How Hamilton will change what audiences expect from the theater.
I was re-reading Story by Robert McKee last week (the classic must-read for anyone writing or producing or creating anything), and in the first few pages, I stumbled upon this chestnut:
Originality is the confluence of content and form – distinctive choices of subject plus a unique shaping of the content. A story is not only what you have to say . . . but how you say it.
This axiom of great writing will always be true. But in the theater, right now, in the post-Hamiltonian era that we’re in, it’s more important than ever.
Hamilton raised the bar for all of us. Whenever something so unique comes around, and blows the hair back of audiences, critics and umpteen awards committees, the level of expectation for all of those people the next time they sit in a theater seat is different. They expect more. They expect different. Hamilton has become the new control group.
We’re already seen evidence of the “Hamilton Effect.” I’d argue that the sweet Tuck Everlasting, which disappeared much quicker than anyone anticipated, and even Bright Star, which just announced it’ll shutter on June 26th, would have lasted longer in another season, before audiences, critics and the like were colored by their Hamilton experience.
Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because this will challenge us all to abide by McKee’s definition like it’s law. And it also doesn’t mean that every show has to be as drastically different as Hamilton is. There will still be room for sweet stories, and simple stories, and period pieces with period music, and so on.
But it does mean that Writers and Producers alike will have to work a little harder, and expand their imagination even further, to create unique works that satisfy our audience’s changing cravings.
(If you haven’t read Story, let me pimp it out again – because it’s that good. It was written for screenplays originally, but it’s just as easily translated to plays . . . and especially musicals. I read it every couple of years to keep my dramaturgical eyes on point.)
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