FIVE Things I Learned About Playwriting from The Presidential Election.

Watching the last few days of our recent Presidential election was as dramatic as any event I’ve seen in my life.  It kept me riveted to my seats for days!  It was like sitting through Les Miz, both parts of Angels in America AND The Inheritance over and over for a week!  And I didn’t even want to get up to pee!
 
In between waiting for ballots to come in and binging Krispy Kremes and Kit Kats, I couldn’t help but wonder what I could learn from all this drama.
So I asked myself “What about THIS ELECTION put me so on-the-edge-of-my-seat?  And how can I put that into all of my shows?”
 
Here are FIVE things I came up with that are now a part of my “Edge-Of-Your-Seat” checklist on every single one of my shows (and ACTION ITEMS for you to help you with YOUR shows):
 
1. A super specific SIMILAR objective for BOTH the protagonist and antagonist.
 
One candidate wanted to win the election. The other candidate wanted to win the election. Boom. You can’t get clearer than that.
The “want” for EACH character wasn’t, “To improve his understanding of the word,” or “To gain self-confidence.”  Those may be good objectives but it’s hard to show an audience if your hero has achieved them.
An election is a win/lose. It’s like a boxing match or a basketball game (now you know why Rocky and Hoosiers are so easy to get into). Or a court case (Law and Order, To Kill a Mockingbird, 12 Angry Men, etc.).
 
And when both your protagonist and antagonist have the same goal, the conflict or “counter-objective” is super clear. Because both characters want the same thing, they also want to prevent the other “party” from getting the same thing.
 
ACTION ITEM: What does your protagonist want? Can you make it more specific . . . and if it’s a “internal want,” (e.g. to be a better father), who can you symbolize it with something specific. And what does your antagonist want? Can it be the same thing? Or at the very least, can you make it to prevent the protagonist from getting what he or she wants?
 
2. High stakes? Make them even higher.
 
What was at stake in this last election?
 
Not much. Just a pandemic. The economy. Democracy. Or in simpler terms . . . people’s lives, people’s livelihoods, and the entire country.
 
I mean, can you get bigger stakes?
 
Your story may not be as big as an election, but however high your stakes are, ratchet ’em up as high as you can go.
 
I like to think of my stakes as the bar a pole vaulter (i.e. my protagonist) has to leap over. When I do my SECOND draft, I look at where I set the bar in the first draft. . . and then I raise it up a few more inches. And so on with the third draft, fourth, and on.
 
ACTION ITEM: Write out the answer to this question:  “What will happen to your hero if he or she does NOT get what they want?” Like this:  “If my hero fails, he or she will . . . ” Then make it worse.
 
3. Have a bad guy? Make him badder.
 
However nasty your antagonist may be, make him nastier. Be careful about mustache-twirling cliches (you avoid this by having them do things that you’d never expect – just like what happened in this election and AFTER this election).
 
We know that our audience must feel empathy for our protagonist. One way to accomplish this is by making the antagonist, the person preventing our hero from getting what they want, even more of an a-hole. When we dislike someone, we are more likely to want the other to succeed.
(Oh, I will leave it to you to decide who the bad guy was in this election.)
 
ACTION ITEM: On a scale of 1-10, how much of a bad guy is your bad guy? Add something to your story that he or she does or has done to make him or her worse.
 
4. Think you know what’s going to happen?
 
This election took more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. And that’s how your story should unfold as well! On Tuesday night, it started out one way, then turned another (which kept people up watching late into the night). Then the next day it turned again when the mail-in vote started coming in. Then one network called Arizona. But others didn’t! And then . . . And then . . . and then!  
 
You have to surprise your audience with moments they can’t predict or EXPECT. Most successful stories follow similar structures. But what happens within that structure to keep your audience engaged is fair game.
 
ACTION ITEM: Count the twists and turns in your story. Then add another one.
 
5. Stretch it out.
 
Yes, people want shorter content in 2020. But as this election shows (as well as Les Miz, Angels in America and The Inheritance), there are ways to keep people watching. If you can keep your audience twisting and turning (see #4), you’ll increase the tension, and be able to stretch your story just a touch more . . . which will give your audience an even bigger release when the curtain comes down.
 
There would have been celebrations of the winner of this election around the world regardless of when the race was called. But I guarantee you, the celebrations would NOT have been as big as they were if the race was called on election night.
 
ACTION ITEM: Where in your story does your hero get what they want? Can you add a “But wait,” moment to delay it a touch more? Be careful!  Make sure your audience truly doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, or they’ll get bored. But if you’ve done your twisting and turning right, this could get you an even bigger celebration at the end of your show.
 
