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From Casey in Pennsylvania:
Hello, Ms. Knighton! I am a High School student, and I am doing a long-term research project on the subject of my choice. I chose theatre. :) I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me, from a writer's perspective. This would be a huge help to me. (I'll try to keep it short, so as not to be a pain!) Here are my questions:

1) What are the steps of writing a new show from beginning to end?
2) When writing lyrics, do you prefer to write before of after the music is composed?
3) Do you purposely leave room in the script for actors to improvise?
4) How much research do you do before writing about the setting (Ex- time period and place, etc..)
5) Where does your inspiration usually come from?

Thank you so much for your time, you have no idea what this means to me. :)

Thursday, 6 November 2003

Dear Casey,

It's great that you're doing your research project on theatre. I did my high school senior thesis on the works of Edward Albee. I guess these things are indicative of where we want to go later in life. Anyway, to answer your questions:

1. There are no set rules for how to write a show, but the usual format is to make an outline that carries the action from Act I scene 1 to the end, and then to start writing. Having said that, every writer has their own peccadilloes. I know some people will suddenly have scenes flash into their minds and write them on the spot, returning later to fit them in where they belong. Also, the ideal is to write the entire book before you start writing songs, but, as you may know, Frank Wildhorn and I have often worked by writing the songs simultaneously with the creation of the book. The only other thing I might mention here is that some writers prefer to dash out a first draft without rewriting, just go with the adrenaline. (I'm more of this school.) Other writers do continual rewriting as they go along, which is a slower but possibly more sensible process.

2. As a lyricist, I prefer writing the words before the music is composed if the song is a comic or an angry piece, but with ballads/love songs I always prefer the melody to tell me what the song is about. When I work with Frank, the music always comes first, no matter what type of song, simply because Frank does not work any other way. When I have worked with other composers (such as Howard Marren or Jonathan Larson) I have always written the lyrics first.

3. No, I never leave room in the script for actors to improvise. This would be very dangerous. In rehearsal, if an actor does improvise and throw out a line, I will always listen to see if it works. If it does, we'll keep it. If not, it's gone. The only actor I've ever worked with who could improvise lines that were terrific was Douglas Sills in The Scarlet Pimpernel. If he made me burst out laughing (and the improvised line wasn't too outrageous), I would keep his line.

Read Nan's answers on research and inspiration.

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