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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Podcast Episode 186 – Playwright Dominique Morisseau

Dominique Morisseau is having a moment.

You might not have heard her name before this year when she got the call to Broadway with her book for Ain’t Too Proudbut she has been sloggin’ it out in this city for twenty years and has been a writer for her entire life.

And that practice is paying off big time. It’s no wonder she has received one of the famed MacArthur Foundation Genius Grants.

Dominique and I have been trying to have this podcast convo for a while now, and boy was it worth the wait.  In a quick thirty minutes, we talked about:

  • How getting a great quantity of her work out in the world as she was coming up helped her improve her skills and get noticed.
  • Why not understanding the word “No” was an essential part of her becoming a writer in the first place.
  • Why she’s cautiously optimistic about where we are right now and where we’re headed with diversity in the arts. . . and what still makes her nervous.
  • She doesn’t read reviews.  Ever.  Listen why.
  • How long she had to be an “emerging artist” and whether or not emerging = young.  (See, I told you in last week’s blog that this was a subject people were talking a lot about lately!)
Listen in and prepare to be educated and inspired by how she took her life and career into her own hands and is designing it to be exactly what she wants.

Click here for my podcast with Dominique!

Listen to it on iTunes here. (And if you like the podcast, give it a great review while you’re there!)

Download it here.


This episode of The Producer’s Perspective Podcast is sponsored by Magnolia Bakery. Visit Magnolia Bakery for freshly-baked, classic American desserts, including cupcakes, banana pudding, cakes, cheesecakes, icebox bars, and cookies. For more information, visit magnoliabakery.com or follow them @magnoliabakery.

Does the definition of “emerging artist” mean young? And should it?

 

Whenever I hear three separate people musing about the same subject, whether that’s a show, a song, or even a stock tip, I pay attention. Because it means something’s up.

And just this week, three folks in our industry were questioning what the Talent-Hiring Decision Makers in our biz meant by the term, “Emerging Artist,” . . . and if that was code for “Young Artist.”

The first to clue me into this topic was the uber-intelligent playwright and advocate, Julia Jordan, who chatted with me on my podcast about her fascination with the industry’s fascination with young writers… Since being a writer isn’t like being a Hollywood actor, you don’t need a face and a bod to write a killer play. And ironically, the more years a writer has under his, her, or their belt, the better that writer is going to be!

The second was a member of my PRO community who was told straight to his middle-aged face by someone at a certain awards-giving institution that he wouldn’t get one because he was too old. Gasp!

The third was another “average-aged” writer who said he couldn’t get a meeting with a certain agency because they said they were looking for “new” talent. When he said that he had just started writing five years ago, so he couldn’t imagine being any newer than that . . . he didn’t get a response.

So what’s the deal? Do we have some ageism going on when looking for “new” writers and directors?

Julia did hit the nail on the head when she talked about the world’s fascination with the youth. And in other industries it makes sense . . . pro athletes need to be at their peak physical shape, so there’s no surprise that we focus on youth there.

And look, “new” will always be a great driver of interest to anything (adding “new” to marketing copy always gets more interest from a consumer, by the way, so why should an Artistic Director, Agent, or Producer be any different?). But since most writers don’t produce their greatest work until later in life (until they’ve lived a few lives and, frankly, just practiced the craft more), shouldn’t we be more focused on finding more mature writers?

And if you think the above is a generalization, check out this stat:

The average age of all Nobel Prize Literature Laureates* between 1901 and 2017 is 65 years. The youngest was Rudyard Kipling at 41.

Fascinating, right?

The counter argument is a super valid one. Should the prizes, grants, awards, and industry be focused on younger writers because they may not be in the same financial position as someone who is further along, and therefore they need the assistance more? Should we give a boost to those who need it most so that they will go on to be the Laureate that they might not be if they don’t have the help?

What do you think?  Have you experienced agism either way? Do you think younger writers make better writers or that they need the support more than someone with a few more decades under their writing belt?

Let me know in the comments below.

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