"No One Is Alone”: The 5 Stages of Rejection as a Musical Theatre Writer

So we're in a business filled with rejection. Shocker, right? I know, I told you something you absolutely didn’t know. You're welcome. Look, nobody likes rejection. Especially in theatre. Despite that we're semi-prepared for the harsh realities of our industry (teachers have warned us that it's not going to be easy), we initially refuse to believe that we will experience a thousand doors slamming in our faces. 

However, the real world does eventually appear and it kicks the living daylights out of us. We submit our musicals, ourselves, our beautifully constructed lyrics and innovative ideas, and then we are politely told usually via email, thanks but no thanks. It's pretty much a Tinder swipe. Just not that into you, sorry bae. 

Having encountered this a number of times myself, I am happy to walk you through the 5 Stages of Rejection you will experience as a young MT writer. Now, these stages are relatively well-known, because a myriad of professionals endure them, but for the purpose of this post, I've tailored them specifically to us scrappy MT writing warriors. 

1. Denial – This rejection email clearly wasn't meant for me. It's a mistake. They'll email back shortly with a follow-up apologizing for their oversight, and I'll receive my rightful admission into this festival. So while I wait for them to realize their error, because I'm so marvelous at time management, I'll begin crafting my social media announcements. What is life?! So beyond grateful to share…

2. Anger – ARE THEY SERIOUS?! HOW DARE THEY NOT ACCEPT ME! MY MUSICAL IS FAR BETTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE THEY'VE ACCEPTED! THEY WILL REGRET THIS! I WILL BE SO FAMOUS AND RICH. I WILL WIN ALL THE TONYS AND THEY WILL BEG FOR MY NEXT PIECE. BEG! I KNOW THIS BECAUSE MY MOM SAID SO. 

3. Bargaining – Maybe they've rejected me for their festival because they're going to give me a huge grant instead. Or a fellowship, probably a fellowship. Or better yet, they want my show for a full production! Duh! It'll just take a few weeks to pull it all together. Geez, I shouldn't have gotten so angry. It'll all work out the way it's supposed to.

4. Depression – So this is my fate. Failure. I have no talent. My musicals are crap. I can't write. Why bother? Why keep trying? Why did everybody lie and say I could do this? What am I going to do if all this hard work doesn't pan out? I don't think there's a place for me here. Maybe I should leave New York, and open a bakery in one of the Dakotas, because do I want to be this miserable? 

5. Acceptance – Okay, okay. I've had a few days (or months) of crippling self-pity. Rejection and I have since had a nice little chat, and we've decided that I should keep writing. However, Rejection has repeatedly insisted that he can't make any guarantees he won't keep showing up, but he promises that his visits are meant to give me a thick skin, to appreciate my strengths, and to help me not take my future success for granted. I told him to go to hell, but that I understood, so now I'll open my laptop and write like he doesn't exist. 

Yup. There they are. The 5 Stages. Sound familiar? I think all of us attempting to break into the MT scene can certainly relate. After all, we are in this together. Even in our darkest and most doubtful moments, we are all pursuing this magical art form. We are all chasing the damn unicorn.

We are trying to keep Rejection at bay, and we must. We must not let it break our spirits, and we must not rest in Stages 1-4 for too long, because then we will lose the battle. Then we will truly be alone. So when you're cycling through these stages, try to remember thatthis too shall pass – this too happens to everyone, and this too will one day be a distant memory, because one day, you will be accepted into that festival, or better yet, you will get that Tony. 

**This article was originally posted on NMT Green Room here.

 

Consider Rewriting. No, Seriously.

So I was fortunate enough to be asked to guest blog for the New Musical Theatre Green Room for a winter term, and below is my first article for this amazing platform that fosters relations for up and coming writers, actors, theatre lovers, and the like. You can read the original posting here. Enjoy, my loves! 

