GUEST BLOG: 5 Ways to Profit from Storytelling By Rebecca Matter

Every year, Saroo Brierley celebrates his birthday on May 22nd. But that wasn’t the day he was born. It was the day he was found.

Saroo grew up in India, and just about every day, he followed his older brother around. One day back in 1986, he fell asleep in an empty train while his big brother was off finding food for the family.

When he woke up several hours later, he was hundreds of miles away in a place he had never seen before. He was alone, hungry, and scared. He cried out for his brother, sister, and mother.

Yet, they were nowhere to be found. It wouldn’t be until 2012, almost 26 years later, that he would find his family. And so is the story of the heartbreaking movie, Lion.

If you’ve seen Lion, then you know how touching Saroo’s story is and the emotions it stirs up. That’s because good stories are hard to resist.

But stories do much more than simply entertain us. They also influence the way we think, and even what we feel. Stories have the power to sway the way we see the world … not to mention our decision-making processes.

That’s why telling a good story is one of the most powerful skills you can have as a writer. And it’s an easy way to make your copy memorable — as well as profitable.

So today, I’m going to show you why good stories are so valuable to businesses … and why they’ll gladly pay you to write those stories!

Let’s say a company puts out a brochure with a list of facts and statistics. Your brain processes that information as an intellectual experience. Interesting and educational, but not necessarily memorable.

You might be able to recall a few of the facts, but probably not all. That’s because informative writing only taps into your cerebral cortex, which is the part of your brain that decodes words into meaning.

A well-told story, on the other hand, takes the reader on an emotional adventure. It involves the language-processing areas of your brain along with many other areas — including your sensory cortex.

The sensory cortex is the part of your brain you’d use if you were actually experiencing the events of a story. It’s the area where you detect sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch.

When you’re involved at a sensory level, it’s easy to feel like you’re in the story, which is the reason you remember stories more so than statistics.

And when stories are used in persuasive writing, the story becomes representative of what’s being sold or presented.

Persuasive writers who know how to tell a good story use it to move people to action, whether that means buying a product or service, making a donation, signing up for a free newsletter, or picking up the phone to talk to a member of the company’s customer service team.

And THAT is why good storytellers stand to make a great deal of money.

When most people think of “writing careers,” they think they have two choices:

  1. You can become an author and write books — fiction, non-fiction, biographies, and so on.
  2. Or, you can get yourself a journalism degree and write articles and news stories for newspapers and magazines — either as a freelancer or staff writer.

Both are noble professions that can be very rewarding and garner a lot of respect. Problem is, they’re hard work. They’re highly competitive. You need to spend a lot of time getting very good at what you do. And, unless you’re among the elite, the pay is typically pretty average at best.

Fortunately, the kind of writing I do isn’t either of those two … although there are elements of storytelling and reporting in what I do.

And, even though you see the type of writing I do every day — in the mail, on the Internet, in magazines and newspapers — few people stop to consider who’s writing it … and just how lucrative of a career it can be.

Master Copywriter Mark Morgan Ford, the man who’s mentored hundreds of up-and-coming writers in this field, put it perfectly some years ago:

“You’re a good writer if you can write a story that can make people cry… you’re a better writer if your writing can make people laugh… but, if your writing can persuade people to take action — that’s when you know you can be a very wealthy writer.”

That, in a nutshell, is what we do.

We persuade people to take action — whether it’s to request some more information, support a cause, read a special report, buy a product, and so on. It may just be some well-written text for an email you send a potential customer … an ad in a publication … a website landing page … or a personal letter written to someone with an interest in the product you’re offering. But, it all boils down to good, conversational, persuasive writing.

Now, if writing is your dream, this type of writing – copywriting – can enable you to get paid well for your writing and give you time to work on your creative pursuits.

There’s a basic formula to copywriting. It’s a secret structure that you’ll find in every piece of good, persuasive writing … one that’s been tested and proven to work millions of times, in millions of ads. A structure anyone can learn and follow.