Happy drafting!
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If you want more advice on how to create award-winning stories, don’t listen to me.  Listen to Pulitzer Prize winners, Academy Award winners, Tony Award winners, and more.  We have them all and 100 other speakers at this weekend’s TheaterMakersSummit in just TWO DAYS!  Get your ticket now. It only takes ONE change in your script to get the attention of a Producer.  Hear what you should do this weekend.  Click here.

There are TWO things you should do today.

It’s November 3rd.  Election Day.

It’s the climax of the biggest political drama of the century.

And today is THE day.

There are two things you should do.

First, the obvious one.  It rhymes with “schmote.”

Been there and done that?  Whether in person or by mail?

Great.  Or should I say, “Schmreat.”

Then on to the second one.

As I said, this is one of the biggest dramas we will see, played out on the biggest stage . . . REAL EFFIN’ LIFE.

So as you watch the results come in.  Think about why this is so dramatic.  What about the characters make you like them?  Hate them?  Root for them?

And as you think about all these things, then ask yourself, “How can I inject just a little bit of the drama from this real life “play” into my own show?”

Because if you can capture 10% of the drama of this Presidential election, you’d have your audiences riveted to their seats.

(Don’t forget to “Schmote!”)

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Curious how the winner of the election will impact making theater in the future?  You’re going to hear a lot about that in just 11 days!  Click here and make sure you don’t miss out on what will no doubt be one of the most interesting TheaterMakers Summits ever.

A few (choice) words from Governor Cuomo (that may sound familiar).

This will be brief.

And it will NOT be a trashy takedown of our Governor. Because he has done a fantastic job facing this monster of a crisis.

No, no. The choice words I have for him are his own

Let me explain . . .

After New York hit the apex, our Governor appealed for aid from the federal government.

And every day he expressed frustration at how Congress was talking about diving up the money.

His argument was simple . . . More money should go to the states that suffered the most.

He even got into Twitter fights about it.

And of course, he was right. The people who hurt the most should get the most help.

So, Governor (and Honorable Mayor de Blasio, as well), I hope that logic will apply to Broadway and the theater as well.

See, the theater is one of the hardest hit industries in our city, our state . . . and on the damn planet. There is no curbside pick-up for the theater. No take-out. No 50% occupancy.

It’s all or nothing. And for the foreseeable future, it’s nothing.

When you give the green light for New York to enter ‘Stage 4 on Monday’ (cross fingers), theater doors will remain shut.

And almost 100,000 actors, musicians, stagehands, and more will remain out of work.

Like New York state, these individuals suffer the most.

And, at the same time, these individual are part of an industry that has an economic impact of $14.7 billion a year.

So, using your logic, shouldn’t the industry that is suffering the most, yet providing the most, get the most?

Isn’t this the same as you telling the fed that New York should get the most, because it paid the most to federal coffers?

You know why this blog can be brief?

Because what you said makes so much sense.

And now it makes sense for us.

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Interested in hearing more about how Broadway and the theater comes back?  Last chance to join the 3 Part video series that started earlier this week.  But the 3rd video – about safety in the era of coronavirus – is still to come!  And when you sign up, you get access to the other vids as well.  Click here.

5 Predictions for the Post Coronavirus World . . . and Broadway.

As a few cities around the world start to see some “leveling” of the curve (if not necessarily flattening) and as NYC approaches its apex, it’s time to start looking ahead.

While we are far from out-of-the viral woods yet (and every single effin’ person out there should be so sheltered-in-place, it should feel like you’re starring in your own one-person show), I’m getting a sense of what our world, and of course, our business, might look like in the months, years, and decades to come.

Here are five predictions for our post-Corona world:

1. We will have a Doctor as President.

We’ve had Lawyers and Generals as Presidents already, so it only makes sense that the next profession that will rise to the Commander in Chief role in the next 4-5 election cycles (20 years or so) will be a physician.  We’ve already had one run recently, and expect more to come.

As Fauci and Birx have proven, physicians can lead with more honesty, transparency, and intelligence than many of our typical politicians.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OUR INDUSTRY:  The reason we’ll want a Doc behind that desk is that we’re all going to want to feel safer and more protected by the folks in charge.  The “Presidents” of our industry (Theater Owners, Artistic Directors, Presenting Houses, Producers) will need to take extra steps to let our audiences know that we have THEIR safety at the top-of-our-minds.  Informing audiences of cleaning policies, signage about washing hands, recommendations to NOT come to the theater if you’re ill (dare I say, a more open exchange policy?), will all be key to getting our audience to show up instead of staying home.

