Dick Scanlan - a dear friend of BNHM's whom we love and adore - has a new Off-Broadway play opening tonight. He is the co-creator and writer along with Sherie Rene Scott of Whorl Inside a Loop at the Second Stage Theater. The show is about inmates in a maximum security prison learning to tell their stories through the arts. Scanlan says, "Crea ting this show has been a real thrill, and an honor. I'll miss this process, but I'm proud of what we're offering on stage." (Musical theatre geeks of course know that the two of them worked together already in the musical Everyday Rapture. Musical theatre geeks also know that Scanlan has been nominated for Tony awards for both Thoroughly Modern Millie and Everyday Rapture. And of course, they know that Scanlan teamed up with Jeanine Tesori to write the song "The Girl in 14G" for Kristin Chenoweth.)
Our cast has had a couple of workshops with Scanlan and months later the concepts that he addressed are main points in how we address our work.
So in honor of our friend's show opening, here are three of our favorite mind-blowing lyric hacks that we use quite often, thanks to Dick Scanlan.
vowels = emotion; consonants = information
We ask you for song titles. And Scanlan mentioned how when faced with a song title, look at the letters that make up the words. Think of the consonants as where the information is conveyed and think of the vowels for emotion. This is a big help when we open up your slip of paper and see lots of strong consonants - t's, k's, g's - those consonant-heavy words could be the ones that help us get the point of the song across. The a's, e's, and i's are where we can sustain the notes more to convey the character's emotion.
repetition can anchor just as much as a rhyme
We can paint ourselves into corners when we have to rhyme words. (Like the word life. It comes up so often, and the rhymes we use the most are wife, knife, and strife. And no one EVER uses the word strife unless they are rhyming it with life.)
Scanlan reminded us, however, that repetition can anchor just as much as rhyme. The audience is constantly making connections as they're hearing the song and if there's not a rhyme to grab on to, they'll grab on to something else and still be satisfied.
Repeating a melodic pattern or a hook is one way of doing it. Repeating a phrase - lyrical or melodic - in the same place in a verse can also ground a song. Or simply repeating a word in the same spot in each verse. There are many different options, and all can be just as effective as a well-placed rhyme.
the character should change from the beginning of the song to the end
There are reasons that a song is in a show and reasons that a song gets cut from a show. Does the song forward the plot? Does it help the character move to a different place emotionally? Make a decision? Take a stand? This is helpful to keep in mind when structuring a song - especially on the fly. You can establish a verse, maintain that pattern in the second verse while diving in deeper, then use the bridge to look at the situation from a different perspective. Finally, the third verse brings back that pattern from the first two, but with new insights. These insights will propel the character forward in the plot.
If these concepts make sense to you as a music improviser, let us know in the comments section!