So for this first post, I thought I’d do something fun.
Musical theater is for me a powerful form of storytelling. It is live and in your face, it is imaginative and experimental, and it requires a contract of sorts with your audience in a way that books and film don’t. As the Doctor of Doctor Who once said,
Oh yeah, but the theatre’s magic, isn’t it? You should know. Stand on this stage, say the right words with the right emphasis at the right time. Oh, you can make men weep.
So often in fiction we see writers writing about writers, or the art of storytelling in general. Think of Shakespeare in Love or Becoming Jane for example. This is no different with theater writers. And musical theater writers get to do it not just with words, but with song.
Storytelling in fiction is of course different from telling about yourself or your company from a business standpoint. But not as different as you think. The stories we’ve read from the time we were children shape us, they give us a vehicle with which to reflect on and share our own stories.
To me, these songs speak to the importance of telling your story – the triumphs and the pitfalls, the ways we understand our life story in the scheme of stories we love. So take a listen, and see what you can learn:
I am an echo of the eternal cry of “Let there be!”
“Spark of Creation” is very much that moment when you first get inspired to do something, do anything to make a mark on the world, before doubts and criticism start to sink in. Now, feedback is important, but the sheer unbridled joy of creating something all your own should not get lost in the process. So, if feeling uninspired, this is a good one to whip out.
What if I told you you could change the world with just one thought?
The opening song of Big Fish the Musical encompasses the main character’s philosophy about living a life worth telling stories about. The character of Edward Bloom is not an objective storyteller. In his telling of his life stories, he tends to… exaggerate (which you can already tell by some of the stories he insists are true in the song). But he does so with purpose – to connect with and inspire his son. While details may be fudged, the underlying truth is the same – Edward worked his whole life to do right by others, especially his family.
What we can learn from this is that in many ways, you are in charge of your own life story. So make it a story worth telling. In the telling, we can never be entirely factual, but that isn’t the point – the point is whatever goal or viewpoint you wish to convey to your audience. This can be to inform, to inspire, to empathize, etc. Either way, your words and your story can change more than you know.
Give those little guys some ink, and when it dries, just watch what happens.
This song is very much about using writing to give a voice to those who sometimes get ignored. This is why sites like Diversity in YA and Disability in Kidlit work hard to highlight children’s books that do accurate jobs of portraying racial and disabled minorities, those whose stories are either ignored or frequently misinterpreted. While you may be fighting to get your own voice out there, it is important to look out for others who could use some representation as well.
Those nine people will tell nine people
Then we’ll have eighteen people loving the show
Then eighteen people will grow into 525,600 people
All loving our show!
[Title of Show] is a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical (try saying that five times fast). So, it’s quite preoccupied with the process of writing and storytelling, particularly the doubts that come with it. Both songs highlighted teach us that no matter how strange your idea, or foul your language, or unorthodox your qualifications, create the show you want to create, for you and your intended audience.
In the world of social media there is an impulse to create something you know will be popular, even if it doesn’t fit with your message, just to get immediate shares and likes. But if you stay true to your voice, you can grow your audience over time.
Of course on the other end of the spectrum from the above’s fear of writing something too weird, is the fear of being too much like everyone else. “Move On” isn’t strictly about storytelling, but it is about creativity and the struggle for individuality.
But even if you don’t think you have anything original to say, you do just by virtue of it being from you. So keep working to develop your voice, and move on to the next piece.
Careful the spell you cast, not just on children.
Sometimes the spell may last past what you can see
And turn against you.
Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell.
While it is important to stay true to your story, there is a responsibility you have to own up to in doing so. This song makes the excellent point that storytelling is like magic. But magic isn’t always used for good.
Storytelling can open up a world of possibilities for its audience, but it can also limit them. It can build people up, but also tear them down. So be responsible about what you put out into the world, because you never know who is reading.