A guest post from Timothy Huang, writer of this year’s show Costs of Living. Costs of Living was featured in the Songwriters Showcase at the 2014 Festival.
So you have this show. Everyone who has seen or heard it tells you it’s amazing. You’re really proud of it. You know what it’s about, you know who it’s for, and you know who you need to help you get it out there. SO you submit it to NAMT and eventually (eventually…) you get in! Miller time!! Not really. Because in order for your show to get to where you want it to go, you have to find the right forty-five minute cut. This is not actually your show, it’s a forty-five-minute commercial for your show.
So, how did I find the RIGHT FORTY-FIVE? Simple. I’m still not sure I did. The whole ordeal was pretty harrowing. And it brought up a lot of different challenges that only came up when they came up. And it certainly wasn’t anything that they taught me at musical theater writing school. (Neither of them.) HOWEVER, in the attempt there were a few things I learned. And begging your indulgence, I’d like to share them with you now.
- Allow yourself five minutes to be brilliant.
Your forty-five minute cut is actually forty minutes of show and five minutes of other things. Because people are going to laugh, or applaud or sit there in stunned silence at the genius of your work, and you’ll want to give them the time to do that. Exactly five minutes. No more, no less.
- This isn’t JENGA, it’s TETRIS.
If you’ve done your job, (and you’re in the Festival, so you probably have) every scene in your show builds on the one that preceded it. Every word is integral, every note is necessary. Taking anything out for the sake of a forty-five (or even forty) minute cut would, in theory, cause the Jenga Tower to come crashing down. But this isn’t Jenga, it’s Tetris. Sometimes things fit together in oblique ways. You have to be daring! Experimental! You have to know what your show’s heart is! Which brings us to…
- Real time is real.
Once you’ve distilled the essence of the show, the trick then is to find out why parts of it move. And I don’t mean “moves like gears,” or “moves like Jagger,” I mean moves like “make you feel the feelings.” A lot of your best stuff will be in the latter half of your script. But honestly, will it have the same kind of impact at minute thirty as it did at minute ninety? I can’t answer that for you but I can answer that for me: absolutely not. The emotional clock ticks in immutable tocks and human instinct is a stubborn master. Or something. A lot of the really cool stuff I thought might blow the audience away only ended up making them scratch their heads. Obviously there were exceptions to this rule, but even they seemed to have limited impact. Ultimately, it boiled down to…
- Trust is Must
Costs of Living was written without a traditional collaborator, meaning I wrote all the words, all the notes and all the story points so I missed out on the benefits of having someone with whom I could bounce ideas and stuff. The amazing Branden Huldeen, Paige Price and my director Marlo Hunter suddenly became those people and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people. For serious. I can’t overstate how comforting it was to have a director and Festival liaisons that I trusted. I suppose, at this point, I could go into a whole sub list of what makes collaboration great, and how at its core being heard and understood is not only the most one can expect, but also the best thing one can get, but I was told to keep it brief. So… you know, email me if you’re curious about that. In the meanwhile, I leave you with a lyric that I continue to revisit daily that may or may not have relevance here:
“Don’t let your biggest regret be that complacency let the opportunity slip right past you.”
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NAMT Festival Interview: Writer Timothy Huang | Contemporary Musical Theatre
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