2. Cash is no longer king and isn’t even in the court.

About 3 years ago, I stopped exchanging money when I went to a foreign country.  I just used my credit card and my apps.

One year ago, I stopped carrying cash in this country. There’s no question that paying by cash is way on its way out, but this virus will accelerate that phenomenon.  We bought everything we needed during our sequestered time by credit card online, and many of our necessities came with “contactless” delivery.

Oh, and the other reason cash will slowly disappear is because cash is, well, dirty.  After this is over, will you really want to put your hands on something that 1,000 other people have touched?

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OUR INDUSTRY:  Our consumers are going to want more ways to purchase their tickets via apps and online.  Box office pickups and hard tickets will decrease even more than they already have.  The ticketing companies who take the lead with mobile purchasing will win the day and the service fees that go along with it.

3. I’d “short” commercial real estate.

There’s nothing like mother nature forcing you to do something to prove that you can do it.  And the “something” in this case is work remotely.  The entire world is working from home right now, and a whole bunch of businesses (maybe even mine?) will come out of this saying, “Wait a minute, we just survived on Zoom . . . and I could save how much money if I didn’t have my office?” The Commercial Real Estate market is going to go through a major disruption as a result of Corona.  The upside?  Less commuting, less pollution, and yes, less chance of another virus spreading as fast as this one.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OUR INDUSTRY:  We’re not a biz that embraces tech very well, but we took a leap forward these past few weeks.  (Just yesterday I saw some folks figure out how to have a Zoom call who last month were still trying to get their VCRs to stop flashing 12:00 AM!)  While we’ll still be a face-to-face industry (since we require our audiences to be in a room, a lot of our business will still happen in a room), remote working will give those who embrace it an advantage.

4. Like Rock-n-Roll, live streaming is here to stay.

When I livestreamed Daddy Long Legs, I knew it would never replace what we do.  But I also knew it could definitely help market it, and provide other revenue streams for Artists, Producers, Investors, and all sorts of TheaterMakers.When Broadway shut down, I got a least a dozen emails in about an hour with all sorts of livestreamin’ ideas.  Obviously, we executed one of those ideas, and about a hundred other live streamin’ options popped up online right behind it.

And all these incredible initiatives won’t just disappear.  But don’t worry.  It won’t replace the “live” of what we do either.  It will only enhance it.  And this quarantine has given us a very valuable marketing tool that our audience (and our unions) will now truly embrace.

5. Oh, and yes, we are going to come back . . . in a big way.

As usual, some folks have used this crisis to signal the end of theater as we know it.  While I appreciate the “drama” of those statements, those self-proclaimed pundits are just dead wrong.  The theater has been around for thousands of years.  It has survived all sorts of world events, from wars to the invention of the television, and yeah, even epidemics and plagues and more, oh my. We will get through this.  And we will come back, bigger and better than before.  Gathering together for a common purpose . . . to share an experience as a community . . . is a primal human need.  And because we’re going to be so starved for it after our time in this social-distancing-desert we’ve been isolated in, we’re going to want to go to restaurants and bars and you betcha, theaters.  Will it happen overnight?  Probably not.  People have less money right now, and that will affect attendance more than fear of catching the bug.

But just close your eyes for a second and imagine . . . imagine what that first night back in a Broadway theater is going to be like.  Just imagine that ovation when the overture starts or the curtain rises.  Imagine the energy.

It makes me want to buy a ticket right now.  And it’ll make other people want to too.

 

How do you think the world is gonna change?  How do you think the business is going to change?  Let me know in the comments below!

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Are you watching our livestream? Tonight, Director/Actor Lonny Price will be LIVE with me on The Producer’s Perspective LIVE! Tune in. Tonight at 8pm EDT.

You can also go back and watch all 15 other episodes including Jeanine Tesori, Kevin McCollum, Sergio Trujillo, and more!

 

Why Politicians Need A Marketing Lesson To Get People To Stay Inside.

In his daily midday address the other day, the butt-kickin’ Governor of NY, Andrew Cuomo, once again tried to emphasize how important it was that everyone stayed the @#$% inside during this crisis.

“I’ve tried to say this so many different ways,” he said, obviously frustrated that he was still not getting his message through to all the right people.

And he’s not the only one.

“Staying inside saves lives,” all the Politicians and Docs have said over the past few weeks.  “Because sure, sure, 80% of the folks who get it will recover, but you could pass it on to someone that is one of the unlucky folks who don’t.  So stay inside to help others.”

