TRU Musical Writers Workshops in Manhattan

by Carol de Giere on December 28, 2017

TRU website1TRU Beginnings Workshops

While some opportunities for writers involve large amounts of time or large amounts of money, the “TRU Beginnings Workshops: How to Write a Musical That Works” offer a one-day tune up, for a small amount of money. For feedback and tips, these workshops are a bargain. See https://truonline.org/tru-event-category/hwm/ (TRU is Theatre Resources Unlimited)

Three times a year they are held in a rehearsal studio in Midtown Manhattan from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM and are open for submissions about a month in advance. 6-10 writing teams present short excerpts from their musical-in-progress. TRU is often able to help writers connect with music directors and actors who could perform their 10 to 15-minute segment. Anyone can be in the audience and benefit from the panel discussion that follows each presentation.

The sessions are structured around the three aspects of any story: beginning, middle, and end: parts I (fall) “THE WORLD AND THE WANT,” part II (winter) “CONFLICT AND OBSTACLES,” and part III (summer) “RECKONING AND RESOLUTION.”

Now in its 4th year, this series has workshopped dozens of new pieces, with a panel of experts offering their insights. Hosts Bob Ost (TRU executive director and musical writer) and Cate Cammarata (TRU literary manager, teacher, director, and dramaturg) open each workshop with a discussion of principles for the segment.

Among the regulars on the panel are Skip Kennon and Nancy Golladay. Both have been leaders at BMI’s musical theatre workshop for many years. Skip sometimes adds musical insights by going over to the piano and playing a song, suggesting to the composer a different tempo or new introduction. Nancy always has storytelling insights to share based on her work as a literary consultant.

Another frequent panelist is Kleban and Larsen Award winning librettist and lyricist Cheryl Davis. She provides sharp perspectives on characters and candid remarks about what is working or not working with the storytelling being presented. Ken Cerniglia, dramaturg and literary manager of Disney Theatrical, adds his insights gained by working with musicals as they evolve through years of development. Sometimes producer Tom Polum lends his practical perspectives as a producer. Occasionally the audience is treated to comments by a legend like Sheldon Harnick, pictured here. [Skip, Tom,Bob, Sheldon, Nancy posing for a photo by Cate.]

TRU panel 2016

A Few Main Points

Here are a few of the many storytelling ideas discussed in the Fall 2017 workshop about beginnings for new musicals. (Each principle was related to a specific point from the works at hand or from familiar musical classics.)
1) One of the important challenges for writers is to decide when to start the story (in terms of the story’s sequence of events). Consider why is this starting day of the whole musical is different from any other day?
2) Another challenge is introducing backstory elements. Robert McKee’s advice is to use exposition as ammunition, not for its own sake. Use it in a charged way as part of conflict.
3) There are many ways to begin a musical: an overture, a prologue song without the lead character(s), an opening musical number with the leads, an opening scene, etc.
4) Storytelling needs to involve escalation.
5) If you put a highly emotional song in too early, it may feel that it was not earned.
6) Every song is a small play. If it’s a bold anthem-style song and it starts like an anthem musically, it makes it harder for the audience to feel like there is a journey. So, it could start more tentatively or lightly and then move into something stronger.
7) Songs are an indication of what’s important in the story. Make sure that they are highlighting something that is, indeed, significant to the overall musical (with allowances for comic relief numbers).

This article is being published in conjunction with Musical Writerzine 40.  

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