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Writing Show Premise vs. Theme

Post #66: Premise vs. Theme.



Hi there, Elise Dewsbury here from New Musicals Inc., with another video blog on “How to Get No Feedback from Elise.” In this post, I want to discuss the difference between premise and theme, and why it’s important to consider both when choosing what show to write.

Sometimes, a writing team gets really excited about a wacky and fun premise for their show, like aliens and cowboys in space or a unique retelling of a classic story. They may feel that the premise alone is enough reason to write the show. However, I want to encourage you to also think about the theme. Why are you choosing that story? What do you want to convey to the audience? It’s not just about the setting and backdrop, but about the deeper meaning behind your choice.

The theme can be encapsulated in the journey of your lead character. As an audience member, I need to go on a journey with the lead character and care about whether they achieve their goals. There needs to be something that compels me to want to be a part of that journey. While a fun and crazy premise with silliness and excitement can be compelling and interesting, it isn’t enough to make me stay invested. I also need to care about what happens to the lead character and what they learn throughout the story.

So, think about what you’re trying to say with your story and how your lead character can embody that through their journey. What can they learn along the way? The premise is just the backdrop for all of that. It’s essential to prioritize the theme and the lead character’s development.

Now, let’s delve into what theaters are looking for these days. When considering whether a theater company would want to produce your show or if there is an audience for it, it goes beyond just the premise, fun, catchiness, or emotional impact. Audiences and theater companies are seeking stories that are universal, diverse, and thought-provoking. They want to be taught something new or gain a fresh perspective through the show, even if it’s a comedy.

When I say a theme should be universal, it may seem paradoxical, but one way to achieve that is by being specific. Telling a general story with broad strokes can feel like being preached at or watching a documentary. Instead, find the specific story that can encapsulate the broader, more universal message you want to convey. By using specifics, you can illuminate the larger story you’re trying to tell.

Always keep the theme and the journey of your lead character in mind, rather than settling for an interesting or fun premise alone. While a great premise is a good starting point, the audience desires more.

I hope this discussion on premise, theme, universality, and related aspects proves useful to you. That’s all for now. See you next time, and toodaloo!