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August 18, 2009


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Tom Atkins

I've always been quite interested in how millions of pounds/dollars can be committed to a production based on a small group belief that their show has what it takes to attract an audience.

The statistics, as a result, don't look great with 7 out of 10 shows which open in the West End losing money for example. What if theatre product can be "tested" in similar ways to other industries? Why not find a script or find the idea, then commission a small research project to explore who the audience might be, where they are, how much they might spend to see this particular show etc.

If it looks good and people like the idea, then put in some money for a try-out production. Again, test that and if you have the two thumbs up THEN look at spending the millions. It's adding another stage to the production process I guess, making it a bit more cautious (which I don't think is a bad thing) and potentially something which could help to start changing those scary statistics. Experience counts for a lot of course, but coupled with hard facts and up-to-the-minute data would give producers more tools to make decisions with.

Just an idea...needs lots of questioning. But I think it could be a useful one and arguably purple?


I propose a character-driven Broadway-scale show written in the rap formalism but abandoning the affects that rappers typically adopt. This show would not itself be about rap or, ideally, anything too closely related to hip-hop culture.

Historically, rappers have focused in their songs on party-hosting, describing how tough they are, describing how socially enlightened they are, or, most often, following rhyme's requirements through near-free-association. In each case, the rapper is almost uniformly confident or broadcasting. Even in cases where the rapper professes consternation or sorrow, the extroversion usually dominates.

Rap, however, can be defined as a form independent of the material in its lyrics. I say that rap occurs when someone is delivering spoken, rhythmic language over a metric accompaniment. Slant rhyme is permitted and encouraged to be used creatively, and good rap insures artistry in the lyrics by further requiring double- or triple-rhymes instead of single, with a high density of internal rhyme. Bottom line: rap is whenever you put a ton of awesome spoken rhyme over instrumentals.

That the rap formalism is associated with a certain affect is a historical development, not an artistic requirement. It is possible to write a rap song for Blanche DuBois, a rap song for George Seurat, a rap song for Roxie Hart, and a rap song for The Toxic Avenger.

Many people have a hard time believing that last statement is true, and it's hard to tell someone how those songs would sound, because there's no precedent I know of for rap songs like those character would require. But the solution can be explained technically, as it can when writing sung music for a character. Character can inform music. A sung song in which Blanche is having a breakdown may rely on dissonance, surprising or violent rhythms, dramatic leaps in the melody, and a lyrical vocabulary appropriate to the character. A rap song might rely on similar violent rhythms, increasingly slanted rhymes during sections of anxiety, rhyme patterns that are established and then left unfulfilled, and, again, a vocabulary appropriate to the character. While this explanation of the rap style may be technical, the effect would be holistic, just as in the case of the sung song.

But rap is more than just defensible and explicable. It's INTENSELY enjoyable when it's done right, in a primal way similar to the way music is enjoyable. Rhyme is something humans enjoy---it's been a requirement of verse nearly throughout verse's history. And rap just bathes in rhyme. It's hard to describe if you haven't yet had a good experience with rap, but a nicely rhymed verse can be breathtakingly satisfying. In addition to the rhyme, rap is a great vehicle for catchy rhythms. And rap is also enjoyable in that the excess of words allows you to accomplish more good storytelling than in a given time traditional lyrics.

I've spent time explaining some of the artistic payoffs in writing such a show, but only to explain what I have in mind and argue that it can be done. More apropos here are the many business-related payoffs. It's hooky as a news story that a show would try to pitch rap to Traditional Theater Audiences, so news coverage would likely provide free publicity. It would also be hooky if the story were unrelated to hip-hop or its culture. The show could be sold as The Next Big New Thing---people have been talking for some time about how rap might incorporate into musical theater. You could have audiovisual ads done in rap. Rap is uniquely qualified to lay out a lot of information quickly (so you could tell people a lot about your show), and in the process you'd be showing the audience your style---they'd see that you can deliver interesting lyrics without the obnoxious affect. Furthermore, there's a large theatergoing population that would simply love to say that they went to and enjoyed a rap show. When 8 Mile came out, you could hear that the NPR reviewers were so happy as they swooned over how they actually liked the movie. They'd never admit it aloud, but they loved endorsing rap---if you're past a certain age and you like rap, you must be prett-tty cool. I've heard similar pride when people above a certain age say what a nice young man Usnavi was.

Speaking of which: the rap in "In the Heights" serves plot and character well, and it's well crafted. It does not, however, scoop this proposal. In "In the Heights," the characters who rap are characters who, within the story, are themselves fans of rap. And (with the admirable exception of Usnavi's rap reaction to Abuela's death) the rap in "In the Heights" is of a fairly confident, broadcasting flavor, like most rap until this point. What I propose is a show where Abuela herself could rap in a voice that sounds naturalistic, and so could Nina's father, and Vanessa, and everyone else.

Of course, the quality of the story would also be very high, so that even people with strong prejudices would have no choice but to rave to their friends :)

But a good rap show would stand out from all of its competition on and off Broadway---it would be purple.


An added bonus to doing a rap show, and an advantage of being purple in general: there's very little competition.

NFL Jerseys

I've spent time explaining some of the artistic payoffs in writing such a show, but only to explain what I have in mind and argue that it can be done. More apropos here are the many business-related payoffs.

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