There always seems to be a trade-off between innovation and learning from those who have come before.
I have always been an avid fan of musical theater; my wife and I have been sitting in audiences for decades. But I have never thought through how musical theater actually works, from the inside. So what to do?
On one hand, before I put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?) I could read everything there was on the topic. I could schedule information interviews with dozens of folks, all who would (hopefully) impart their wisdom. And having done all this… I would have been completely demoralized, and may not have even started. The likelihood of a musical actually reaching the stage, let alone being successful, is exceptionally slim. So, perhaps, with the confidence of being ignorant of that unfortunate truth, I should just buffalo forward and just do it.
On the other hand, I could start putting together the manuscript and music, try to pitch it, and ultimately fail. Why do that, when it surely makes more sense to learn from others, and avoid reinventing the wheel!
Hence the trade-off. So this is what I did: I started writing the music and the manuscript, and only when I was close to the end of this process did I start to learn about the “business” of musical theater. And yes, it started with a number of books.
Probably more than anything else, the books gave me an appreciation of the incredible talent within the musical theater community, the rich history, and the innovation that can be found in every production. And yes, these books were instrumental as I went through many re-writes. Here is a selection that have been particularly helpful:
- The Secret Life of the American Musical, by Jack Viertel
- How Musicals Work and How to Write Your Own, by Julian Woolford. (Probably should have read this one beforehand, but it helped with my revisions.)
- Making Musicals, by Tom Jones
- Writing the Broadway Musical, by Aaron Frankel
- Backwards & Forwards, A Technical Manual for Reading Plays, by David Ball. (35th anniversary edition: brilliant book!)