Road Show—How to Write a Winner


House lights off. Spot center stage. Mike 1 on.

It’s road show time again, and that can be synonymous with fun or frustration depending on such variables as attitude, participation, and leadership. But whatever the setting, one thing is certain: a road show is most fun when you win. And we don’t mean winning a first-place trophy or the plaudits of judges but “winning” by helping everyone get involved in an activity of unity, love, and cooperation.

Often the emphasis for producing a real winner is put on the production process itself—through having as many rehearsals as the building schedule will permit. Much time and energy is spent in production when a real key to producing a topnotch show is in the writing of it.

The right kind of script can mean lots of enjoyment for participants, less production problems for directors and crew, and more positive feedback on performance night.

So how do you write a winning road show? Consider these guidelines:

  1. 1.

    Understand the nature of a road show and know the rules for judging before you begin writing. By definition, a road show is a show performed on the road, at more than one location. But by tradition in the Church, a road show means a minimusical, a song-and-dance production. And now, with travel distances and fuel prices, it is often performed at only one location. A road show is not a one-act, nonmusical play; it is not a skit, a serious presentation, or a tragedy (although some directors think so on performance night). A road show should be a warm, humorous, entertaining production, with clever costumes, colorful scenery, lively dance and music, and appropriate humor.

    Before you begin creating, be sure you know the rules and limitations of time and expense set forth by the stake, district, or mission, as well as areas of judging (if the show will be judged). Be sure your script contains strengths in each area of judging, such as music, staging, and dance.

  2. 2.

    Schedule a brainstorming meeting before you begin writing. Those invited to this meeting might be the Young Men and Young Women presidents, youth class presidents, activities committee chairman, and road show specialists including the choreographer, music director, costume designer, drama director, and anyone who might openly make suggestions.

    At the beginning of this meeting, make sure the group understands the stake or district general road show theme, the rules and guidelines from the stake or district, and the criteria for judging.

    You should also give the group a few ideas for a plot or story to get them thinking. Brainstorm about lively music, plot development, scenery, and costumes. Don’t try to direct the discussion. Let it flow naturally, with one idea sparking another. And be sure to take lots of notes. Remember, you don’t need to feel obligated to use everyone’s ideas. This meeting is for creative input only, but you can usually get excellent and clever ideas from others. After all, if two heads are better than one, five can do amazing things.

  3. 3.

    Consider the resources of your ward. What costumes have you used in the past that can be “recycled” for this production? This might be a deciding factor in creating the plot or story line.

    What talent is available? If the majority of your participants will be boys, don’t write a script about princesses and butterflies. If your participants will be mostly girls, don’t write about warriors and football players, unless in jest.

    Do you have special effects or costuming available from ward members? Black lights, gorilla costumes, dragon heads? If these props haven’t been overused in the past, could they be written into this show?

    Do you have anyone who can play musical instruments, particularly woodwind, and percussion? How about writing a small “band” number into the show?

  4. 4.

    Be original. Make the most of the road show theme by avoiding any obvious connections or trite treatments. For example, suppose the general road show theme is “Halos, Heroes, and ________.” First think of all the approaches that other wards or branches might use—angels, devils, pioneers, space heroes, etc. Then think of something different, something original. How about “Halos, Heroes, and HEADHUNTERS!”

    How about a team of missionaries trying to convert savage headhunters in the jungle? The headhunters earn their “halos,” the missionaries become the “heroes,” and you’re off!

  5. 5.

    Be simple but clever. Don’t try to make a 15-minute road show a “Sound of Music” extravaganza. Keep the script simple by using these elements:

  1. a.

    Present a problem.

  2. b.

    Show some conflict.

  3. c.

    Resolve the conflict.

Back to “Halos, Heroes, and Headhunters.”

The problem: (Presented in the prologue in front of the curtain through a song, dance, and a few short lines.) A team of lady missionaries (“Salvation Marmees”) are off to the jungle again to convert the savage headhunters. The prospects look grim: “We’ve been trying for ten years and haven’t converted them yet!”

