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?


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.

What does a Broadway Producer do? I’ll show you . . . LIVE.

In 2010, back in the early days of this blog, I got an email from a young lady who asked me, “What does a Broadway Producer do?”

I took her question, and sent it around to my Producing Peers and asked them to answer it in one sentence.  I posted all of the responses in a blog, that has since become one of my most read entries to date.  You can read it here.  (By the way – Young Inquisitive Lady who emailed me . . . who has probably now graduated from college and is hopefully producing somewhere . . . if you’re reading this, drop me a line and let me know what you’re up to.)

Flash forward eight years later, and just last Saturday I was interviewed by ABC radio and guess what the host asked?  Yep.  He didn’t know what a Producer did either.

I gave my usual answers about how a Broadway Producer is like a CEO or Chairman of the Board, or like any entrepreneur who starts a business.

And then I ended with why I love my job . . . because every day is different.  One day I’m getting the rights to a show, the next day I’m working on a new marketing initiative, then I’m opening a show, raising money for the next one, meeting songwriters, interviewing directors, courting stars, etc., etc.

And no matter how challenging each day may be, it’s all awesome.  Because it’s all about the theater.

The interview ended and my big takeaway was that despite my ten years of blogging, people out there were still wondering what Broadway Producers actually do!  Since part of my mission has always been to help demystify Broadway and the profession of The Producer, I knew I had to figure out another way to pull back the curtain.

And blogging and podcasting weren’t going to cut it this time.

So, starting today, I’m launching the most behind-the-curtain view into what I do.

Yep, I’m launching a series on Facebook Live called . . . #EveryDayIsDifferent.

Starting TODAY at around noon, I’ll host my first Facebook Live episode. And every weekday (and occasionally on a weekend), at least once per day, you’ll get a Facebook Live from me, telling you where I am, what I’m doing, and why #EveryDayIsDifferent.

You’ll catch me at ad meetings, agent meetings, openings, focus groups, investor meetings, and everything else that I do (and maybe even a glimpse into how I balance my work with my life/wife/soon-to-be-born Broadway baby).

I’ll explain what I’m up to and why I’m doing what I’m doing, daily.

For those of you who remember the 100 Days to Godspell, “Day By Day” blog (seen here), it’s a bit like that . . . but live and on camera.  (Ok, I just got a little nervous when I typed that – what have I gotten myself into!)

And this is a terrific time to get a glimpse into the day-to-day of what a Broadway Producer does, because we’re going into awards season with Once On This Island and I’m getting into the production phase of Gettin’ The Band Back Together.  (And I’m also announcing a new musical in development this very week so stay tuned!)

There will be lots of stuff going on, and you’ll get to see it all, including the good days, the bad challenging days, and everything in between.

So you wanna see what a Broadway Producer does?

All you have to do is click here and like me on Facebook.  You’ll be notified when I go live.  And if you miss it, the video will be stored for later, so you can watch it whenever.

Got it?

Just click here.  Like the page.  And remember, #EveryDayIsDifferent.

See you . . . (gulp) . . . live.



Believe it or not, this is NOT a good thing for Broadway.

On Tuesday, I insta-ed that I’d be posting tips and takeaways from the marketing conference I attended this week.

But you’re going to have to wait.

Because there was some breaking Broadway news this week that I felt needed a blog.

Honestly, when this news broke, I bet a whole bunch of people in the biz cheered enthusiastically (including a bunch of Broadway Producers).

And I wanted to make sure that people knew it wasn’t such a good thing.

Yesterday it was announced, that Broadway’s “Demon Barber of Shubert Alley,” gossip columnist Michael Riedel, is leaving his post at the NY Post.

Since Michael’s few hundred words a week can cut sharper than any knife in a drawer, it’s no surprise that Producers, Actors, Writers, etc. may be breathing a huge sigh of relief as he sheaths that sword and moves over to radio and a more general morning talk show.

Why am I not jumping up and down?  Here are my three reasons:

  1.  PSSSSST . . .There’s a reason why Michael kept his desk over the last decade, while critic after critic kept getting laid off.  Because people like gossip!  And gossip, good or bad, gets people talking.  And people talking about Broadway is (almost) always a good thing.
  2. HE’S MORE POSITIVE THAN YOU THINK. You might think that Michael only slammed shows, but if you look at his track record, I’d bet that the ratio of positive to negative slants were more 50/50 than you think (as humans, we only tend to remember the negative – you might get 10 great reviews on a show and 1 bad one, and you’ll focus on that bad one like it was the only one, am I right?). With Michael gone, we’re losing a positive outlet for our news in a paper that doesn’t dedicate much space to the arts.
  3. HE LOVED IT MORE THAN YOU THINK. When Michael appeared on my podcast (in its very early days), I was taken by two things. First, he knows his $hit. If I was on a Broadway trivia game-show and had a phone-a-friend option, it would be a serious toss-up between him and Jen Tepper as my go-to.  Second, he may not show it, but he loooooooooooves Broadway.  And when that kind of passion won’t be paid to talk exclusively about the theater anymore, it’s a big flop-like loss.

I have this feeling that Michael will still be around a bunch, and I have this secret dream that he’s leaving only so he can be a double-agent on morning radio and talk about Broadway non-stop, but losing him on our daily beat ain’t a good thing.

Because yes, most press, good or bad, is still good press.

(The Broadway space is now wide open for a gossip columnist, by the way . . . who do you think will take the spot?)

My takeaways from my marketing conference will be next week . . . in the meantime, listen to my podcast with Michael here. 

What the theater crunch could mean for the subsidiary market.

Every quarter, my Assistant prepares a new chart of what’s in all the Broadway theaters, and what we expect is coming next.

At a glance it tells me what theaters are available, or as I like to say, “in play.”  (Get it?  In “play!”  Alright, alright, it’s not that funny, I know.  I’m practicing my soon-to-be-Dad humor.)

And every quarter the number of those “in play” theaters get smaller and smaller, as shows run longer and longer.

This theatrical traffic jam is preventing a lot of new shows from getting on the road to Broadway.

And now, just like any traffic jam that doesn’t get cleared up quick, it’s causing a problem on the other end of the jam.

See the regional theater market, the summer stock market, the community theater market, etc., all depend on new shows coming down the pike to fill their seasons.  These theaters like to do the “new” stuff too (when it eventually trickles down to them).  After all, how many times can they do Oklahoma?

Well, if there are fewer theaters on Broadway for new shows, then that means fewer new shows for the subsidiary market.

So what’s a non-Broadway theater to do?

Look elsewhere!

And that’s the good news for writers out there.

If the subsidiary market isn’t getting an adequate supply of shows for their markets, they’ll have to get their product elsewhere.  And that means these theaters might start taking shows without a Broadway pedigree.

So if you’re a writer, don’t pin all your hopes and dreams on Broadway . . . because I’m predicting that there is going to be a whole bunch more opportunities coming your way.

All thanks to the Broadway traffic jam.

(Want to hear more about how one playwright has earned a living without ever having a show on Broadway?  Click here.)