near your name / picture at the top of the screen, and choose Q&A.

If that doesn't work for you, or you don't have a gmail / Google+ account, you can also just watch us live on our YouTube channel and ask us questions via Twitter during the Hangout (@AnotherNibble), or by email beforehand: lookinthelarder (at) gmail (dot) com

The Hangouts get recorded and uploaded to our YouTube channel not long afterwards. So don't worry if you can't make it for the live event. Just email / tweet us your question/s beforehand, and we'll be sure to answer them during the session so you can watch later.

Monday, 16 March 2015

MA in Writing Musicals: Google Hangout

MA in Writing Musicals @ Mountview
Q&A on Google Hangout

Wednesday 18th March 2015
7pm until we're done
Please do spread the word!

Come and talk to Jen & Rob about the MA in Writing Musicals, this coming Wednesday 18th March, at 7pm, online at Google Hangouts.

It's very easy to use (although Google might prompt you to install a plugin). Click on this link to get to the right place:

You'll be able to follow us as we chat live about the course, and you can ask us questions while we chat.

If you have trouble doing that, you might need to install the Q&A plugin: click on the small squares near your name / picture at the top of the screen, and choose Q&A.

If you're having trouble with that, you can also ask us questions via our Twitter feed @AnotherNibble

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Rob here again, with some scribbles.

When I'm thinking about a piece — examining my own work, or giving feedback/critique on another piece — I like to think about the structure using the analogy of the layers of the earth. You probably remember from elementary school seeing a cross-section of the earth: the red-hot core at the center, the rocky mantle surrounding it, and the relatively thin crust which covers everything.

Each show has its own "layers" — and if you feel that the little world you've created isn't spinning quite properly, there are different places to investigate to see why that might be.

At the center of everything, of course, is that "burning core" — the passion that drives the show. This is not the "meaning" or "message" (ugh) of a piece — this is the fire in you that caused you to write it — the fire/passion/energy you hope to pass on to the audience.

This is the most important, the most, most, most important. You need this passion in order to fire up everything else. This doesn't have to be something that is "deep and meaningful." But it does need to be truthful. That doesn't mean heavy or quote-unquote "dramatic." Great comedies are truthful — they hit something deep within us. 

This passion needs to keep you going (and everyone who is working with you) over the long stretch. It's the fire which engages the audience and moves them, changes them.

If people keep asking you, what is this show about? (not meaning the plot), then investigate that core.

The next layer up is the mantle. I think of this as the dramatic action by which you are expressing the passion of the core. It's your story, your plot, the tale which will convey the fire of your intention to us.

If the story is difficult to follow, if cause-and-effect seem unclear, or if your story is just not conveying the essence of your passion, then dig in to this layer.

The outer layer is the "crust." This is where you have your dialogue, lyrics, scenes, songs. Because, of course, you could convey a particular dramatic action with many differently written scenes or songs. 

The flow of a scene, the impact of a song -- all these are outer layer concerns. Is the scene truly conveying the dramatic action that lies beneath? Is the song saying what it should? (If you have determined that your underlying "mantle" of dramatic action is sound.)

When everything is working together — inner passion, strong structure, flowing and clear outer layer— the world is alive.

Very often, when writers are trying to "fix" a world that's out of balance, they only look at the outer layer. 

If there is no burning passion at the inner core, then no matter how pretty and polished the outer surface is, it's a dead, cold world. We've all seen shows like that. Shiny blue marbles with no reason to exist.

Let's say you have your inner passion and it's burning hot. But if, say, your "mantle" is out of whack, you could write song after song after song for your "outer layer" — but things still wouldn't feel right. This is when you have a feeling of instability, of things never "landing" or settling in.

Sometimes, of course, it really just is an issue with the "outer layer" — you do want a lovely, engaging surface on your world. Trees and mountains and bubbling brooks and all that. If it's just a question of how it's all flowing — if the songs and scenes are really expressing the actions that you've built underneath — then keep polishing that surface. That kind of theatrical delight is one thing that makes musicals so engaging, after all.

