A recent trend I’ve noticed this year by many of the top groups nationally is that chronological story telling has seemed to have disappeared from most show construction.

The approach seems to be built on a few basic concepts:

  1. Find a show concept that has a strong musical / visual premise and connection.
  2. Exploit those premises in a variety of ways through musical vignettes, stage design (props), and visual hooks.
  3. Have 4-5 moments where it all ties together in impact moments.

The nuts and bolts of these shows are well constructed with smooth transition and good pacing both visually and musically, but the shows eliminate the element of having a horizontal story-line with an obvious chronological evolution through time. I personally see many positives to this approach.

  1. It eliminates the need to have overt characters or avatars on the field trying to act and tell the story.
  2. It eliminates the need for long winded voice overs and the pitfalls that accompany them.
  3. It allows more opportunity for musical expression, soloists, and vignettes that might typically be filled with “storytelling”.
  4. You avoid the issue of the judge who just doesn’t get it. Sure, it’s the onus of the performing group to make sure the premise is clear (story or not), but why add an extra element of chronological storytelling when scoring trends seem to indicate they are not needed?

A couple of great examples I saw this year were:

Broken Arrow HS – a cowboy show, with cowboy music, cowboy hats (used very effectively), and movable corrals for staging. And of course they played and moved lights out! Video

Tarpon Springs HS – a show called Revolution that combined classical revolutionary themed music with 60’s era pop music, using prop and imagery that related to the LP record, peace signs, and psychedelic colors. Video

Both shows were well constructed, conveyed the theme, and were generally a lot of fun to watch. I would even argue more fun to watch without having to try to figure out a story-line, subtext, subversive meaning, and 3rd intellectual layer. The stage craft, music, and general vibe told the story.

To be clear, I’m not arguing one approach over another as being “correct”. I did see a few shows that told a chronological story clearly and we’re well done. But taking stock of this past summer of DCI, most groups appeared to be focused more on mood and vibe than direct story telling. (With the exception of the Blue Knights who did tell a chronological story using a strong voice-over, which was one of my favorite shows of the summer. But frankly, most high school groups are not equipped to tell a story like BK did where professionally acted voice-overs were studio recorded.) I also believe that directors and show designers tend to put the cart before the horse in believing that a good story will translate to higher scores. However, scores are mostly a reflection of good show pacing, transitions, staging, variety, and of course execution.

Long story short; maybe think about your show construction more like creating a vibe and exploiting that vibe, and avoid overt storytelling.

Just some food for thought.