Once you learn what copywriting is, understand it, and start using it — well, that’s when your life will change dramatically.

Because the fact is, once you can write a letter, an ad, or a web page that persuades, you’ll have a financially-valuable skill that will reward you for life! And here’s how…

5 Paid Writing Projects that Benefit From Good Storytelling

1. Case Studies

Fees: $1,250-$2,000

Case studies are success stories that detail a customer’s experience with a company’s products or services.

Their goal is to tell the story of how a company or individual solved a challenge using a product or service. In other words, a “before-and-after” story.

If you have a journalistic background or mindset … this project is ideal for you!

(Go here for expert advice on how to write a case study.)


2. Emails

Fees: $150-$500 (and upwards of $1,250 in B2B, or for more experienced writers)

Companies email prospects and customers on a regular basis — often daily. Stories keep their emails interesting, and encourage readers to engage in a real conversation.

If you like writing short, conversational copy, this is a great opportunity. Along with fitting your style, the frequency of writing emails is very high — so you can make a lot from just a few clients.


3. Social Media Campaigns

Fees: Upwards of $2,000/Month

Social media platforms were built to share stories …

And it’s where companies’ customers and prospects are connecting, researching, and making buying decisions.

As a social media writer, you’ll use stories to grab their attention, and connect on a personal level … to start and then further develop a relationship with the client.


4. Video Marketing

Fee: Upwards of $200 per video minute

Videos are an effective way to connect with any online audience and allow you to tell your story visually.

If you have any desire to teach … or you come from the screenwriting world … this is definitely for you.


5. Websites

Fee: $1,500 to $3,500 for a small website (5-7 pages)

Whether you’re telling the story of how a company first came to be or you’re telling the stories of many satisfied customers, website pages often house a variety of short stories interlaced with a common theme.

As you can see, stories can play a role in every form of copy and content …

Compelling stories entertain, inform, and offer value to readers. Which makes them more likely to connect with your clients and their products and services.

They also cut through the noise, grab people’s attention, and make the messaging more “real.”
So put your storytelling skills to use! Decide which project types interest you most, and get going. And while your stories many not win any literary awards … your clients will certainly value every word you write. And that’s when you’ll see your freelance writing income soar.

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This article appears courtesy of American Writers & Artists Inc.’s (AWAI.)

AWAI has been helping writers make a great living doing what they love for over 20 years. If you’d like to learn more about the opportunities above, as well as a few more ways you can get paid to write, go here to download their special report called, It’s True! You Can Make a Very Good Living as a Writer.

In it, you’ll learn everything you need to know about 9 writing assignments that are in big demand today, including what the projects look like, what they pay, and how to land them. Go here now to download your free copy.

GUEST BLOG: Deconstructing a Song with Kleban Prize winner Amanda Yesnowitz

As the story goes, Dorothy Hammerstein once overheard a man at a lavish NYC event extolling the virtues of “Ol’ Man River.” Correcting the fellow, who attributed the song’s genius to Jerome Kern, she interjected sassily: “Jerome Kern wrote ‘dum, dum, dum-dum.’ My husband wrote ‘Ol’ Man River’.”

Historically, lyricists get the short shrift. But the truth is that when we’re doing our jobs most compellingly, we shouldn’t be noticed at all. Lyrics should feel organically generated by characters, not writers. Still, when we study the musical theatre canon, we can learn a lot from those wordsmiths whose many gifts have helped develop the form. In my mind, Jerry Herman is one those versifiers who falls through the cracks. Certainly, he’s often recognized for being a songwriting stalwart but he is one of the most underrated lyricists in musical theatre and I know exactly why: he makes lyric writing look effortless. His lyrics are all at once character specific and easily extractable. Favoring economy of language, simple song forms, and uncluttered images, Herman is a lyricist of the people. He knows what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, what you’re desiring but he knows how to articulate those thoughts, feelings, and desires better than you ever could.

