First Steps: Things to Consider Once You’ve Written Your First Musical

I was once told that in this business, “everyone and their brother has written a musical.” I have learned over the years that there is more truth to this that you would imagine. There is no shortage of new musical writers. However, the vast majority of completed work will never see the light of day. The number of musicals collecting dust must be unfathomable. Yes, many of them are likely just not good. On the flip side, however, is the reality that far too many potentially great shows will never get seen simply because the writers didn’t know where to take their work once it was complete. In this series, I wanted to address those crucial first steps and consult current writers on their advice and stories about what new writers should consider as they are approaching completion of a work.

Where should writers look for the first stop in development? How do they garner interest in that initial step?

Many writers don’t know where to begin after the creative process on their first musical has reached a semi-complete status. How do writers generate interest and passion for the work they have created?

Writer Sammy Buck.

Writer Sammy Buck.

Sammy Buck, lyricist and librettist for shows like Like You Like It and Speargrove Presents says it all depends on the writing team’s trajectory:

In my case, I was very fortunate to get into the BMI workshop, where my material was vetted, and that led to so many developmental opportunities because I had a crafted show – or at least a crafted set of songs and outline and most of the first act complete. A lot of producers want to get involved early on, so a writer must be sure that a show, even if it is not finished, must be ready, so to speak. On the others hand, some developmental opportunities depend on a finished draft, so again, it is a bit of a case-by-case basis.

But how do you know your show is ‘ready’ and what does that ultimately mean? The landscape of the American musical is more broad now than perhaps it has ever been. There is no topic or idea that is taboo or not appropriate for musical adaptation, provided the material sings and speaks to a producer and, perhaps more importantly, an audience. Writers need to ask themselves (1) who is the audience for this show? and (2) why THIS story and why now? These questions will help dictate the direction of a show more than any other.

Writers Joshua Salzman (left) and Ryan Cunningham.

Writers Joshua Salzman (left) and Ryan Cunningham.

Drama Desk Nominee Ryan Cunningham (I Love You Because, Next Thing You Know) suggests finding theatres that are doing work that you admire:

Start to attend those events—support other artists, and start to talk to them. Ask them how they got their start. The answer to this question is different for everyone, and what’s really important is to take advice from people whose positions you envy. If someone isn’t doing the kind of work you want to be doing—don’t take their advice. Talk to people who are living your dream–they can help guide you to where you want to go.

If the business is about “who you know,” then Cunningham’s advice rings very true. Forming relationships is the kernel of the business and should be pursued at every opportunity. Shows come and go, but finding the right people is an art in and of itself. Those relationships (theatre, director, MD, etc.) can define the movement of your career and carry your show to the next and all-important level.

Click here to read Part 2!

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