The conflict: Curtains open as a safari expedition enters the “jungle” from audience, looking for big game (song and dance). Safari is captured by headhunters and thrown into a stew or shrinking pot (another song and dance). Missionaries show up to convert headhunters (song.) Savages are angered and decide to eat missionaries (song and dance) as well as safari people.

The resolution: The terrifying ape of the jungle crashes through fake vines onto “jungle stage” and carries off savage chief. “That’s the fifth chief we’ve lost this week, and you’re gonna be next.” “Not me, you!” “Not me, you!” etc.

In desperation, savage headhunters decide to join the missionaries rather than be dinner for the gorilla (song and dance). They earn their “halos” just in time to take safari folks from shrinking pot. Of course the safari people now consider the missionaries their heroes for saving them and converting the headhunters, and everyone is happy (finale; song and dance). Curtains close.

Notice that this road show has a main plot (missionaries versus savages) and a subplot (savages versus safari) for added excitement. But the story and action are still simple to follow.

On paper, this plot (of an actual award-winning road show) may sound “corny.” On stage, with fluorescent-painted scenery, fluorescent makeup, black lights, and clever costuming, it was an audience winner.

Write the script so that most rehearsing can be done in small groups. If every group prepares individually, it should only take a few general rehearsals on a stage to put together the show and polish it.

6. Emphasize music, not dialogue. A successful road show should have more singing and dancing than dialogue for two reasons: first, it makes the show more lively and fast-paced; second, if acoustics are a problem (which they usually are), the audience can still follow the action and maintain interest, even if they can’t hear the speaking parts.

Avoid lengthy speeches. Make sentences short, and divide them so that as many participants as possible have speaking parts. Don’t give the bulk of the dialogue to one or two leads. Remember, one of the purposes of the production is to give many people the chance to participate and develop talents.

Evaluate carefully the use of original music. It might not send the audience toe-tapping as much as popular, well-known songs that the audience can immediately identify with. If you use existing songs, choose catchy, lively show tunes, and change the words to fit your plot. Legally, you are within bounds to do this so long as you do not charge admission or pay any performers, organizers, or promoters.

One stake chose the general theme of genealogy for its road show activity. And while some leaders shrugged in dismay, one ward got writing and came up with these audience delighters. To the tune of “Bare Necessities” from Jungle Book:

Start with the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities,
The names, the dates, the places, everyone.
We mean the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities,
And get your genealogy work done!

And to the tune of “Nothing like a Dame”:

Oh, there’s nothing like a name, nothing in this world,
The greatest joy you’ll ever claim
Is in finding a family name!

Countermelodies are impressive too, that is, when two groups are singing different melodies and different words at the same time.

For example, the childhood tune, “Horsey, Horsey” was used effectively in “Halos, Heroes, and Headhunters.” The missionaries sang the first verse alone:

Natives, natives, join our group.
Before you make us into soup.
So let us shake your hand
And be your friend,
You’ll get a halo in the end!

Then the headhunters sang:

We’d like to take our salt and pepper,
We’d like to sharpen up our knives,
We’d like to have you for our dinner,
You’d better run to save your lives.

Then both groups sang their own verses at the same time.

The most important rule of thumb is to use catchy, lively tunes instead of slow, serious ones. Avoid faddish music, such as hard rock or disco, since it does not have the universal, sentimental appeal you are trying to achieve. Avoid electronic bands unless you have singers who can out yell them! In a road show, the emphasis is on participation and action, not background music.

Also, don’t yield to the temptation to center your music around one outstanding soloist. Solo numbers often lack “zip” and break the pace. Group songs sung with enthusiasm usually have the most appeal. Again, remember the purpose of the show is involvement.

Choose music that has a clear beat and lends itself to good choreography. And don’t underestimate the ability of the youth! Sometimes wards settle for only simple hand movements to songs when their youth are capable of much more and are willing to try too. The scriptwriter must work closely with the director and choreographer so the dances will reflect the proper mood and message to be conveyed.

7. Write an attention-getting introduction and a strong finale. The introduction is one of the most crucial points in the road show. It needs a snappy song and dance and minimal speaking parts. This first act, in front of the curtain, should introduce the main idea of the road show.