Sentiment is so difficult to represent at the lyric level lest it become sentimentality— ersatz poetry, generic longing, periwinkle moons. Ick. In order to convey sentiment effectively, the writer must push against it as much as possible, creating tension between the ideas being expressed and the actual vehicle for those expressions.

I chose “I Won’t Send Roses” to deconstruct because it makes me weep every time I hear it. And it’s not because I go into some personal reverie about what the song means to me; it’s because I am always seduced into the world of the song.

For reference, the lyrics are below:

I won’t send roses

Or hold the door

I won’t remember

Which dress you wore

My heart is too much in control

The lack of romance in my soul

Will turn you grey, kid

So stay away, kid

Forget my shoulder

When you’re in need

Forgetting birthdays

Is guaranteed

And should I love you, you would be

The last to know

I won’t send roses

And roses suit you so

 

My pace is frantic

My temper’s cross

With words romantic

I’m at a loss

I’d be the first one to agree

That I’m preoccupied with me

And it’s inbred, kid

So keep your head, kid

In me you’ll find things

Like guts and nerve

But not the kind of things

That you deserve

And so while there’s a fighting chance

Just turn and go

I won’t send roses

And roses suit you so.

 

In terms of structure, we have two A sections. That’s all. No B section. No chorus. No release. Not even a coda. Just two verses with a repeated refrain.

Again, the efficiency of this song astounds me. But its construction is far more intricately crafted than the casual listener might realize.

In general, rhymes whose emphasized syllables are spelled differently (contrOL/sOUL), as well as rhymes that are different parts of speech (wore/door), will always land better on the ear. Really.

This song is comprised almost entirely of rhymes that fall into either category, and in some cases both. Also, when the second verse begins, lines 1 and 3 are rhymed (frantic/romantic) while in the first verse

they are not (though the parallel ‘I won’t’s do ground us). The increased rhyming inherently gives the song momentum without announcing such a build.

We may not realize the shift as it goes by—in fact we shouldn’t realize any of these mechanics while we’re listening—we just know the song works in and of itself as it works on us.

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For a comprehensive look into the art and science of lyric writing, register for Amanda’s upcoming workshop in NYC. The workshop will be held on Wednesday, July 18th and few spots remain. Sign up here!

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AMANDA YESNOWITZ is the Winner of 2018 Kleban Prize, Jonathan Larson Award, Dramatists Guild Fellowship, Dottie Burman Award, Jamie deRoy and Friends Award, and 8 MAC nominations, all for excellence and vision in lyric writing. Selected projects: SOMEWHERE IN TIME (Portland Center Stage world premiere; 7 PAMTA noms; NAMT finalist), BY THE NUMBERS (ASCAP Workshop; Goodspeed’s Mercer Colony), THE HISTORY OF WAR (NYMF invited selection), THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE (Hangar Theatre world premiere). RECORDINGS: “Gotta Start Small” (Stephanie Block, PS Classics; Live from Lincoln Center /PBS/Broadway HD). PODCASTS: LiveWire Radio; Keith Price’s Curtain Call. Notable: Featured writer at the Kennedy Center (ASCAP centennial) and Boston’s Symphony Hall (“No Looking Back” performed by Keith Lockhart and the Pops). Her lyrics have been published in The DramatistTimeNewsdayThe NY Daily NewsThe Sydney Morning Herald, and The New York Times. Strange but true: competitive crossword puzzle solver and published constructor (NY Times, 08/26/12. . . no ordinary Sunday).

