This blog was written by David K Sweet.
Know who David K Sweet it?
It’s me. Ken. David K Sweet is the pseudonym I just made up . . . when I realized that no one in the theater world really uses pseudonyms.
What do you think? Like it?
In the novel and, especially, the mass-paperback world, pseudonyms are used all the time. Stephen King (Richard Bachman), J.K. Rowling (Joanne Rowling – she wanted a gender neutral name so boys would read the Potter series), Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), and George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) are just a few of the famous ones.
But cloaked identities are sometimes used in the film world as well. Woody Allen used Allen Stewart Konigsberg. Steven Soderbergh has used a few, including Sam Lowry and Mary Ann Bernard. And of course, the oft used Alan Smithee, the nom de plum used when directors were unhappy with the final studio product of their film.
Why pseudonyms? A ton of reasons, of course. But one of the most interesting was recently written about in this NY Times article about author Patricia O’Brien, who had her novel rejected 13 times before she change the name on the cover . . . and poof . . . book deal. The article hypothesizes that the reason O’Brien’s book was rejected was because publishers had looked at the sales #s of her previous novels and used that to judge her potential, instead of using her actual work to judge her potential.
Oh, unimaginative paper pushers, I’m so disappointed in you. (But are any of us shocked?)
So why don’t we see more of them in the theater? Remember when NY Times critic Charles Isherwood admitted that he just didn’t like any of Adam Rapp’s plays? What if Adam wrote one as Hugh Strongman instead? What about Frank Wildhorn? Or what about when a very serious playwright wants to write something fluffy and fun purely for commercial purposes?
One of the many reasons it’s not done is probably practicality. Could the fact that Hugh Strongman was really Adam Rapp ever be kept a secret from the Times? Could Tony Kushner ever even think about writing a jukebox musical based on the music of Pat Benatar? Another reason is ego. We want people to know what we’ve done (sometimes for better or worse).
But, I’m going to say that the #1 reason is confidence. Theater artists are stronger willed than others. They’re more like, “F-it . . . this is me, and if you don’t like it, then I’ll do something else, and hopefully you’ll come around.”
All that said, I do think there are strategic reasons for some to use a little cover up on their plays and musicals. What do you think? Any of you writers out there ever use a name other than your own to get your work out in the world?
Here’s a test – send out 10 scripts as your own name, and send out 10 scripts under a pseudonym (thinking hard about what might sell the most) and see what happens.
And then report back here!
This is David K Sweet, signing off.
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So much has changed in our industry . . ….
I get it. No one likes to select a seat…
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.