Let the truth spark your original story.

Creating original works, whether they are screenplays, sonnets or shows, is incredibly difficult.  This is one of the reasons why 64% of the productions on Broadway over the last 30 years have been adaptations (Another reason?  People want them more than you think).

Often I get what I think are great ideas for new productions.  Maybe I’ve imagined a setting or a storyline that I think would translate well to the stage.

But then what?  Either I have to put my fingers to the keyboard and crank the sucker out, or I have to commission a writer to take my idea and spin it into gold.

Once you get going, the writing comes easier.  An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and one at rest . . . well, you know the physics.

But how do you start a totally original idea that is entirely made up?

Start with something that isn’t made up.

I always look for some specific kernel of truth to inspire me or my writers to start the story.  If I’m working on a show that takes place in a small town in New Jersey, I’ll find a small town in New Jersey, take a Zip Car across the bridge and spend a day there, soaking up the specifics about that town.  If I’m working on a show that is about a duck hunter, you can bet I’m going to track down an actual duck hunter and hang out with him or her for a day or two.  If I’m doing a show about medieval times, you can bet I’m going to go back in time and . . . ok, maybe I’ll read about the middle ages instead.

Some people call this research. I call it The Story Spark Plug.

Just a little bit of truth . . . just a little bit of non-fiction . . . can beget the best original stories around.

Need an example?

Sunday night Mark Boal won the Academy Award for Best ORIGINAL Screenplay for his movie, The Hurt Locker, which is about a United States Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal team during the Iraq War.

Before writing the movie, Mark was a freelance journalist who was embedded with a bomb squad.

Huh.  I wonder where he first heard the phrase, “the hurt locker.”

What I learned about writing from a stand-up comedian.

Stand-up comics have it hard.

They could be the hardest working performers in the world.

They not only have to perform at the top of their game, they have to write all their own material.  Whereas an actor gets a script, and a playwright gets actors, comics compose, and perform.

It’s a high-pressure profession.  (Side note: for some great insight on the life of a stand-up comedian, Netflix or buy the documentary, Comedian, starring Jerry Seinfeld.  A great movie about how even someone like Jerry struggles for success.)

Since comedians have to be some of the most prolific writers around, I thought a stand-up was the perfect person to talk to about how they develop “material” of any sort.

When I asked a good stand-up comic buddy o’ mine how he came up with so much great material, he pointed me to a book that he read when he was starting out, called The New Comedy Writing Step by Step by three time Emmy-award winner Gene Perret.

I read it last weekend and found a section that I thought you’d all enjoy.

In a passage entitled “Shortcuts to Humor,” Mr. Perret identifies six bullet point reminders on how to generate good material:

  • Reflect the truth
  • Relax tension
  • Shock
  • Attack authority
  • Involve the audience
  • Just be funny

What’s interesting to me about this list is that, except for the last one, it seems like a recipe for great playwrighting, not just great joke-writing.

Comics are mini-playwrights . . . which is why so many of them go on to create television shows around their lives (Roseanne, Ray Romano, etc.), and we can learn from them.

So next time you’re passing through Times Square and someone asks if you if you “like stand-up comedy” and tries to sell you a packet of 3 shows for $5 . . . maybe you should actually go.

Homework isn’t just for kids.

When we were in school, most of us did our homework.

Why?

Because someone said we had to.  So we did it.  Pretty simple.

Maybe you knew your homework would factor into your grade, which would factor into what college you went to, and so on . . . but basically, you did it because someone told you to do it, and gave you a day when it was due.

Every day I hear people talk about how they haven’t finished writing a script, or how they haven’t finished editing their film, or a stand-up routine, or a song, and so on.

And I wonder . . . if that script, or film or stand-up routine was homework . . . would they have finished it?

I’d bet yes.

And when so much of success is just finishing what you’re working on, or executing that great idea that you’ve been kicking around for years, there has got to be a way to create a systematic approach to help you do just that.

That’s why I’m an advocating an Adult Homework System . . . or AHS.