But when your world isn't turning the way you'd like, make sure you've made a journey to the center of the earth to see how all the layers are functioning.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


Jen here, talking about dramaturgy.

I'm just throwing these thoughts at the page here, not because I've got any significant news to report, but because dramaturgy is much on my mind at the moment, and I wanted to share some info about it.

For those unfamiliar with the term, dramaturgy is the play-script equivalent of editing in the world of writing novels. A dramaturg is basically an editor who works with a playwright or bookwriter to help them fully realise their own intentions for their work.

A friend of mine quoted this definition at me:

Origin of Dramaturgy
German Dramaturgie, from Greek dramatourgia dramatic composition, fromdramat-, drama + -ourgia -urgy - A dramaturge or dramaturg is a professional position within a theatre or opera company that deals mainly with research and development of plays or operas. Its modern-day function was originated by the innovations of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, an 18th-century German playwright, philosopher, and theorist about theatre.

Wikipedia says various things, including: "Dramaturgy is a distinct practice separate from play writing and directing, although a single individual may perform any combination of the three."

I recently went to a gathering of SDUK, which is a new organisation for Stage Directors in this country. They held an open space for their members, and one of the sessions called was this one: Can directors share authorship with writers?

The short answer (from me, but also going along with the official guidelines from the world of writing) is yes, if they are being writers at the time, and there's a prior agreement that they will be a writer for that part of the process. But if they're being a director or a dramaturg, then the answer is no. (Although there are rare circumstances under which it might be agreed.)

Herein lies some controversy, which I am not going to address right now, but will at some point down the line because I think it's hugely important, not just for us writers / dramaturgs / directors as collaborators, but also - mostly - for the sake of the work we make together.

The Writers Guild of Great Britain has some guidelines on dramaturgy, which exist within this brilliant booklet: Engaging With Theatres

The Dramatists Guild of America also have some guidelines. See the second item down on this page.

Here's the actual PDF.

They also have a great Bill of Rights.

More on this soon, because it's something I think is enormously important.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Diving Boards and Mountain Peaks

Here are some things I always look out for in first drafts: “diving board lines” and “traveling up and down the mountain.”

“Diving board lines” are those three to five lines before a song that are building up to the explosion of song. It’s like someone climbing up to a diving board and pitty-pattying down the board and gathering momentum before they finally leap off.

Nobody really needs or wants to see the climb, climb, climb, pitty pat pitty pat. Just get right to the impulse to sing – dive off into song.

(This is my drawing of an ant on a diving board. You’re welcome.)

In revising my first drafts, I always look at the chunk of lines right before any song. Most of the time, they aren’t needed. When an actor is reading a scene, you can see or feel them “lean in” right at the moment the song should begin – the moment when the water is about to boil. Cut any lines after that peak of energy.

The other thing I look out for in first drafts is, am I making my little ant “travel up and down the mountain” through my plot? Often we writers feel we need to go through every event – our little ant-protagonist crawls through several scenes on the way to her Big Moments at the top of the mountain peaks.

Signs that you’re making the ant travel up and down the mountain are phrases like “this song spans three weeks, while we see that gradually…” “Over the course of a few months, they fall in love, while we see…” “In this next sequence, we show that…”

Identify the “mountain peaks” – then just snip off the top of the mountain range, keeping only the peaks – and let your ant skip from Big Moment to Big Moment. If a scene or sequence is only showing the passage of time, or filling in “all the between bits”, chances are, you don’t need it. Go from peak to peak.

Often we worry that the audience "won't get it" without all the in-between bits. They will. They just want the peaks, really.

Of course, this is all about editing. Create what you need to in a first draft -- get up the diving board, crawl up and down the mountain. When it comes time to shape and hone and distill, that's when you look out for diving boards and mountain peaks — and just take us right to the glorious leaping-off point.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

"It Doesn't Work"

Rob Hartmann here again.

 “It doesn’t work.”

 How often have you heard (or said) that about a show, a song, a scene— your own or someone else’s? It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot — and one that I always like to question when it comes up.

