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Stephen Schwartz

On Readings, Workshops, & Productions

Question: What is the rule about the number of workshops a musical goes through?

Stephen Schwartz [in 2003]: It seems fatuous to say but the truth is - as many as is necessary. If you get it right the first time then you don't need it but musicals are very tricky. Someone has famously said "Musicals are not written, they're rewritten."

I'm going into rehearsal on Monday with a new show that I've been working on for a couple of years called Wicked. We've done seven readings over the course of the last 2-3 years of the show. I spent today working with the book writer on yet another draft of the script to try to get it distributed on time for rehearsal. And I assure you it's not the last draft. That's just he nature of the beast.

Question about getting feedback from readings, etc.

Do you have "guniea pigs" (certain people lol) you use every so often to read a scene with or rehearse the entrance into a song with or rehearse a song with before you actually go into rehearsal. I often do that but I'm rather perplexed on if I should classify that as a reading or workshop of sorts. Is that a great way to do a budget workshop or reading, and do you think its efficient? What are your thoughts on the matter? -- Olivia Lilley

Answers from Stephen Schwartz

I think it is always helpful to hear your material; in fact, I would say it's vital. I always do a lot of readings, which increase in "formality" as a project progresses. Very often at the beginning of a project, I just ask a group of friends to get together and read it, and sometimes, I ask some other friends, whose taste and honesty I trust, to listen and give me their reactions. In the early going, I wouldn't consider them "formal" readings, with Equity rules and all that, but I always pay the participants a little something for their time and to cover transportation and meal costs, etc. I don't have a set group of actors or singers I work with, but if you have people who are willing to get together and learn something so you can hear it sung or read, that's enormously valuable.

I hope these responses help at least partially to answer your questions. Sincerely, Stephen Schwartz

Making use of feedback

From a talk in Boston, January 2006

Stephen Schwartz: "... I have watched this with young writers; there is a danger of blowing in the wind: of just listening to whatever anybody says to you. You think 'Oh my God, I have to do that.' And the smarter somebody is, the more persuasive their case is. Richard Maltby said one of my favorite things [he paraphrases]: It's not stupid people with stupid ideas who screw up your musical, it's smart people with smart ideas who screw up your musical.

One major thing I've learned in my long time of doing this is you have to have a vision at the very beginning that you refuse to be deflected from. And that doesn't mean that specifically you know anything [in detail], but you know what your destination is. Within that context, anyone can bring up an idea, and you'll know right away if that resonates with you. You'll hear the idea and think, 'Oh my God, he's right,' or 'I should have thought of that.' Or 'I knew that all along but I was just unwilling to look at it.' But it's all in terms of 'I know my destination.'"

FOR MORE ABOUT READINGS, please see Musical Writerzine 33 issue that focuses on developmental readings.

To send suggestions, comments, or questions write to carol@musicalschwartz.com

Director John Caird covers Workshops and many other topics in Theatre Craft


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