Here’s how it works:

  • Find yourself a friend, a teacher, a shrink, or even a random person online.
  • Describe what you want to accomplish (complete a script, a song, or whatever).
  • Make that person give you your homework with a due date.
  • Do it in the allotted time.
  • Rinse and repeat.

Make sense?

I’d bet you finish what you’re working on a lot faster (and probably with even better results).  (There’s probably an idea for a great social networking website here, where people sign up to be “teachers” or “students” and are randomly assigned to one another, and the teachers help the students’ dreams come true.)

It’s hard to motivate yourself.  That’s why the educational system exists (and why it costs so much freakin’ money).

And there is nothing wrong with asking for a little help to keep you on track.

Because homework isn’t just for kids.

It’s for students.

And life is about learning every single day.

Can it be festival time already? It is!

I hate winter.

I keep saying that every year I’m going to circulate a petition to try and get Broadway to move to the West Coast or West Figi or someplace like that.  I want to sing, “It’s Too Darn Hot!” all year long and mean it.

To make me feel better, all winter long I look for signs of the upcoming Spring and Summer . . . anything that helps me through a winter in the city (and I’m from Massachusetts – you’d think I could deal with this).

For example, as soon as we hit the winter solstice on 12/21 or 22, which traditionally marks the first day of winter, I usually spin it to say, “The days start getting longer tomorrow . . . spring is right around the corner!”

Ok, sorry to sidetrack you with my psyche . . . but the point is that one of these “Summer Signs” is the announcement that the spring/summer/fall festivals are now accepting submissions.

And guess what?

Applications are currently being accepted for the following NY Festivals:

If you’re a writer/producer/etc, now is the time to get your materials in order.  The deadlines are always sooner than you think.

Don’t have a show?  Find one.  Write one.  Make one up.  That’s what these guys did, and it worked out for them.  The Broadway show didn’t work.

But last I heard they were writing a sitcom.

So get a show submitted and get something up. You never know what’ll happen as a result.

On the other hand, I can guarantee you what will happen if you do nothing.

Only 3 chances left to see My First Time. (ok, that sounded awkward)

MyFirstTimeMy First Time, the 3rd show in what I refer to as my “Off-Broadway memory trilogy” (Altar Boyz (I was a part of a group called “The Holy Rollers”), and The Awesome 80s Prom (I went to high school in the 80s and was obsessed with John Hughes Movies) are the first two) will have its last performance on Friday, January 22nd.

We’ve had an incredible two-and-a-half year run with My First Time and shared a lot of memories, from our “Virgins Get In Free” promotion, to our free national commercial courtesy of Apple.

Although the show will be closing here in New York, My First Time will live on around the world, thanks to my uber-agents at The Marton Agency and Samuel French.

Many thanks to the many that were in my cast of virgins over the years:  Kathy Searle, Cydnee Welburn, Dana Watkins, Nate Williams, Vi Flaten, Emily McNamara, Natalie Knepp, Ian White, Bill Dawes, Josh White, Josh Heine, Marcel Simoneau, Josh Davis, Matt Seidman, Ryan Duncan as well as SM Jeremy Peay and crew members Lindsay Beecher, Mo Ahmed, and Eliza Johnson.  (I should also thank all those naked peeps that appeared in the logo shot, including my main model, Tracy Weiler.)

And while I hate to see the show close, at least I can be proud to say that the show lasted a helluva lot longer than my own first time.  🙂

In fact, I guess there’s one more person I have to thank for the . . . uh . . . inspiration.  I actually think she reads my blog.  I was going to link to her facebook page, but that would just be creepy.  (I’m kidding, I’m kidding.)

But . . . maybe we can get an anonymous comment out of her?  Hmmm???

If you’re looking to reminisce about your own first time, or if you’re looking to have a “next time” with your current significant other, or if you’re just looking for some fun, I recommend you see My First Time before January 22nd.  It plays on Friday nights at 10 PM at New World Stages, and there are only three shows left.  And a portion of the proceeds benefit this great sex ed site, Scarleteen.com.

See it, and save some bucks by visiting here.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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