Nov 18, 2022Liked by Adam Lenson

The curve is fascinating. I wonder if it works for any creative process, even on a personal level. What limited experience I've had as a creator is to go from confident enthusiasm ("Hey, this is a great idea!") to mild despair ("Ugh, this was the worst idea!") to somewhere inbetween ("Well, it's not completely awful and I suppose it'll have to do..."). There's a good Ben Folds song, "A Working Day", that describes it well. So, maybe even folks like him go through something similar.

As far as developing new musicals goes, I can't help wondering why the bottom of the curve comes at the workshop stage, the point at which more and more people are involved. I'm guessing that it would be easier to get through that stage with fewer people. I often hear writers say, "Well, we didn't know if it would work until it was on its feet". Ideally, what's needed is the kind of expertise that knows what works before a show gets on its feet, so that you can get through the bottom of the curve with the least number of people involved. I don't know if such expertise exists or is even possible. But it feels as if that early stage development is key.

Anyway, great article and best of luck with the new venture.

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Nov 16, 2022Liked by Adam Lenson

Superbly perceptive. As usual.

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Great observations. I am shocked to learn that my experiences are the norm and more so that a book describes exactly what I have grown to experience over the years. And here I thought it was just me. Hah!

There are precise reasons why so many writers are at the lowest point in the process, as the critical commentary comes in, and it's not hard to deduce: this is the moment when the author realizes they aren't the genius they thought they were, the moment when their blind faith in their talent is punctured by the realization that the work is not without mistakes.

And this is most severe among first time writers and least so among the practiced and experienced ones. Even that is simply understood: inexperienced writers make ridiculous assumptions (I did) about their abilities and the expected public perception of their art and chafe at criticism that is taken as an attack on their talent. The experienced writer, on the other hand, is going to expect that there are mistakes in the work and their sole focus is on using the criticism to make the work better.

As a result of so many years doing this, my approach to workshop is to: 1) worry my writing intentions are not clear, 2) worry that I won't see the flaws and find solutions and 3) worry I won't engage my audience to give critical thought to the work and help me uncover those unspoken things that were distractions or dislikes - that caused confusion or, worse, disinterest. So rather than coming to workshop expecting the audience to praise my genius, I come hoping they will be my partner to help me uncover the way I can make the work better. When I approach it this way, I can usually keep 25-30% of them there for a 30-60 minute talk back session which sparks their interest in the process and makes them feel they are appreciated as contributors. Best of all, they leave wanting to see the result, wanting to know how their contribution affected the final work.

Yes, me, I get to go back to my desk and panic awhile, trying to decipher which were legitimate problems and which were an infinite variety of misguided solutions to either unspoken real problems or problems of little to no merit. I don't dismiss any of them out of hand, but eventually, one determines which are legit and which are anomalies. I suppose I can beat myself up for making such mistakes and know I have on occasion. But, mostly, I am super-excited to go solve those problems with clear, new artistic ideas. And all of that seems the far healthier and more productive approach. It all begins with coming to realize you are not faultless and most people want to help you.

And without sounding condescending, good work, Adam, on a reporting that little microcosm of endless amateur mistakes. I know very few authors who have had enough experience to see them so clearly and you nail them, one for one, with great precision and clarity.

So I share a helpful note (maybe) for my fellow composers. There was a time when I trusted the book completely to my librettist (book) partner. I was damned lucky, via writers workshop, to connect with a very well-studied author and our collaboration had no more than the usual problems, corrected in rewrites. But, then my collaborations changed occasionally, I had reason to work with partners that made many more mistakes, ones that cost a lot more time and money. (Six separate songs for the same character and damn scene!) Eventually I realized I could not be a silent partner in my collaborations, as the same mistakes which were now clear to me, were being repeated. Now, sometimes I will act and take partial book credit and sometimes I will be an unaccredited partner in the process, but I did learn the ultimate fault of failure was in my leaving it to others to solve. I had to be part of the beat outline adaptation to stage and scene development leading to song (and not just song development) in order to avoid costly mistakes in the writing process. When music is our primary passion, I know taking on more responsibility isn't always desired. But, I do think the sum of all minds on a problem is greater, leading to the best creative decision, than compartmentalizing responsibilities and hoping for the best. Theater is a collaborative effort and it starts in the writing process. Thankfully Sondheim had Hal Prince to clean up a lot of early drafts of some of his works.

We also tend to forget that there is value in collaboration between new and old authors. Hal Prince learned from George Abbott, many musicals were fashioned under the aged eye of former writers, turned directors like Geo S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Abe Burrows praises Kaufman for directing his way in the development of Guys and Dolls. That rarely happens now and the results of it are obvious.

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This one cut deep! Appreciate your reflections and hope you'll check out my own #NPCmusical :D

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