The finale should be the high point of the production with all actors on stage (even if it is crowded). Save the most impressive song for the end. Be sure to call for simple movements in the script, so they do not detract from the full-voice sound. The challenge will be to keep this finale lively, loud, and strong. As the last measure of music is played, the curtains should begin to close (not after the last note is sung). Timing is critical in a road show. One moment too late for actor, pianist, technical effect, or curtain can break the pace and detract considerably.

8. Write in scenery suggestions, special effects, and costume ideas if you can. The scriptwriter’s job is to help director, cast, and crew visualize the show. This means that you must write the script with the total picture in mind. Close your eyes and envision how the finished performance should look; then write it down.

A ward in El Paso, Texas, delighted the audience with a dragon that actually breathed smoke from its nostrils (a carbon dioxide tank, with hose, was held under the large paper-maché head).

A ward in Norfolk, Virginia, used simple effects like a carbon dioxide tank (these can be rented inexpensively) to make “smoke” appear at the base of a spaceship. The “Halos, Heroes, and Headhunters” crew had steam boil up and over the stew pot as the safari men were thrown in!

The use of a black light is very effective also. As the curtains opened on “Halos, Heroes, and Headhunters,” the scenery painted in fluorescent paint shone so beautifully under the black lights that the audience applauded the set!

An Orem, Utah, ward produced a beautiful show with a county fair scene where a farmer came onstage with a live pig tucked under his arm!

The scriptwriter is the one who must visualize and write in these touches that can add so much.

9. And finally, remember imagination and creativity. Use appropriate humor. Puns are effective because they are short and easy to understand. The action should produce meaningful humor, not slapstick comedy. For example, the “Headhunter” script called for a stew pot or “shrinking pot,” into which three large safari men were thrown at the show’s beginning. At the end of the show, out came the three boys—only this time they were replaced by three short boys wearing the larger clothing so it dragged on the floor. The only dialogue was one line to their rescuers, “You came just in time!” No other explanation was necessary. The audience got the point and the humor, and they loved it!

Use imagination and creativity in scenery and costumes too. They do not have to be expensive to be effective, if you write cleverly. The scriptwriter can be a great help to the costume designer and scenery committee. One word of caution, however: just because you are making suggestions doesn’t mean this is your show. Don’t be defensive about changes the director might want to make in the script. Your job is to be a resource, not to have the final say or make all the decisions.

Changing scenes by closing and reopening the curtain several times tends to break the continuity and make the audience restless. One ward cleverly used huge four-sided cardboard boxes with scenes painted on each side. During the show, scenes were changed by turning around the cardboard boxes inconspicuously during a song or dance.

Another ward actually made “flats” by covering the entire back of the stage with inexpensive sheets of rigid styrofoam insulation, hinged together and covered with scenes painted on poster paper.

One ward never buys any costume material. They recycle old costumes, borrow from within the ward, or sew together scraps! One road show director reports she was accused of overspending when, in fact, she spent only $.59 on costumes for the entire production—and that was on safety pins.

Yes, writers, you are a key to producing a successful road show. Yours is the most important task, for you paint the picture for everyone else. You don’t have to be a professional writer, only someone who knows how to appeal to a cast and audience by communicating clearly through song, dance, and appropriate humor.

And, above all, have fun writing the show. If you don’t have fun writing it, chances are the cast will not have fun producing it. A fun road show has a feeling of enthusiasm and enjoyment about it.

Becki Simpson, director of “Halos, Heroes, and Headhunters” (Orem 27th Ward), sums it up this way: “The biggest trick to producing a winning road show is to have fun, to make winning friendships. That’s more important than winning trophies. And fun means discipline, cooperation, responsibility, and love as well as having a good time.”

That kind of spirit and attitude starts with you, the scriptwriter. For you write the recipe for a lively, entertaining production, a show that’s sure to be a winner long before the judging takes place. And who knows? On performance night, you might even be a competition winner, too!

[photos] Photos by Eldon Linschoten

[illustrations] Illustrations by Sharon Seegmiller