Show Boat, Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Sound of Music: The lyrics of all these fabulous musicals were written by Oscar Hammerstein. Every one of these shows was a huge hit.
But what about Oscar’s flops? What about the disappointments? I’ve been reading a biography of the great songwriter — and believe me, he had his fair share of clunkers. But he handled his failures like a winner, not a loser. We can learn a lot from his approach.
Consider the first play he ever wrote: it was called The Light and it closed after just seven performances. Here’s how Oscar describes the way he handled this very public failure:
“When I went into the Saturday matinee, I knew I had a big flop. There must have been about twenty people in the Shubert theatre that day. When the ingénue came on, one of her lines was, ‘Everything is falling down around me…’ and at that precise moment her petticoat started falling down. I didn’t wait for the yell that followed. I just ran out of the theatre, went into the park, and sat on a bench. While I was sitting there, an idea came to me for a new show. So I started writing it.”
This “the show must go on” approach to writing is one that stood Oscar in good stead time and time again. When Show Boat opened on Broadway, it was hailed as “the best musical ever written.” After its stunningly successful debut, Oscar rushed to Philadelphia to work on another show called The New Moon. It was a disaster and closed after just a week.
Here’s something I learned from Oscar: To weather the ups and downs of the writing life, we need to dump the word “discouragement” from our emotional vocabulary. Here’s what the fabled lyricist once said about it: “I am never discouraged. I don’t believe in discouragement. When I had a failure, I refused to be cast down.”
Bravo, Oscar! Let’s borrow a leaf from his song book and write on!