GUEST BLOG: TALES FROM A MUSICAL FESTIVAL CURATOR

As I type this, we are four days away from the 15th annual New York Musical Festival (NYMF). On July 9th, 30+ new musical productions, concerts, readings, and educational events will descend upon midtown Manhattan (West 42nd St between 9th and 11th Avenues, to be precise) and showcase their developmental work to a New York audience over the course of four weeks.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Since NYMF is a 4-week summer festival, I often get the question, “So what do you do the rest of the year, when the Festival isn’t happening?” People are surprised to hear that the Festival is a full-time, year-around gig and planning for the next Festival begins mere weeks after the previous one has ended. Think of it as a regular theater season with all the programming condensed into 28 non-stop days. The Festival process for me as Producing Artistic Director begins around Labor Day each year when the submissions process for the Next Link Project opens. What is the Next Link Project, you may ask? The Next Link Project anchors the Festival – it’s our primary writer service program that, through a rigorous double-blind evaluation process, selects ten writing teams and their shows to present a production in the Festival. These Next Link teams receive administrative, creative, dramaturgical, and financial support, culminating in a subsidized production in the Festival. By “double-blind,” I mean there are two levels implemented to remove bias from the process: the first, authors’ names are removed from all their materials to maintain the integrity of the work; and secondly, readers’ names are not revealed to one another, so we can get an impartial evaluation from each reader on our Reading Committee (made up of dramaturgs, directors, literary managers, and other working theater professionals).

Next Link submissions close in early November and our reading committee furiously finishes screening (the first stage: evaluating a 15-page excerpt with demos) and reading (the second stage: evaluating the full materials) for another month, leading up to what we affectionately refer to as the Reader Smackdown.  This day-long event gives readers a chance to reveal themselves to one another and debate which shows should be shortlisted as finalists for Next Link. By the end, we typically have 40 shows for me to personally review and determine the top 20 or so finalists. Those shows then go on to be evaluated by our Grand Jury of fancy directors, actors, choreographers, and producers. With their input, we select the ten Next Link Projects in mid-late January! Phew.

But these ten Next Link Projects make up just about one-third of the Festival (and even less in previous years). So where do the other shows come from? Well, many new musicals that come through submissions are conceptually compelling but need time to focus on strengthening their storytelling and character development before they’re ready for production prime time – ten of these shows will eventually go on to be a part of our Developmental Reading Series, which is a barebones presentation in a rehearsal studio with actors on book at music stands (essentially a 29-hour AEA reading). We also choose a few shows – either through submissions or through our email solicitation – to participate as “Invited Productions.” To the outside eye, the Next Link Projects and Invited Productions are really the same and fall under the umbrella category “Productions” – they include all the same production elements (lights, sound, costumes, choreography)- but internally, Invited Productions don’t require the same level of support as Next Link (for example, an experienced producer may want to use the existing Festival structure to share their project with an audience). It’s important to note though that all productions must be considered within the context of the Festival and we recommend they lean in to being suggestive rather than emphasize big-budget Production Values (shows do share space and have limited tech time, after all – it’s a creative challenge). The 2018 Festival will have two Invited Productions along with our ten Next Link Projects.

Concerts and educational events round out the programming – concerts tend to follow a song cycle format and many of these are produced by us. In 2017, we began commissioning what we call “micro-musicals” (30 minutes or less) inspired by politically relevant prompts, which culminate in a concert series entitled How the Light Gets In: An Evening of New American Micro-Musical Works one evening of the Festival. This initiative was developed to create more space for democratic discourse in the Festival as well as create more opportunities for artists to access and participate in the Festival. It’s been a big goal of both mine and our Executive Director Dan Markley’s to remove as many barriers to entry as possible so we can consistently ensure that the most exciting talents have a place at NYMF – we are well on our way.

As a curator, I aim to make sure these 30+ shows showcase a wide range of stories, themes, structures, and musical styles. I’d like to believe there’s at least one show for every Festival goer to revel in, no matter his or her personal aesthetic. I also firmly believe that it’s my job to amplify artistic voices with meaningful stories to tell that have yet to be heard. This year, we will use the Festival’s platform to share stories centered around racial justice, immigration, queer and trans representation, mental illness, and other vital issues – musicals can be challenging, invigorating, and encourage empathy! Of course, we also have a musical about alien lizards that conspire for world domination through a beauty pageant. (Balance is important.)

To learn more about the 2018 Festival, visit www.nymf.org. Submissions for the 2019 Next Link will open on August 29, 2018.

