Words of Wisdom for the Writer from Stephen Schwartz – Part 1

In 2010, I had the pleasure to perform for and see other works performed for Stephen Schwartz, composer ofWicked, Godspell, Pippin and numerous Disney films. For 6 days, I gleaned as much as I could from listening to and learning from Stephen, and now I hope to be able to pass some of these gems of advice onto you!

There’s SO much to include that I’ll split this into two parts, and hopefully by the end of it all, you’ll find something that improves what you do.  Most of the notes are aimed directly at the writer or composer, and not so much the performer, as that was the purpose of the workshop. So without any further ado, here goes!

  • Write for the character’s voice – make sure you know whose story you are telling.  Which character are your tracking?
  • When you write a song, make sure the character deserves it, that they have earned the right to sing it.
  • What make me care about the show – this was a BIG statement throughout the workshop: why should the audience give a damn?
  • The first 10 minutes of the musical establishes the rules of the show: how it’s told, who’s involved and why we should care.  You can’t change the rules half way through.
  • Songs stretch time and show the internal struggle of the characters.
  • Be careful to keep on consistency of the tone of the show and of the character.
  • Make sure you get the maximum impact of the parts of the show you are musicalising.
  • What journey are the characters going on: what is their arc?
  • Try not to be preachy in your musical, and don’t “talk down” to your audience. They’re not stupid.
  • Be content with the audience your musical is pitched at: if it’s at kids, then so be it.  It is what it is.
  • The great currency of a musical is TIME. A quick show is a good show (every show is about 20 minutes too long).
  • You have to be willing to “kill the baby” – if something is wrong in the show, in a song, in a character, then it shouldn’t be there.  It has to earn it’s place in your musical 100%.
  • Does the audience really need to know what they’re being told – does it help your story?
  • Theatre is events in action, that’s what makes theatre interesting.
  • Music must drive the story forward.  A song for a song’s sake doesn’t benefit your show.
  • Look for the trigger to your songs: get to them as fast as you can.
  • However: don’t stop the momentum of the show by putting in a song – make the song create more momentum.
  • If you let the show go off the boil, you lose: you must have the “heat” of the musical always on but never let it go off the rails.
  • Just because you are close to the topic you are writing about, doesn’t mean that you can’t write it.  But you also need to be able to separate yourself so you can view your work objectively.
  • If something is not working, is there another way to make the action happen?

Phew!  There’s a lot of great stuff here, and more to come!

Until next time,

Blog ya later!


Image by: Life in LDN 

Drew Lane

Andrew “Drew” Lane was born in Melbourne, and began playing piano at the age of four. At age 15, he began to write his own material, and was also introduced to musical theatre via shows such as Starlight Express, Les Miserables and Time. From that moment on, Drew was actively involved in musical theatre at a rehearsal pianist, musical director, or on stage performer. In 1992, Drew composed his first musical for high school, Back Streets, and in 1994, Drew was accepted into the Ballarat Academy of Performing Arts, where he honed his skills, not only as a composer, but also as a performer. Gaining valuable experience on stage and behind the scenes helped him to realise his next musical, Atlantis. A workshop production was staged for the Ballarat Opera Festival in 1996 and gained rave reviews. In the following years, Drew took up teaching but was also able to regularly composer and stage his own productions including Eva’s Wish (1997, Anacortes, WA, USA), Revelations (1998, Touring, Victoria, Australia), and Toys (1999, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia). In 2010, Drew's musical Marking Life was chosen to be part of the Festival of Broadway, hosted by the University of Tasmania, and was performed for Steven Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin). A prolific composer, Drew hopes to be able to take his musicals to Off-Broadway or the West End, and believes that his best writing is yet to come. He is presently completing his Master’s degree in Performing Arts, and has several new musicals presently in development. Drew is proud to be a regular contributor to AussieTheatre.com and looks forward to hearing from all of his readers!

Drew Lane

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