 What exactly do you mean when we say, “It doesn’t work”? That’s what I ask. Does it mean “I don’t like this [for whatever reason]” “It’s not clear to me” “I don’t think it will connect with our audience.” When you’re getting notes on new work from someone else, sometimes it means those things. Sometimes — and this is what happens to me with my own work — it’s just a gut feeling that what’s on stage isn’t clicking the way we want it to.

 The sign for me that something isn’t clicking is that I find myself unable to look directly at the actors onstage — I can only stare at their shoes. It’s agonizing, really (although oftentimes the audience seems to be enjoying that moment just fine… while I am admiring the costumer’s shoe-prowess, unable to face the actors.)

 In trying to discover why a moment isn’t firing on all cylinders, something I’ve found useful is to look at “the thing before the thing.” The song might be fine in isolation — but in the show, is the moment before the song setting it up properly? Often, strengthening or clarifying that moment before a song allows the song to do its job.

 It’s also good to drag a friend in who hasn’t laid eyes on the piece before — sometimes you discover that everyone in the rehearsal room has become too familiar with the piece, and thus hasn’t realized that, say, some crucial bit of information isn’t coming across clearly which then muddles up the “non-working” moment or song. Fresh eyes and questions from a new person can often lead to the lightbulb “a-ha!” moment when you realize what it is that isn’t coming across. And again, it’s very often a hiccup in the “thing before the thing.”

 Something to keep in mind, too, is that musicals live on the stage. I have been reading musical scripts for years and years and years, and still, musicals are very difficult to assess on the page. Many times when you read the script of a show which is strong onstage, what’s on the page seems thin compared to a play. When you think about it, it’s obvious why that’s the case: a musical’s power comes from the words wedded to music and movement. Just reading the words alone isn’t going to give you the entire sense of what the created world of this musical really is. You’re seeing just a shadow.

 Even once a show is up on its feet, you have to ask yourself — is this a repeated phenomenon (is the scene dying an agonizing death every night) or did it just happen once? Authors can agonize over audience response to a reading: why aren’t they laughing??!! Maybe they didn’t laugh at that joke because someone in the room coughed exactly on the punchline. I’ve seen that happen — and I’ve seen writers intent on throwing out a good joke because “it didn’t work in the reading.” Well, it didn’t get a laugh on this day in this room in front of these people. Tomorrow, with no stray coughing, it will probably be just fine.

 I had a show running a couple of years ago in which the second act opener was fine (ish) but I knew it wasn't delivering what we had intended. I watched that song every night of the run (I had the shoes memorized by then of course.) It wasn't until the end of the run that I realized what the issue was: it was indeed the "thing before the thing." We had tried to write a comedy number for a particular character; but by letting the character so easily shrug off the events of the show in Act One right away so she could sing something funny, we had inadvertently destroyed the stakes for the character. The action stopped. We had been stuck on the premise of putting something comic in that spot — it was always our assumption that we should. We had to examine every assumption, every preconception.

 It’s not surprising to me that theatre pros who are called in to help a show when things don’t seem to be working are called “show doctors”. A musical is a living, breathing, moving creature. Diagnosing what ails a musical requires a keen eye, a good “gut sense” and a willingness to cast aside preconceptions. “Oh, you can never do [X], that never works.” (You can’t write a show about a barber who murders people and has his lady love bake them into pies, come on, that never works. And so on and so on.) Every groundbreaking piece was a crazy idea before it became a standard.

 So when you’re puzzling over why a song, a scene, a joke, a dance isn’t giving you the energy on stage that you intended, before you pronounce that “it doesn’t work!”, take a step back. Defining what “works” means first … that usually works.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Walk It Off

Hello! I'm the new guy around here -- Rob Hartmann, a writer and composer. Currently I teach in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at New York University, but come the fall I'll be with Jenifer Toksvig in London, running our new MA in Writing Musicals at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

I wanted to jump in by writing about the writing process: various sorts of things that I've found have helped me when I'm deep into writing a show (as I am right now, as it happens.) And the first thing is: taking a walk.

When I first began writing music, I did what so many of us often do: propped the scribbled lyric on the piano, and started improvising. That served me decently well … but I'd find at times that I became too focused on creating patterns on the piano, and would fall into the same-old-same-old progressions that were familiar to my fingers.