Makes sense.  A very compelling argument, right?

Of course.  But unfortunately, it’s just not enough for a heck of a lot of people.

What all the folks behind those podiums are forgetting is that they are selling something.  It’s just not a product that comes in an Amazon box.  It’s a message.  And that message could be more valuable than Jeff Bezos’s entire net worth.

And to get people to “buy” it, they need to go back to marketing basics.

When designing a marketing campaign of any kind, you must remember The Non-Golden Rule . . . people do things for what’s in it for them.  As ugly as it is to admit . . . self-interest is the public’s primary motivating factor.

Gross but true.

So telling people how staying inside will help other people may not be the most effective way to get these folks to actually do it.

It should be part of the argument, for sure.  But in my opinion, the Politicians and Doctors are missing out on a very important part of the message. . .

And the lead that they’ve buried is this . . . even though 80% of the people who get this thing may not have to go to the hospital, they could be dreadfully and disgustingly ill.

I was reminded of this myself when I read Drew Gasparini’s Instagram Story the other day.  If you don’t know him, Drew is a composer-who-will-be-reckoned-with (he’s the guy behind the upcoming Karate Kid score and he was featured on my Podcast recently as #SongWriterOfTheWeek) who also just battled COVID-19 and is now, thankfully, on the other side.

But before he broke the virus’s back, this is what he went through:

It is not hyperbolic when I say this is easily the sickest I’ve ever felt to the point that my own mind was questioning whether or not I was going to be able to wake up the next day.

There was nothing to prepare me for how god awful it is.  I am on day 10, and I am very very slowly turning the corner but my experience was so bad that I am still very much just a shell of myself.  I have never in my life felt as sick or scared that my body couldn’t handle something in my entire life. Ever. Not even close.

Here’s what my week felt like:

  • Constant fever between 100-103 (treated every 4-6 hours with Tylenol)
  • Chills and aches. Sometimes it got so bad that I would shiver when I left bed to the point that I would fall to my knees and have a hard time getting back up.
  • No taste or smell (this is common with this virus)
  • The fatigue was (still is) so bad I could barely lift my head or open my eyes. The most I traveled was from my bed to the couch and I really weighed out the bathroom trips.
  • Perpetual nausea. It was constant, and painful as I tried to force nutrients into my body…
  • Anytime I did eat it would be immediate (overshare) diarrhea.
  • A cough, that once it started it would become a long coughing fit

– Drew

So tell me, readers.  Even if you knew you’d recover . . . do you want to deal with any of that, never mind all of that?

And I’ve heard even worse from others.  One friend and industry professional I know had to take pain-killers because his body aches were so bad.

Another threw up blood.  Another had blood coming out the other end.

I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to make me stay inside and bodywash with sanitizer.

And that message could affect the behavior of others in the way the politicians, doctors, and everyone wants and needs.

Hearing what the virus has the potential to do to YOU not only gets at the self-interest in all of us, but it also invokes one of the other primary marketing axioms . . . The Pain-Pleasure Principle.

People will always run to pleasure.  And run from pain.

The current marketing of this “stay inside” message hasn’t showcased enough personal pain to get some of the population to trade in the pleasure of going to spring break, gathering at friend’s apartments, etc.

In fact, the “marketing” has done the opposite.  The current message, and I’m quoting a website here, is “Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.”

While that may be true, and while it does prevent panic, from a marketing perspective, it doesn’t help keep people locked down.  If we want people to listen, we need to tell them, “You can get this.  And yes, you’ll most likely recover.  But in the process, it could hurt.  A lot.  So prevent yourself from the chance of (INSERT DISGUSTING SYMPTOMS HERE) and stay inside.  Doing so will keep you feeling great, and could also save the lives of your friends, family and fellow New Yorkers.”

(This theory is the same that was used in those very successful anti-smoking ads that show people speaking with no larynx, etc.)

I’m sure most of the people who read this blog are the part of the population who are staying inside.  But if you know people who aren’t, and you really want to get them to stay inside, use the above message on them, will ya?

And special thanks to Drew for his honesty.

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Last night on our live stream we featured Actor, Producer, Artrepreneuer ALAN CUMMING!  Click here to watch the replay and hear him talk about . . .

  • How he’s utilizing this time of forced isolation to write his next book. . . and bake homemade crackers!
  • His number one tip to negotiating (you may be surprised by his response . . .)
  • What he’s learned from doing his podcast, Homosapiens.

And tonight at 8 PM EDT, we have stage director Leigh Silverman joining us!  Click here to get a reminder to tune in!

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