RESEARCH ALERT: How many locations are in the average musical anyway?
I’ve read a lot of scripts. It’s one of the best parts of the job. The excitement of swiping past the first page . . . hoping I’m about to find the next Hamilton.
It’s the producer’s version of panning for gold.
Of course, no script comes out as a polished piece. There are always notes . . . whether it’s your first draft of your seventy-first.
And there are THREE notes that I find I give more often than others. And, there are THREE notes I GET more often than others on my own work. That’s right, I’m in the trenches of this theatermaking thing just like you.
One of those three notes I give is . . .
“The script has too many locations.”
(Variations include: “too cinematic,” “How do we transition from one scene to another so quickly,” etc.)
See, locations affect how a show moves. It affects the cohesiveness of the storytelling. And it affects the budget.
So yeah, it’s important.
I gave this note recently and the writer said, “How many should I have?”
I answered my usual response.
“There are no hard and fast rules. You have to write the show you want to write, but . . . “
“Well, is there a common number of locations for successful shows,” the Writer interrupted.
And I did not have an answer. Then.
But I do now.
I put our crackerjack research assistant, Andrew, on the case. (You might remember him as the guy who did a TikTok video about wanting to work with me – so we hired him.) Andrew prepared some stats that I found fascinating, so I had to share.
Here’s what we did, and what we discovered:
I asked Andrew to look at some classic musicals from decades past, to see what the trend was back in the day. So we analyzed the scripts of:
- Kiss Me Kate
- Guys and Dolls
- The Music Man
- West Side Story
- Hello Dolly
- Fiddler On The Roof
The average # of unique locations in those classics? 10. (Note: location means a “set” not a scene.)
Interesting, right? Immediately gives you a guideline of what has worked before.
But then I wondered. Has this changed since the 40s, 50s, and 60s?
What is the average # of locations now?
So we analyzed the scripts of the following musicals, which were all written in the last ten years:
- Book of Mormon
- Kinky Boots
- A Gentleman’s Guide
- Dear Evan Hansen
- The Band’s Visit
The average # of locations in these musicals? 16.
And there you go.
Over the years, the # of locations in musicals has increased by 60%.
Technology is one reason, of course. We can move things faster now. We’ve got projections. We’ve got automation. And more. So why not have more locations?
But I think it’s also because our audiences demand more. They see more movement in other forms of media. They have shorter attention spans. They want and expect a slicker, smoother entertainment experience.
Either way, I now have an answer to that writer’s question. And you can have a guide to use for your show.
Does this mean this is the required # of locations in musicals? That all shows must adhere to this stat like it’s the law?
But before you break something to make it better, you have to know how it works in the first place.
Want to see the other TWO most common notes I give? (That are more important that the above). Join our Facebook group. I just posted ‘em in there.
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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.