Your favorite social media site can be used for more than procrastination.
By Gregory Jacobs-Roseman (Composer-Lyricist)
Starting a new play or musical is always exciting. Exciting and daunting. There’s so much to consider when you open a new word document and that blank white screen is staring back at you. With any luck, by the time you click “New Blank Document” you’ve settled on a concept, idea, outline, or theme from which you want to work. But how much do you really know about the plotline you’re about to tell or the structure you’re going to end up using? And how well do you know the characters you’re going to write?
I wanted to insert a video of the opening lines from Sunday In The Park With George here, but couldn’t find it on the internets. How bizarre. So here’s a photo and a caption:
When I arrived at the NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program in 2005, our very first lab assignment was character mapping. Dozens of black and white photos were strewn about the floor of the Black Box Theater, and we – along with our collaborator – were to pick one, identify the character in the photo, give them a backstory and write a song for them. This was the document we were given as a guideline to start out. Additionally, this was given to us to supplement that in our music and lyric tutorials.
I hope it’s cool with the GMTWP faculty that I just posted those on the internet… Oh well.
The character map is something that has become invaluable to me ever since. The guideline document has become indispensible (in case you couldn’t tell from my scanning it and saving it as a PDF) and I use it for all my projects throughout the writing process, adding bits and pieces as I write. However, it can still be daunting to jump into the deep end with so much detail being asked of you. Thus, I have found an additional preliminary jumping-off point that really gets me going when flushing out my characters, and coaxing them into to introducing themselves to me.
Above is page one of Facebook-style map for one of the characters in my show (The Facebook font, by the way, is Lucida Grande). I used this skeleton of a map to dig deeper until I had pages and pages of notes on this character – who he is and what his life has been like – and was ready to start writing his lyrics and dialogue.
Another decidedly more stalker-y way to go about this is to think of one if your friends who is similar to the character you have in mind and take a look at their Facebook page for inspiration. What TV shows do they like? Where’s their hometown? etc. Sure you may feel like a creepster, but any source of inspiration is a good one (as long as you’re not hurting anyone, of course).
GREGORY JACOBS-ROSEMAN is a composer/lyricist and theatrical sound designer currently developing Save The Date: A New Musical Comedy. www.gregjr.com
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