The process of rewriting in musical theatre (or anything for that matter) is a tedious one. You finish a draft of this monster you’ve been crafting for however long, you’re super jazzed about it, you think it’s ready to approach The Broadway, but then. Well. Something is wrong. The dots aren’t connecting. The ending doesn’t jive with your overall point of view. Your protagonist is (gasp!) annoying. How did this happen? Where did you go wrong? Nowhere. You did nothing wrong. You’re just not done.

This tends to be a tortured moment for musical theatre writers. You have an opportunity to be overly precious, to ignore the necessary rewrites, and to forge ahead with a half-formed idea. Or you have the opportunity to diagnose your weaker moments, go back to the drawing board, and get your piece to its standing ovation. It may seem obvious to rewrite, but surprisingly, more and more MT writers are becoming increasingly protective over songs and scenes that, though enjoyable, do not service their plots in any real way.

As someone who is unabashedly in favor of rewriting, I’m offering you five questions to consider if you’re ever struggling with this Oh-So-Shakespearean question, to rewrite or not to rewrite?

1. Are you making sense? I'm dead serious. Sometimes we'll get so focused on finishing a piece that we don't even notice that we stopped making sense light-years ago. Sometimes I’ll go back and look through one of my musicals and actually be astonished with myself. Not in a good way. More like I Ended Act One With Celeste Calling Alexandra On An iPhone And My Piece Is Set In The 1920s kind of way. Yup. Killin’ it. See, your musical should be threading together so beautifully that the audience undoubtedly believes how you got from Point A to Point B. Don't think that you can skip over the details or that that one ultra-hip song will make people forget that you've written an incomplete supporting character. Constantly ask yourself: am I saying what I want to say? Reread your work as you write. It may seem tedious to start from page 1 and read up to 99 before starting on 100, but trust me, with the previous 99 pages fresh in your head, page 100 will be much more cohesive. Remember to ask yourself the tough questions, be meticulous, be brutally honest, and try to make sense.

2. After you've written your ending, go back to your beginning. In my opinion, this is wickedly important. Despite that you may be in deep love with your opening number, it may no longer jive with how the rest of your piece has shaken out. You could've started with a huge ensemble opening, but the role of the ensemble could have become less significant as you continued to write your piece. Perhaps now it's more effective to have the Mother and her Daughters open the show as a trio? Force yourself to question if your beginning fits your ending. Chances are you wrote your opening many moons ago, so now it's time to go back and flesh out a new draft of it. 

3. Check your scene length. Musicals aren't plays. I know it can be tempting to keep that scene going, because hey, scenes are fun! Dialogue is rad! However, you've chosen to write a musical, so I highly recommend getting to a song as quickly as possible. Try to limit your book when you're able, because the last thing you want is for your scene to trump your song and make your song look like an after-thought. If you’ve said everything you already need to say in your scene, your song will inevitably feel redundant. Be mindful of the fact that in musical theatre, your book is your launch pad and your song is your rocket. 

4. Check your show length. This becomes personal, but for me, a show longer than two and half hours has to be really freaking good to keep me sitting there. Essentially, if you're past minute 160, you might need to cut a few things. 

5. Get a second opinion. When you feel confident in your most updated draft, seek outside opinions. Choose close friends, mentors, significant others, teachers—people you trust. Do not be too proud to receive feedback, because feedback is GOLD. Solid gold, y’all. It will absolutely alter your piece for the better and force you to be a more resilient and forward-thinking writer. Ultimately, feedback typically results in rewrites, and that’s a good thing. Of course, you don’t have to agree with every piece of critique hurled your way, but if the direction has merit, consider it. Don’t blow it off because you’re too lazy to write a new version of that scene or song or both. Challenge yourself, and thank your peers who are taking the time to read your musical.

Alright! Those are my 5 big ones when it comes to rewrites. I hope they help you as much as they continue to help me. I am certainly not a master by any stretch, but I do feel I'm not crazy precious when it comes to the writing process, and that has always worked in my favor as I continue to grow. So rewrites? I highly recommend them.