Today, we pay respects to the man who gave us Tomorrow, Mr. Martin Charnin.

I loved Annie.

Not just the musical.  I’m talking about Annie herself.

Her name was A***** L*******, and she was the star of our local community theater production of the cartoon-turned-musical.  And she was also my first big crush.

Looking back, my elementary schoolboy Annie attraction wasn’t just because the young lady playing her was super talented and adorable.  I now realize I had fallen in love with the character herself.  How can you not go head-over-heels for an orphan who believes her one dream is “maybe far away or maybe real nearby” and is “never fully dressed without a smile”?  If only we all had that kind of optimism.

The spirit of Annie had a lot to do with the genius of Martin Charnin, the man who not only wrote the lyrics, but also directed the original production (and countless thereafter), secured the original rights, put together the rest of the writing team, and just made the whole effin’ thing happen.

We lost Martin over the weekend, and although I only met him a few times, I wanted to pay tribute to a man who gave us one of the biggest musical successes of the 20th century (Annie is right up there with Cats in terms of recognition) and who had the same never-give-up attitude of the orphan he made so famous.

See, as I was reading his obituary on Playbill, I was reminded that Martin’s first writing credit on Broadway was in 1963 for Hot Spot . . . which ran for 43 performances.  Gulp. Then he wrote Zenda . . . which you’ve also never heard of . . . because the Broadway production was canceled when the show was out of town.

Don’t worry, he went on to do a third show . . . Mata Hari . . . which David Merrick also canceled out of town.  Instead of giving up, he and his composer brought the show to Off-Broadway themselves, under a totally different title.

It wasn’t until 1977 that Annie finally arrived on Broadway . . . 14 years after Martin’s first “failure.”

And I’m sure he’d tell you today that he never would have written “Tomorrow” without all those shows you’ve never heard of that came beforehand . . . and that the only way he wrote it was really, truly believing that the sun WOULD come out tomorrow for Annie . . . and for himself.

The sun has just set on his incredible life and career, although thankfully, his words will echo throughout the halls of theaters for a long time to come.

Martin, I want to say thank you for inspiring me yesterday and continuing to inspire me today . . . as I look to my own tomorrow.


Curious how a show like Annie gets to Broadway, from the origination of the idea all the way to opening night?  Click here to check out my free Road to Broadway webinar.

Did you know Judge Judy makes $47 million a year? Here’s why.

Judge Judy hands out judgments to plaintiffs and defendants for a few thousand dollars here and there.

Meanwhile, she is raking in 47 million dollars a year.

Hard to believe, I know, and there was even a lawsuit about it.  But the sharp-tongued, impatient-with-idiots jurist who has been on the televised small claims court bench for 23 (!) years has proved she was worth every single penny.

$47 million.  A-freakin’ year.

Makes you want to go to law school and yell at some people who let their dogs bark too much or pee in their neighbor’s jacuzzi but won’t pay to have it cleaned.

So, why is she worth all that moolah, especially when the average salary in the US is only $56 . . . thousand?

Yes, she’s a unique character.  Yes, she says what a lot of people are thinking but would never say out loud.  Yes, the alliteration of her name makes it fun to say.

But she wouldn’t earn all that money if the show wasn’t earning even more . . . a lot more.

And why is that?

The reason the show is so popular is because . . . it’s a courtroom drama.

Courtroom dramas are one of the most popular forms of drama in theater, movies, and yep, TV.  It’s one of the reasons Law & Order has run for so long and had 174 spinoffs (not to mention why there are always new legal-eagle shows every year . . . since the days of Perry Mason and Matlock).

It’s one of the reasons To Kill A Mockingbird is raking it in at the Broadway box office and one of the reasons the book has captivated millions for decades.

Speaking of books, what about John Grisham’s success?  His books are all courtroom dramas.

Then, of course, there’s 12 Angry Men, A Few Good Men, Inherit The Wind, Witness for the Prosecution, and on and on and on . . .

People love them some courtroom drama.

So, what’s the action item for you based on Judge Judy’s paycheck?