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RACHEL SUSSMAN is an award-winning New York-based producer committed to nurturing accessible, inclusive work through creative collaboration.

Rachel is a co-founder of  The MITTEN Lab, an emerging theatre artist residency program in her native state of Michigan as well as The Indigo Theatre Project, a theatre company of passion and purpose dedicated to producing play readings that benefit related non-profit organizations, most recently, An American Daughter (starring Keri Russell and Hugh Dancy for She Should Run). She serves as the Producing Artistic Director for the New York Musical Festival (NYMF).

Rachel has worked with such companies as Second Stage Theatre, 321 Theatrical Management, RKO Stage Productions, Goodspeed Musicals’ Mercer Colony, The Sundance Institute Theatre Lab, Lincoln Center’s American Songbook, The Tony Awards, and CREATE-Ireland in Dublin, Ireland. Independent producing credits include:  the Obie award-winning production of The Woodsman (New World Stages/59E59), Don’t You F**king Say a Word (59E59), The Rug Dealer (Women’s Project Pipeline Festival), The Sweetest Life (New Victory), and Talk to me about Shame (FringeNYC, Overall Excellence Award). Upcoming: Eh Dah? (Next Door @ NYTW) and a new musical about the American women’s suffrage movement by Shaina Taub.

Rachel is a 2014-2016 Women’s Project Lab Time Warner Foundation Fellow, a trustee emeritus for The Awesome Foundation NYC, and a two-time finalist for the T Fellowship in Creative Producing. She sits on the Advisory Board for Strangemen & Co. and The Musical Theatre Factory as well as the Artist Board for Encores! Off-Center. She is a proud member of the Ghostlight Project Steering Committee and the Covenant House Broadway Sleep Out Executive Committee. Rachel is a graduate of the Commercial Theater Institute (Fred Vogel Scholarship) and a University Honors Scholar alumna of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
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The New York Musical Festival (NYMF) nurtures the creation, production, and public presentation of stylistically, thematically, and culturally diverse new musicals to ensure the future vitality of musical theater.

Now in its fifteenth year, the Festival is the premier musical theater event in the world. The preeminent site for launching new musicals and discovering new talent, the Festival provides an affordable platform for artists to mount professional productions that reach their peers, industry leaders, and musical theater fans. More than 90 Festival shows have gone on to productions on and Off-Broadway, in regional theaters in all 50 states, and in more than 24 countries worldwide. Festival alumni have received a wide array of awards including the Tony Award® and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2013, NYMF received a special Drama Desk Award in recognition of its work “creating and nurturing new musical theater, ensuring the future of this essential art form.”

GUEST BLOG: 6 Lessons I Learned Growing A Theatre Blog by Ben Bailey

I’m not a very patient person. In college, I started day trading stocks in class to pass the time and ended up quitting because I was making good money. I turned to real estate shortly after and found myself with some significant money for the first time in my life. I was married but had no kids – it was the perfect time to take a risk. I was a “theatre kid” growing up and had a closeted dream of working in the Broadway industry, but it always seemed so far away from the grass seed farm I grew up on in Oregon.

Scratching the Broadway itch, I literally googled “how to be a producer.” I found Ken’s blog (yeah this one), and the next steps would change the whole course of my life. After reading a post, I responded in the comments with a question. A couple hours later, I get an email from Ken with a very thoughtful and detailed answer.

Fast forward several months, and I was a co-producer on Daddy Long Legs, moving to New York, and looking to pursue a life in Broadway producing. My wife and I sold our house, possessions, and moved here with a couple suitcases… and no idea on how we were going to survive. We had savings, but NYC is expensive… like really expensive.

Cue Theatre Nerds. The idea for Theatre Nerds began as a Facebook page that could act as a focus group for my producing ventures. What it turned into, I could’ve never predicted. Today the TN blog receives over 300,000 readers every month, and we have turned down buyout offers from well-known theatre industry players. We also have a merch division with over 25,000 customers and a staff of people from around the world.

