What is your Goal? Six Questions for the Writer

I often have actor/writers ask me, “How do you think I should proceed with my show?” And my response is, “What is your goal?” Most of the time they don’t know.
They have a general sense of what they want. But a general sense is not enough to make decisions. Imagine if you were planning a trip and the best you could come up with is, “I want to get out of NYC.” Before very long, you’d be on the other side of a bridge and on the side of the road, wondering what to do next.
When I am in a consultation of this kind, I ask the following questions, a sort of variation on the classic journalism questions – Who, What, Where, When, How. But for me, the most important question is Why.
1. Why are you doing this show? If the answer is “to make money” then you are in danger of not being fulfilled. Some shows make money, but more often than not, you won’t be getting rich off your art. If the answer is “I want to show off my skills as an actor” then you are creating a long audition monologue, and my question to you is “Can you get the right people to come and see you do it?” If the answer is, “I want to get my message out to the world” my response is, “Can you find another way to do that?” IMHO, the only reason to create a play or solo performance is that you cannot imagine NOT doing it. That’s why Vincent van Gogh painted – he had to. He had to get his vision out of his head so he could share it. You cannot fail to be satisfied if that is your reason.
2. Who do you want to see it? The style and form of your show will need to fit with this answer. Of course you can create something for the general public, and that’s a good idea. But can you be more specific? The more you can narrow down your focus, the more likely you are to create a clear message that will attract the attention of your target group.
3. What are you trying to say? You have to have a premise. Lajos Egri, in his wonderful book, The Art of Dramatic Writing, has a lot to say about premises. Read it. If you cannot sum up what you are trying to say, or what your story line is, in a paragraph, then you haven’t given it enough thought yet. Again, this is about focus. Focus on your story and intention enough to be able to articulate it clearly and succinctly.
4. Where do you want to do your show? Theatres? Nightclubs? Schools? Do you want to tour? The answer to this question will greatly affect your format, your casting issues, your marketing plan. Know where you are going with this. Art does not exist in a vacuum.
5. How are you going to create this show? Alone? In a workshop? Some people prefer to work in solitude, with a special time set aside for the writing, and a special place, a special pen, etc. They complete the project before sharing it. I think good work is often done this way, but it means that you have to be a self-starter, and self-directed, and that you have a fairly clear idea of how to do it. For new writers, a workshop is often best. I prefer the workshop, even though I have been writing for many years. The workshop gives you an expectation of sharing, of receiving feedback, of being able to count other people’s brains and experience when you assess the material. For me it’s the fast track to the finished product. In my workshop, we discuss what we plan to work on, we do a 15-minute writing period, and then we share and get feedback. And then we write again. It’s astonishing how much you can accomplish this way.
6. When do you want to perform it? I often am consulted by people who have already committed to performing their shows, before they have completed them. I think this is sheer folly. Though a deadline can be remarkably motivating, it can also lead to sloppy work, driven by anxiety, and thrown up on stage before it is ready. In cases where people are producing their own work, their producer duties (which are unceasing and complex) cause them to sacrifice attention to detail and depth in the writing. You cannot produce and write a show at the same time. Get it written, get it polished, and then submit it. Preparation is the key.

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