GUEST BLOG by Tim Donahue: What a strange 100 years it has been for theater prizes!

In 1918, the first Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama went to a forgotten—and forgettable—comedy entitled “Why Marry?” Two years later the prize went to a female playwright, because the Jury thought it would be a “handsome” thing to give the prize to a woman, although they wrote, “It is not a great play but it is original and interesting.”

The Pulitzer Drama Prize was so often laughable that in 1935 a group of Broadway reviewers formed the New York Drama Critics Circle expressly to give better awards. One of the founders, Brooks Atkinson, summed up the Circle’s accomplishment almost thirty years after its beginning, writing, “The average taste of the Critics Circle is no more discerning than the average taste of the Pulitzer judges. Neither the Circle nor the Pulitzer prizes can be intimidated by genius; both of them have on occasion preferred commonplace plays to classics.”

In the late 1940s, the Tony Awards began as a small event for the theater community sponsored by the American Theatre Wing, a charitable group from the war years. The presentation happened at a banquet with dancing in a hotel ballroom, with the prizes chosen by an ad hoc handful of people. In the first year, a Tony was given to Vincent Sardi, Sr., in thanks for Sardi’s Restaurant!

Twenty years later the Wing was in financial trouble and it joined with the Broadway League to continue the Tony Awards. Within a year, the ceremony morphed into a big television event. That changed everything about the Tonys and a lot about Broadway theater.

Still, being on television hasn’t prevented the Tony Awards from making major gaffes.

There have been past seasons when the resulting prizes, Tony Awards and others, can still provoke healthy argument. For example:

Harvey won over The Glass Menagerie
Hello, Dolly! won over Funny Girl
The Music Man won over West Side Story
Nine won over Dreamgirls
The Sound of Music won over Gypsy

These competitive years make one wonder what best play and best musical awards mean.

Today, there are six major, very different organizations giving best play and best musical awards, for diverse reasons, chosen by very unalike procedures. It feels great if your show gets one, but does it have any sure, lasting meaning?

In short: so many prizes; so little to celebrate. Even after 100 years.

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Tim Donahue is the author most recently of Playing for Prizes: America’s Awards for Best Play and Best Musical. He is the co-author of Stage Money: The Business of the Professional Theater and three other books on theater.

Podcast Episode 153 – Tony Winner & Pulitzer Prize Finalist and Showrunner Warren Leight

My wife and I spend a lot of time with Warren Leight.

You probably do too . . .

Because we, like you (admit it), watch a lot of Law & Order SVU and Warren was a writer and showrunner for years.

Before that, though he was a finalist for the big P for his fantastic play, Side Man.  

Warren is one of the few playwrights that can go so easily from stage to screen . . . and that’s all about how he started writing in the first place.  See he started because he wanted to be a sports writer, and then . . . wait . . . I’m giving it away.  Just listen to the podcast and hear Warren talk about:

  • How a lie about loving horror movies led to him writing one . . . and why you might want to fib a little too.
  • Why he binge writes.
  • The importance of joining a Writer’s Group and how it helped him.
  • Why the deadlines of TV help make him a better writer . . . and how you can use deadlines to accomplish your goals, whether you have a TV network demanding a script or not.
  • How he wrote Side Man without realizing he was writing it . . . and what it was like after he won The Tony (and it’s not what you think).

Warren’s path to success is such a lesson in the grind, creativity and flexibility it takes to be successful in this business and in any business, and this podcast could give you a map for your own.

Click here for the link to my podcast with Warren!

Listen to it on iTunes here. (And if you like the podcast, give it a great review, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

 

Podcast Episode 151 – Tony Nominated Lyricist, Michael Korie

Last week I wrote about how so many fantastic musical theatre writers come from the advertising world, and one of the primary reasons why I postulated that they do was because they learned how to write for an audience, instead of just writing for themselves.

Well, advertising ain’t the only training ground for writing for an audience.  You know what another one is?

Journalism.

And guess what this week’s podcast guest did before he started writing lyrics for operas and getting nominated for Tony Awards for his Broadway show?

Michael Korie, the lyricist of Grey Gardens, War Paint, and more, talked about the similarities between writing for the theatre and for the papers, as well as . . .

  • Why he does so much research for his shows and why you should too.
  • The biggest mistake beginning songwriters make . . . and it’s an easy one to fix.
  • Why he never speaks his lyrics out loud when working with a composer on a song.
  • Rhyme . . . and the purpose of it, and how to use it for the greatest impact.
  • A secret method to making sure a song that you love stays in your show.

Michael is an artisan of words, and the only thing this podcast left me wanting . . . was more musicals with his name on them.

Click here for the link to my podcast with Michael!

Listen to it on iTunes here. (And if you like the podcast, give it a great review, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

 

3 Reasons Why Ad Men & Women Make Great Musical Theatre Writers

Quick . . . riddle me this . . . what do Tony Award winners Rick Elice, Lynn Ahrens and Joe DiPietro have in common?