 

Theatre Nerds just celebrated its 3rd anniversary! Here are just a few lessons I’ve learned on this journey:


1. Fake It Till You Make It

 

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When I first started the community, I had no idea what I was doing. I had to figure all the pieces out, from hiring a team of writers for the blog, getting press access, managing social media, to figuring out how to speak to my audience. It’s hard not to have imposter syndrome and feel like you’re spinning your wheels. The key is to just take action. It might not be pretty at first, but the only way to learn is to do. You’d be surprised on how many so-called “experts” are just people who figured something out along the way, the only difference is they pushed through the hard part and gained experience through the actions they took. Looking back at it, that’s how I got into theatre. I didn’t have formal training – I just went to auditions. I didn’t make the cut for the very first musical I tried out for, but I gained knowledge and got a small part the next show. Following this pattern, I worked my way up to getting lead roles, and even professional theatre gigs. Don’t you wish there was someone who came out and knighted you as an expert, just so you’d know you’ve made it? That won’t happen – but eventually, you will feel much more comfortable and confident.


2. Patience + Consistency = An Overnight Success

 

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Before you accuse me of being oxymoronic, here’s what I mean: I worked my butt off for 6 months before Theatre Nerds showed any sign of success. In the early days, I would spend hours uploading blog posts and memes on social media and paying our writing team. Day after day and I had not much to show for it, but I was determined and consistent. Then it happened, and it happened quickly. Following my usual routine, I released a blog post, but this time it went viral. Within two days we had over 100,000 visits to our site for that one post, and we never looked back. For whatever reason, the theatre gods released the floodgates and from that day on, we were on the “thespian map”. Six months of nothing and then, basically overnight, we got massive traffic, press coverage, and press offers from big industry publications. Since that post, we haven’t had less than 200K readers a month.


3. You’ve Gotta Have An Angle

 

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Why were we this successful? We separated ourselves from the Broadway industry. There were plenty of publications covering Broadway news and events. Our angle was publishing content every theatre kid could relate to, whether you are in community theatre or on the Broadway stage. I wanted the reader to say “oh hey, that’s me!”. We didn’t want some exclusive Broadway club that they could only peek through the glass to see. At the time, no one was doing Buzzfeed-style content in the theatre space, so we saw the opportunity to make theatre cool and relevant for the younger reader.

4. Haters Gonna Hate

 

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By the law of averages, the bigger you get, the more haters will show up at your door. Ironically, most of these people only have opinions, and not ideas. For the most part, I’ve learned that haters are just a sign you’re doing something right. We’ve had threats and hate mail from Broadway publications, people copy our ideas (to the very post title), and let’s not even talk about social media trolls. It’s hard as a business or brand owner not to take it personally, but you can’t. If you do, it will distract you from the other 99.9% who actually love what you’re doing. This was a massive challenge for me, but I’ve learned to just ignore it and stay the course. I imagine this is true for actors, producers, and any business owner.

5. Listen & Pivot

 

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 By the time a show has made it on Broadway, it has undergone many changes. A play evolves as the characters develop; the final result could be a mere shell of the original idea. Such was true with Theatre Nerds, and it’s a darn good thing. Three years later, TN looks a lot different than what I initially pictured. It’s not centered on Broadway, I’m not using it as a focus group for producing, and the merchandise division has become the core business model. Originally, I had planned on selling ads and Broadway tickets as a way to generate income. One day I put a shirt for sale on the site, thinking If I sold a couple a month that would be a little extra money to pay the writers. We immediately starting selling way more than a couple; it caught me by surprise. I threw out the idea of selling ad space and listened to my community. They wanted merch, they got merch. What had been a complete afterthought is now our primary business model.


6. Theatre People Are The Best People

 

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Moving away from the business stuff, what really made TN work is the wonderful community. I really just wanted a positive place for theatre kids to hang out and share their common love. For most of us, theatre is a family and there’s nothing like the bond a family has. I’ve never met a more loving and accepting group of people, and that makes me very proud to work in this industry. There was always a place for Broadway fans to hang out, but we created a space for theatre kids to say “hey, that’s me!”.

