3 Things TheaterMakers Can Learn From Tick, Tick… Boom

If you haven’t seen Tick, Tick… Boom! yet, get thee to your Netflix account.

The film is terrific. But the story . . . the story is . . . everything.

If you’re a TheaterMaker, watching this movie will feel like a video game at times, where YOU are at the center of the action.

You’ll so relate to what Jonathan Larson is going through, from the frustration at having to fight to have your art seen and heard, to the relationships that went astray because you want different things than your partner.

 (I took a date to see the original production of Tick, Tick… Boom! Off Broadway way back when – and when she said, “It’s ok,” I knew this was a date going nowhere.)

You’ll feel his heart beat from anxiety and desire . . . his hands sweat when he can’t write . . . and more. 

There’s a whole bunch to learn from the movie . . . from screenwriting (a lesson in doing your own thing and not following the format of the source material just because it’s the source material) to cinematography to how to overcome the animal that is fear.

But 3 specific things stood out to me that all TheaterMakers should know.

  1. RENT wasn’t Jonathan Larson’s first musical.

It wasn’t even his second.  

No one hits it out of the park their first time at bat.  That’s why I encourage all TheaterMakers to get their first show up and out, so you can get the second one up and out, so you can . . . and so on and so on . . until you find THE ONE.

The process of putting up a show for an audience is so much more valuable than writing a show for a reader.

And look, truth time . . . there is a 99% chance that your first show will NOT be the one you are remembered for.  So don’t obsess about it.  Write it.  Show it.  Then keep writing until you find your RENT.

  1. Write What You Know

The best stories we have are the ones closest to us.  The ones we have an emotional connection to . . . which makes it a lot more likely that an audience will have an emotional connection to.  

Jonathan Larson’s first musical was a “space musical.”  

It wasn’t until he started writing about himself (Tick, Tick… Boom!) and then . . . his friends, his neighborhood and his frustrations and dreams (RENT), that he found the success he dreamed about.

I know so many TheaterMakers searching for the perfect story.  They scour newspapers, libraries, film catalogs. 

Why look so hard and so wide?

Breaking News:  Your story is closer than you think.

  1. Life is short.

This one just sucks.  

Jonathan Larson was a genius TheaterMaker . . . but more importantly . . .a PASSIONATE one.  And I believe RENT was just the beginning of what he could have given us.

Imagine what his next show could have been?  

He died before he even SAW RENT, after working on it for a decade.  

Life is short people. Tick, Tick… Boom! reminds us of that.  And the pandemic has reminded us of that.

Do.  Not.  Wait.  


Do not wait before watching Tick, Tick… Boom! either.  Because it’s a great movie.  It’s a great story.  And you’ll have a great time.

But more importantly, I’d bet you Jonathan’s royalties on RENT that when it’s over, you’ll be inspired to go out and make something.

I know that’s what happened to me. 

And, since Jonathan can’t . . . we owe it to him to do just that.

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If you’re a TheaterMaker, you should know that I write 3 other exclusive articles per week like the one above about how to make more theater and better theater.  I don’t post them anywhere.  Just send them to those who tell me they want it.

If you want them, click here.  You can pop-out anytime.   

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.