Well, go out and create a courtroom drama would be the easy one.  🙂

But even if your show isn’t a courtroom drama, you can still add elements of a CD to make it more attractive to audiences, like . . .

1. A clear Protagonist and Antagonist.

In a CD, it’s very clear who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, or at least what the two sides are.  In the vast number of scripts I read, one of the biggest mistakes I see writers make is not making it clear who is on both sides of the conflict.

2. A clear conflict and a clear want.

Judge Judy gets to the bottom of what the issue is and fast.  Peeing in a jacuzzi, letting your Pit Bull eat your landlord’s roses, etc.  And we know exactly what the Plaintiff wants . . . for the Defendant to “pay.”  It’s so simple, it makes it easy for audiences to digest and follow.  If you clarify your conflict and objective in your story, audiences will dig in even deeper.

3. A clear resolution.

At the end of any day in court, there is a clear winner and loser . . . which ties up the conflict neatly.  Now, there can be plenty of ripples from that resolution that give the audience even more to think about (which is what the best art does), but the conflict is always resolved to a specific solution.  And that solution is usually revealed in a dramatic and suspenseful way . . . sometimes even with the strike of a gavel!

While your show may not be a literal courtroom drama, it should still be structured with the same principles if you want the kind of audience (and paycheck) that Judge Judy gets.

Oh, and another takeaway . . . someone needs to ask Ms. Judy if she wants to invest in a Broadway show.  🙂


Looking to add some drama to your drama?  Click here for how we can help get your script ready for a stage.

Why you should Produce/Write/Perform what you DON’T know.

There’s an old adage that doing “what you know” is the fastest way to success.

And I believe it.

If you have knowledge of a certain area, a certain character, or even a certain culture, working within that box is where you’re the most comfortable and therefore where you’ll be the most naturally effective.

But that may not be the fastest way to grow as an artist.

That’s why I encourage myself and others to produce what they don’t know.  Write what they don’t know.  Perform what they don’t know nuthin’ about.

It’s working within new genres, with different people, and with subjects that make you uncomfortable — or that you’re just naive about — that will teach you the most, and make you a more powerful theater maker and more well-rounded human in the process.

In other words, work outside your culture zone.

That’s why Deaf West’s Spring Awakening was one of the most incredible personal and professional experiences of my career.  If I hadn’t produced that show, I would never have had a conversation with a deaf person.  And that has changed my life.  And I will treat others differently as a result.

That’s why Once on This Island with its diverse cast had such an impact on my life.

That’s why I’m producing the revival of the unfortunately-still-timely Pulitzer Prize-winning The Great White Hope (hopefully on Broadway next season – with a little help from the Theater Availability Gods).

That’s why this khaki-pants and blue-blazer wearin’ New England boy is producing a musical based on the life of Entertainer and Activist Harry Belafonte.  And why I will be announcing a new musical about the Jewish experience in the next few weeks.

Honestly, I never set out to produce this way.  I’ve just been drawn to great stories.  But as I walked by the show posters on my wall the other day, I realized that the greatest experiences I’ve had . . . and will have . . . are the ones I knew nothing about.

So it’s now become a new mission.  To do what I don’t have a clue about . . . so I can learn.

It’s scary.  It’s uncomfortable.  And it doesn’t always make money.

But it’s also the most rewarding way to work live.

10 Tips On How To Finish That @#$%ing Play, Screenplay or Whatever You’re Working on.

Everyone has an idea for a something . . . whether it’s a play, a movie . . . or even an app.

But as I wrote about here, ideas are worth zippo.  That’s why they can’t be protected by copyright.

However, when those ideas are forged into something specific and actually finished, they can be priceless.

So, how do you finish that idea you’ve been working on?  Because of the success we’ve had with our 30 Day Script Challenge, I decided to expand on that concept and write down the most effective tips I’ve learned (and use myself) on how to finish a script, a book, a blog . . . or just about anything.

You ready for ’em?

Well, they’re not here.

I put the tips in an article on that fancy new media site, Medium.com.  To see my 10 Tips on How To Write More Often And Actually Finish Something, click here.

And when you get there, make sure you . . .

  1. Sign up.
  2. Read the article.
  3. And give it a “clap” at the end, if you like it.

I hope they help get your project from the page to the priceless phase.