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Ben Bailey is the founder and Editor-in-Chief at TheatreNerds.com, and head of swag at thespianswag.com. He recently made his producing debut with the Off-Broadway musical Daddy Long Legs. He’s created numerous Broadway-Themed products that have been featured in Huffington PostPopsugar & CNBC.

GUEST BLOG: How Do I Work With A Dramaturg? by Natasha Sinha

Are you a playwright or other generative artist who is considering working with a dramaturg, but questioning how to start? Here’s one possible starting point!

When I was asked to talk about the development of new theatrical work via collaboration with a dramaturg, I did what I do when I’m developing new theatrical work dramaturgically… I took my cues from the brilliant folks making the work! In this case, I asked some of my favorite generative artists what they want to know.

Many of the subsequent conversations hovered around how and when to work with a dramaturg. The role of a new work dramaturg is a highly customizable one that shifts from dramaturg to dramaturg, and from project to project. What’s reflected here is only my take, shaped by many experiences working at an institutional theatre as well as freelancing.

First off, want to demystify “dramaturgy”? Fellow dramaturgs Jeremy Stoller, Molly Marinik, and I co-founded Beehive Dramaturgy Studio to help do that. Beehive collectively defines dramaturgy as an exploration of the world of the play—both the text itself and how the text engages with the world in which we live (whereby “text” means whatever mode of storytelling is being used—language, movement, etc.).

Since each piece of theater is unique, the role of a dramaturg is further defined on a project-by-project basis. Each process requires a customized approach that begins with a deep understanding of the play and of the generative artist’s goals. I’m so grateful for what has been amassed by traditional dramaturgical studies, Aristotle, Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey,” the Liz Lerman method (a favorite of mine), etc. But particularly in thinking about how to best support work that functions separately from Eurocentric perspectives and the male gaze, I’m curious about additional ways to build a theatrical piece, other systems of logic, the queering of experience, and how to shape the visceral arc of a story. These can be built from scratch by knowing the history and intentionally proceeding differently with the tools we have.

Generally, dramaturgs ask key questions, start conversations, research, provide context, and sharpen intent. Working with a dramaturg may bring up conversations with character maps, timelines, Post-It sequencing, big-picture structural questions, analysis of theatrical devices, world rules, logic policing, etc. For guiding principles that could steer your dramaturgical process, examples of what specifically a dramaturg can do, and varying definitions of “dramaturgy” by a handful of active dramaturgs, click around on our website at www.BeehiveDramaturgy.com.

When should I start working with a dramaturg?

So you want a smart-sounding board, a storytelling collaborator, the perspective of someone who knows your goals yet will continually re-calibrate as you make new discoveries, in order to make it stronger and stronger? Sounds like you want to work with a dramaturg!

Dramaturgs can come on board at many different points in the process– perhaps to help flesh out a conceptual premise, to weigh in on an outline or treatment, to respond with questions after reading a first draft, to join in as the dedicated person keeping an eye on core storytelling needs as a production begins, etc. I tend to prefer being brought onboard once there is some sort of draft in place so that I can start exploring how the execution is serving the premise.

But are you at the right point in your process to start working with a dramaturg? Are you ready to invite someone new into the process? You may feel extremely vulnerable in allowing someone in, which is why you want to find someone appropriately sensitive to how you want to set the tone to talk about your work. Because at the end of the day, it is truly always your work.

How do I find the right dramaturg for me?

A feeling of emotional safety when talking about your work is important. Dramaturgical approach, past experience, and a generally shared perspective on the work are also elements to consider. If you like talking to this person about your work, I often suggest having a conversation (perhaps a phone meeting) to ask how they initially approach new work and what they’ve worked on in the past (and you may want to then more specifically ask if they’ve worked on the type of work that you’re developing).

