What’s your motivation ain’t just a question for actors.

My acting teacher used to ask about my motivation in a thick Russian accent.

“Kenneth!  Why you . . . you do want do these things in scene?”

(BTW, my mom, my dad, and my acting teacher . . . the only three people who called me Kenneth.)

“What drive you, Kenneth?  Open chest.  Speak from heart.  What is motivation?”

I’ve seen a bunch of shows in the last six months that were based on . . . something.  Adaptations.

As we know (as I blogged about here), musicals are primarily an adapted art form (well over 60% of musicals are based on something).  Books, poems, and real people all make great fodder for musicals.  Lately, of course, we’ve seen a rash for movie to musicals adapts, and more than a handful of music catalog to musical creations as well (aka The “Jukebox” Musical).

Since a majority of musicals are based on pre-existing source material, if you’re a producer looking to create one, most likely you’re going to be adapting something at some point in your career.

So, now, I ask you . . . without the Russian accent or the formalized version of your name . . .

What is your motivation?

I’ve found myself wondering that question many times over the past few years

Because it seemed to me like the motivation for the musicalization was the brand and not the story.

And, as my Russian acting teacher would say . . . “No!  That no work.  You try again.”

It may seem like I’m picking on the musical to movie trend or that aforementioned jukebox musical . . . but I’m really not.  I’m picking on any adaptation, movie, book, postcard, where the motivation is “Oooh, lots of people know what this is, let’s make it into a musical and make millions!”

You know what usually happens in those cases?

It’s really easy to raise the millions to make those kind of musicals.  Because the show sounds like such a good idea in a pitch.

And it’s even easier to lose ’em.

If you want to tell a story on the musical stage, and that story has a brand, then it’s a win-win.

But if you’re exploiting a brand first and story second, then as my Russian acting teacher used to say . . .”That just sucks.”


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below!  Click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)



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  • Cynthia Franks says:

    Ken, I love this post. I think if writers or other industry professionals where to write a set of emails, each one about basic principal of storytelling like motivation, and set their computer to send one each week on an infinite loop and they committed to read them; the quality of work on the stage and screen would increase dramatically. This is why I love your blog. Remember the basics!

  • Terrence Cranert says:

    Lehman Engel told me once that the trouble with writing an original musical is that before you write My Fair Lady you have to write Pygmalion. Adaptations are the norm and adaptations of stories in the public domain the most common in order to eliminate the problem of acquiring rights. But how many Victorian novels turned musicals can one take? Original or adaptation, find a subject that you’re passionate about and be inspired. You can put lipstick on a pig but . . . . well you know the rest.

  • LA Producer says:

    Adaption of movie-tv show into musical sucks. That’s what MY Russian teacher taught me. (Vy govorite po-russki?) I’ve always admired adaptions of PD material that are given a unique twist as a musical. Like “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Kiss Me Kate” or “A Little Night Music.” O.K. Sondheim and Wheeler borrowed from a movie but THAT movie borrowed from the Bard. No. Really, I’m sure. 😉

  • Any chance you’d share your answer for Somewhere in Time?

  • Christopher says:

    This is an amazing post – i am not a for profit producer – but i am a not-for-profit Artistic Director and every choice i make is driven by the mission and my passion to tell the story – marketing, money and butts in seats are 2nd – as i am working on the 2013-2014 season right now – this was exactly what i needed to take into the board of directors to start the conversation – thanks so much for this!

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