Answer?

Before they wrote the books/lyrics/etc to shows like Ragtime, Jersey Boys, Memphis, Once On This Island and more . . . they all worked in advertising.

That’s what I call a trend, my friends.

And where there’s a trend, there’s me, trying to figure out why it is the way it is.

I dug into this idea with each of the above writers on my podcast (click the links above to listen), and a few other writers who also worked on Madison Avenue (including School of Rock and Little Mermaid lyricist Glenn Slater).

My research led me to three reasons why working in advertising is a great foundation for writing musical theater.

Here we go.

1.They learn to write fast. If you have a job, and your boss says an assignment is due tomorrow, you do it, right?  It’s not so easy when you’re your own boss (even though the rewards can be so much bigger than a weekly paycheck). When you’re an advertising writer, you have a certain period of time to write copy, a jingle, etc. and then you have to present it to the client.  It’s an assignment.  You have a deadline. All of the musical theatre writers I spoke to said that learning to write quickly (instead of writing to be perfect) helped them not only get their personal projects done faster, but it also . . . and here’s the big one . . . prepared them for the “preview process.” One of my more widely read blogs talked about how I believe the true judge of a creative team is how they handle the preview period. Because writers who write fast have a much higher chance of turning out great material under pressure.And writing for advertising teaches you just that.

2. They learn to write without ego. I work with advertising agencies all the time on my shows and some of my small businesses.  When designing a campaign, the first drafts usually look or sound nothing like the final.  Commercial edits, radio copy, website layouts, etc. all can change 180 degrees after a client gets a hold of it. I’m constantly sending stuff back and saying, “No.  Not right.  Try again.  Use this.  Bigger.  Softer.  Do it over!” In fact, just this morning I was working on a Broadway TV commercial and we asked for a change . . . when it has to be delivered to stations later today! (Remember that write fast thing?) When you’re forced to change your work so often, you get numb to people telling you they don’t like it.  (Notice how I said “they don’t like it,” which is much more different from “it’s not good.”  HUGE difference.)Learning to write without ego, and just write, write and write without self-judgment or worrying about other people’s judgment helps Authors be more productive, which gives them greater opportunity to better their material.

3.They learn to write for others. Ok, this is my favorite. What’s your goal when you write to advertise a product? You write to sell that product.  You write to communicate a message to other people.  You write to get emotion out of your customer, not to get emotion out of yourself.  And if you’re successful, those people who hear your message will act on that emotion and make a purchase.  That’s the goal. Don’t accomplish that, and you won’t work in advertising very long. Too many musical theatre writers I know write only for themselves.  They sit in a room, write tome after tome and say, “Oh!  This is brilliant!  I love it!  Look at what I’ve done!”And maybe it is brilliant.  But it actually doesn’t matter what you think.  It matters what an audience thinks.  Yes, love what you do, be proud of what you do, but your sole goal as a writer is to communicate a message to your audience, and get them so riled up that they act . . . and after seeing your show, they tell other people to do the same.Training in advertising reminds you that all writing, from musical theatre to novels to poetry, is about the customer.  Because yes, theatre is art, but it still has to be sold (at a very high price).

If you want to pursue a career as a musical theatre writer . . . study the greats, take writing classes, join a writer’s group . . . but also consider a marketing class.

Because there’s no doubt that the success of the above Tony Winners has something to do with the fact that all of them know how to sell.

 

GIVEAWAY: A Free Copy of The Best Script Writing Software, Final Draft

It has been a long time since we’ve had a Producer’s Perspective Giveaway. . . so we thought we’d come back with a goodie.

I’ve read a lot of scripts over the course of my 25 years (translation – I’m now old) in the biz.  Thousands, actually.  And the other day I was raging about a script that was formatted so poorly, I couldn’t make any sense of it. Which was too bad, because I think it had potential.

The folks at Final Draft (not only the best scriptwriting software out there but really the only scriptwriting software out there), must have heard me because they offered me a free copy of their powerful software to give away to one of you lucky ducks.

I’ve been using Final Draft for years, on everything from My First Time to, yep, Gettin’ The Band Back Together.  And not only does it help you write your play or musical in the proper format (or screenplay, pilot, etc.) but, it helps you write faster.

I swear it.

All of the shortcuts, from automatic indentation of dialogue to quick filling character names, allows you to stay on a roll with whatever you’re writing, which gets you to the end more quickly than writing in any other word processor.

And writing faster means your chance of getting a production happens faster (and it prevents someone from beating you to your idea!).

I love me some Final Draft.  And one of you is going to love it too . . . because one of you is going to win it!

To enter to win a free copy of Final Draft (a $249 value), just click here (and pay special attention to how you can enter multiple times).

The contest closes one week from today on March 16th and we’ll announce the winner on Monday, March 19th!

 

Good luck and happy writing!  (And thanks to our friends at Final Draft for this fun and high priced giveaway!  And if you don’t win, get it anyway.  You’ll thank me for it later.)

Enter here.

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