During last night’s performance of my favorite improv troupe, The Nuclear Family (they improvise a complete musical at each performance and they’ve never failed to have me doubled over in laughter), one of the cast members reminded me of one of the most important elements of all forms of entertainment.
In the middle of a scene, the actor noticed that the drama and conflict had slipped out of the improvised story line, so he feigned a phone called to a Starbucks and asked if he could order up a “double whipped low fat high stakes latte.”
I told you they were funny.
Any successful drama, whether on television, film or on the stage, requires high stakes. This is especially true for musical theater, which is a heightened form of expression by nature.
So if you’re writing a musical you better have some porterhouse-sized, rare and juicy stakes to go along with it.
Wait, there’s more.
As I type this, Grey’s Anatomy is on in the background (It’s on just for the noise. I’m not really watching it, really . . . but . . . . is this George and Izzie thing gonna last?). Television understands the need for high stakes. So much so that it continually repeats the same types of shows.
There are three common types of prime time serials: legal dramas, medical dramas, and police dramas. Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, LA Law, Perry Mason, Matlock, NYPD Blue, Columbo, The Practice, ER, and yes Grey’s. And I could go on and on. Why the repetition? Because life or death, the highest and juiciest stake of all, is built into the stories of each one of those types of professions. Writing one of these dramas is like buying a car and getting the power windows, the GPS and the seat/butt warmers for no additional price. The high stakes are included.
So either Hollywood is really, really smart to keep wading in the same pool of subject matter because it has this necessary component . . . or Hollywood is really, really lazy because it refuses to look for and create high stakes elsewhere.
You know what else is interesting?
Police, legal and medical dramas, those successful prime time serials . . . do not work on the musical stage.
By the way, the best stake of all is here.
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