I had picked up an old book which talked about the writing habits of classical composers, and was surprised to find that many of them did their musical creating while walking. So I got up from the piano, and began to walk.

There's something about a steady physical rhythm in the body which engages the "logical" part of your brain, and allows you to enter that other creative state. It's the same sort of thing which can lead you to come up with new ideas while driving or cycling or doing the dishes -- distracting one part of your mind while allowing the rest to float.

So, I was the guy marching around the neighborhood, clutching the scribbled lyric, humming quietly (or not so quietly.) Or singing. Well, singing in that funny little "I'm not really singing!" voice. Yeah, that guy, doing that.

But the words found a rhythm and the rhythm shaped itself into a melody. The melodies that took shape felt more organic -- more connected to the voice and the body. The melody went where it needed to go emotionally, bringing the lyrics to peaks and valleys, giving the song dramatic shape. If a melody managed to stay in my head for the entirety of a good long walk, then that meant it likely had some vitality to it -- it was well-built all on its own, without accompaniment. Then I'd head back to the piano and then start to give the melody some harmonic underpinnings.

More often than not, I'd find that conceiving the melody away from the piano took me to places I never would have gone if I'd stuck with improvising on the keyboard. When I'm in a full-throttle writing mode -- like in the crunch time of finishing a show -- I find that walking is an absolute necessity to keep my mind alive over the course of a long writing day. I like to be at the keyboard/computer for about four hours at a stretch -- then I can feel the brain fog setting in. That means it's time to get up and move.

Currently, I spend about half my time in New York and half in Washington, DC. I'm near the National Mall in DC; much of my current show has come to me while tromping from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and back again. The sights are inspiring but familiar enough to allow my mind to open up to that place where music takes shape and melodies form.

And right now, mid February 2015, New York is experiencing a stretch of cold, cold weather -- this morning it was 9 degrees F / minus 12 C. That level of cold, at least to someone used to the normally milder New York weather, makes walking (wrapped up in layers and layers and layers) is just unpleasant enough that you can't get easily into the creative flow -- too much attention focused on not slipping on the ice and slush.

I was trying to get a song finished and found myself in that kind of irritable, itchy mood, where the creative energy is being blocked for some reason. I realized: I hadn't been for a good walk in over a week (and was substituting sugar for quick energy in place of the walking.) I bundled up, and headed straight out. Eventually, the cold didn't seem quite so bad, and I got back to that creative, flowing mental state.

So if you find yourself stuck -- a way to change your thought pattern is to change your environment. Get something new in front of your eyes. Get a rhythm going in your body. Let yourself get into the flow. Go for a walk -- and you'll come back with something new.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

We're back!

We've been preparing some big things since you last heard from us. Now we're back with a more active profile, and ready to announce some great stuff this week.

Say hello to Rob Hartmann, who is going to facilitate The Larder with me. Rob is a composer, lyricist and bookwriter who has had more than a dozen musicals produced in theaters across the United States, including in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Seattle, Nashville and others. Rob received his masters degree from the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1999.

The Larder is a central hub for a community of musical theatre writers and composers: a place where you can come and tell us, and other fellow writers, what you need. The goal will always be to help you help yourself, especially when it comes to developing and producing your own work. We can organise anything from a blog post to an event if there seems to be a demand for something in particular, and we can also work with you as an individual writer, as and when you need a hand.

So don't wait until someone happens to offer the thing you've been waiting for: get in touch with us and the rest of The Larder community, and together we'll figure out how to help you get what you need when you need it.

It's free to connect with The Larder, and you can do so through our blog, Facebook page, mailing list, via YouTube, and on Twitter. For all the info on how to find us, just go to

There are already some useful posts on the Blog with info about things like formatting scripts properly, how to acquire rights for adaptations, writing for young performers, and more. If there's something you want to know more about, give us a shout via email ( or hook up with us on Twitter @AnotherNibble and we'll do our best to help you out, even if that's just to point you in a useful direction.

And keep an eye out this week. We've got some great stuff coming up!