(A more practical answer to this is that there are lots of great dramaturgs! Beehive is one place you could start. We have bios and testimonials for each of ours, plus we’re also happy to help folks find dramaturgs who aren’t part of Beehive.)

How might the process of working with a dramaturg begin?

From my end of it, when I’m having this conversation with someone new to me, I want to soak in as much from the generative artist about inspiration, concept, goals, and concerns. If I’m naturally aligning with much of that and excited about working on the piece, that feels like a good fit! Then I want to start figuring out what the main goals are– whether that’s toward an upcoming reading, a submission deadline, or something else. A loose timeline should emerge as well, which is helpful in guiding the pacing of the conversation.

Personally, I then start the process by saying what I love about the piece, and what I find most resonant. Because that’s why I chose to work on it! This naturally segues into continued excitement via a ton of questions about the work– both the birds-eye-view questions and the nitty-gritty– as I organically also get to know the artist as a person and learn how they respond to what I pose about their work. The approach I take after the beginning steps depends on what feels most productive for the artist– that could mean continued questions, suggestions of scenes or elements to look at that respond to what they’re grappling with most, tough questions to ask in order to honor a full exploration of what’s at hand, pointing out two or more places in the storytelling that could be connected more (or be differentiated more), etc. Rooting the conversation in questions is always part of my approach (since it’s always the generative artists who have the “answers” anyway), as is avoiding prescriptive feedback unless explicitly asked for by the generative artist.

 

How should I receive and process my dramaturg’s thoughts?

It’s always your play, first and foremost! Ideally, whatever the dramaturg presents to you creates a prism of ways to further explore your piece. You receive these thoughts, and then it’s up to you regarding what you want to work into your piece, discuss further, or simply not use.

I am a big proponent of generative artists always knowing that any feedback they receive (whether from a dramaturg, director, actor, designer, producer, audience member, etc.) should be taken with a grain of salt. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored– as long as the piece is created for humans, anyone’s response is of interest! But, you may need to translate these responses, particularly if that respondent is not aware of your goals and/or not someone who uses your storytelling devices the way you do.

For example, if someone expresses confusion about something in the fourth scene, what that may really be telling you is that the questions you have about the dispensation of information in the second scene lead-up could use a look. Or, if six people are telling you how to “fix” that third scene in a particular way, it may not mean huge rewrites– it might just be how everyone is communicating to you that their eye was drawn to something unintended that is distracting and maybe just needs to be taken out so as to not beg the question.

Hopefully, your dramaturg does get to know your goals and how you’re building the piece– and therefore can translate their thoughts (and translate others’) as they relate to your goals. Divergent opinions absolutely may and likely will happen between with your dramaturg– these can be helpful! But if you’re not on the same planet of discussion, the opinions may be too far away for it to be a helpful path to go down. Collaborating is an act of trust after all.

How do I know if the collaboration with my dramaturg was successful?

There’s no black-or-white answer to this. That said, if you feel that the conversations you had with your dramaturg deepened your exploration of the piece, that feels like a successful collaboration. If you want to work with that person again, that feels like a successful collaboration. If your audience is now following storytelling threads that they weren’t before (whether or not they can identify why), that feels like a successful collaboration. And hopefully, your work is closer to your vision than before.

 

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Natasha Sinha is a producer and dramaturg, focusing on new plays and new musical work. She is the Associate Director of LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater which exclusively produces premieres (including Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, Dave Malloy’s Preludes, War by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Martyna Majok’s queens, and Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over). Natasha is a co-founder of Beehive Dramaturgy Studio, which works with individual generative artists as well as organizations such as Page 73, Musical Theatre Factory, Astoria Performing Arts Center, and New York Musical Theatre Festival. Prior to joining LCT3, she was the Associate Producer at Barrington Stage Company. Natasha is on the Advisory Boards of Musical Theatre Factory and SPACE on Ryder Farm. She has served as a judge on award committees, taught classes, and curated events focused on inclusivity.

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