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avoiding feedback: Vlog 38 – COLLABORATION – WHY?

Post #38. First in a short series on the art of collaboration. Part 1: Why collaborate?





This is going to be the first in a five-part series on collaboration, I want to talk about how musical theatre is the most highly collaborative art form that we have. And I thought it would be worthwhile talking a little bit about various different aspects of collaboration.

I want to start out in this first part with: Why collaborate?

There are people out there who do book, lyrics, and music themselves and don’t involve a collaborator. You might be thinking “I can do all three, so I’m not sure why I should be looking for a collaborator”. So I want to speak to that today.

I think that there are basically three reasons— there are probably more - but there are three main reasons that I can think of why people choose to write book, lyrics, and music themselves and not find a collaborator for their team.

One is because you have a great idea for a musical and it’s just brilliant! It was born fully formed in your mind, and you really don’t want to bring someone else in who’s just going to challenge your ideas, or try to change your ideas, or even just not be very good at executing them - not be able to bring them to fruition the way that you see them. And so you feel like the best way to bring your idea to life is to be the only one involved.

Another reason that people have is because they feel “I’m a really good book writer, I’m a really good lyricist, and I’m a really good composer, so I just I don’t need anybody else. There isn’t anybody who could do it better than me, so I’m going to just do it myself, because I can.”

And a third reason is “Well, I’d love to collaborate, but I can’t find anyone. I have no idea how to go about it. I’ve been desperately wanting a collaborator, but I can’t find one and I really want to get my idea out there, so I’m just going to go ahead and write it myself.”

So those are the three main reasons that I hear for why people don’t collaborate. So let me address each one of those individually just for a moment, with my response to each rationale.

For the first one: you want to control your idea. I get that. I’m an A type personality, I’m a controlling kind of a person, and I totally understand how when the idea is so clear to you and so strong, you don’t want to have to deal with people who just aren’t going to see it as strongly and as clearly as you are. And who aren’t going to be able to execute it the way that you want them to. So I feel for you. I understand that, but I also want you to look at the positive side of having collaborators involved with you. You have other ideas to come to the table - so that you’re not always just coming up with the first idea that comes into your head. You’re going to be challenged to come up with more ideas, or at the very least to defend your idea, and since you’re going to be presenting it to an audience anyway and you want them to understand it - if you can’t make your collaborators understand what it is that you’re trying to say, you’re not going to have a chance with your audience. So it’s a really good opportunity to be challenged to come up with ideas that make you say “Wait a minute - that actually is a better way to get this particular moment across. My idea was great for that moment, but my collaborator’s idea is pretty good for this moment.” So it just brings more ideas to the to the table, and challenges you to always be pushing for the very best idea or - at the very least - to know that the idea that you have in mind is being put across as compellingly as possible.

And then there are the other aspects of just having somebody to bounce ideas off of. It’s somebody else on the team who feels as strongly as you do, who can help you during the times where it might be hard to keep things moving, push you towards goals and deadlines, help you with the workload, meeting those goals and deadlines, maybe help with the marketing, maybe have some more connections to directors or actors. It’s just more help along the way. And of course when you do finally get to production, what happens on the day of rehearsal when the director comes to you and says you need to rewrite scene five; and the choreographer says they need 32 bars of a dance break that will be needed in rehearsal tomorrow. And you decide you want to rewrite an entire lyric to a song, and then one of the actors says it’d be better if they had it in a different key.

So suddenly, you’ve got to rewrite a scene; change a key; compose some dance music; rewrite a lyric - all overnight. If you’re part of a team, you can farm that out a little bit and you can all work together to try to get the work done. There isn’t just one person who has to get all of that done. So even though there are some drawbacks to having to share your idea with someone else, there are some major pluses as well that you should consider.

If you’re the person who says “I’m a great book writer, I’m a great lyricist, I’m a great composer, I don’t need a collaborator, I can do it all myself” – I would say that may indeed be true. Maybe you are. Maybe hundreds of people have told you, thousands of people have told you that you’re a great book writer, you’re a great lyricist, and you’re a great composer. Even then I would suggest that you dig down into your heart and think: which one of those is my weakest? Even if I’m really good at all three, I bet I’m better at one of them than the other two. Or I’m better at two of them than the third. Or at least there’s one that I’m just not quite as good at. I’m good - but I’m not as good as I am at these other things.

And then I would challenge you: why would you want to accept that? Why wouldn’t you want the best in all three areas? If you’re a brilliant book writer, and a promising lyricist, but composing you can just manage pretty well. It’s not the best you’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty good. Why wouldn’t you want to go find yourself a composer who’s absolutely brilliant - who can match the brilliance of your book - and maybe they’re also a lyricist. And so if you’re a promising lyricist, but you still need some help, or it’s an area you struggle in - maybe you want to co-write lyrics with a composer who’s also a good lyricist and is willing to co-write. I would really challenge you that the odds are that you aren’t equally good at all three, even if you are indeed good at all three, you’re probably not equally good. And so it behooves you, I think, to see if you can find someone to bring all three of the levels up to whatever your highest level is.

I would also say that that a lot of musicals come across my desk in various different forms, and I would say that that I don’t think that I have ever (maybe once - maybe once or twice in the 30 some odd years that I’ve been reviewing musicals and been in musicals, and directed musicals, and evaluating them etc.) have I run across someone who I think is really really good at all three of those. In almost every instance, I find that someone will be a really good book writer and lyricist, but their composing just isn’t really serving as well as it could. Or they’re a brilliant composer and maybe even a great lyricist, - but their book is rambling or sort of falling apart a little bit. That has been my general experience. So I would caution you against believing that you are equally good at all three. Re-examine that and figure out if there’s one area where you’re not quite as good – and see if you can find someone who IS really good and can bring the whole thing up to that level.

Then, of course, there’s the “I just can’t find anyone. I want a collaborator, but I can’t find anyone.”

Oh, believe me - my heart goes out to you. That is the question I get asked more than anything else in this business. “Can you introduce me to a composer?” “Can you introduce me to a book writer? I’ve got a great idea, but I need a book writer.” I’ve written the whole draft of this show, but I need a composer, can you help me figure out how to find someone?”

And if I had the magic bullet for that one, we’d all have it made. That’s a tough one. That is not dissimilar, and I’m sure you’ve heard it described this way before, it is not at all dissimilar to a marriage. To finding a mate that you want to spend the rest of your life with. It’s not easy. I’m not going to go any further on that one today because I’m going to devote one of my future segments to that topic. I am not promising you a magic bullet, so don’t fast forward to that one thinking “She’s going to tell me how to do it!
I’m going to have some ideas. I’m going to have some thoughts, some ideas ,some strategies. No magic bullet. But I will cover that in in one of the upcoming parts of this series.

I hope that I’ve at least given you the idea that perhaps you should consider collaborating, if you haven’t already, or I’ve just reinforced your knowledge that you should collaborate, if you already are.