Click here to read it so you can start finishin’.

Looking for ways to hold yourself accountable for your success, finish that script, or get it to the next stage? Click here to become a part of my PRO community today and get everything you need to succeed!

 

5 Things we can all learn from the “drama” on The Voice.

I consider myself a pretty early adopter.  I was one of the first folks on an iPhone, which snagged me this commercial (!), I bought stock in 3D printers and Salesforce before they were a thing (unfortunately, I sold waaaay too soon), and I knew Kristen Chenoweth was going to be a superstar when I saw her in Steel Pier. 🙂

So, if I’ve got such a good spidey sense, how did I miss The Voice?

It took me being in Mexico with limited TV options (CNN, non-stop telenovelas, and the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore movie Blended on loop) for me to stumble onto The Voice . . . and get hooked . . . like Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore are hooked on doing mediocre movies together.

Certainly, I was aware of the show.  But it looked complicated.  I was never an Idol fan.  And I was over the reality TV craze.

So why have I now started DVRing this sucker and playing the “Battles” on repeat in my office?

There are 3 things that The Voice has that keeps me entertained which we should have in all of our dramas . . . on TV or not.

Here they are . . . with a nod to another reality show in calling them all “Factors”:

  1.  The Underdog Factor Underdogs stories are what audiences love.  From Rocky to Elphaba, the hero that faces more challenges than most makes it easy for us to root for them.  The Voice starts with “unknowns” getting a shot at their big break, but the show takes it one step further.  By making the first audition “blind” and only about the “voice,” they get singers of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds, and most notably not what would usually come out of a record producing factory.  It’s timely.  It’s important.  And you want these folks to succeed even more.
  2. The Suspense Factor Mark Burnett ain’t no idiot.  He knew that he couldn’t just do another Idol and have it work.  He had to find ways to make his show unique.  Sure, there was suspense in finding out who won every week, but that’s what Idol did.  To give the audience something they haven’t seen before, Mark added “steals” and “blocks” for its coaches, adding another level of suspense to the story.  And suspense is everything.  Keeping your audience wondering what is going to happen next is a surefire way to keep them watching.
  3. The Contest Factor Contests and competitions make for easy dramatic story arcs.  The objective of the hero is easy.  He/she/they want to win.  Everything he/she/they does through the “story” is about achieving that simple objective. In the end, they win . . . or lose. Adding this kind of arc to any drama gives it a better foundation to build on top of.  Why do you think so many documentaries are about contests?  Or think Spelling Bee If you can’t make your story an out-and-out literal competition, you can still think about your show like one.  West Side Story . . . Tony wants to win the hand of Maria (and vice versa), despite some stiff competition.  May seem simplistic, but it works.
  4. The Positivity Factor Everyone was sick of Simon Cowell.  Everyone is sick of the negative news cycle (even The Weather Channel participates in this craziness).  It’s easy to spit nastiness, but at the end of the ‘play’, people want joy in the entertainment, and that is what The Voice is all about.  There are no judges.  There are coaches.  And they all support and encourage, even for the folks who are not on their teams. Plays can get away with a little more “darkness,” but a musical needs a ray of sunshine at the end and a bit of hope to take out in the streets.  It’s why musicals were invented in the first place . . . to help our audiences forget about their troubles and “come on, get happy.”
  5. The Audience Participation Factor This one isn’t new, by any stretch, but having the audience vote for the winner (and now by App!) keeps your audience engaged, as we know.  But what’s different today than it was 120 years ago is that audiences no longer want to be involved in the story in a different way, they need to be involved.  Leave them out, behind a fourth wall, and they will leave you out of their to-do list. Of course, not every show needs to have an audience vote, or bring them on stage, or even have an immersive design.  But modern day storytellers should remember that today’s audience, and more importantly, tomorrow’s, have grown up being a part of their entertainment (through video games, reality TV, etc.) and we’ll need to figure out how to do the same.

Do you watch The Voice?  Any reality TV?  Anything you think we can take away for what we do?

Comment below.

In the meantime, go Rod Stokes!

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