What’s in a Name?

August 2, 2017

Selecting a Good Title

Shakespeare had it wrong. While a rose by any other name would, indeed, smell as sweet, a name or title matters a great deal. It matters in literature, in film, in drama, and certainly in our world of indoor percussion.

Above all else, your show title gives context (or a purposeful lack of context, if you so desire) to your program. Aside from the name of your ensemble and whatever degree of familiarity it may bring to the viewer, your title is often your first impression. It precedes your first note and first step, it sets the tone, and it cues the audience into the journey on which you’re about to take them.

A well-written title sets the audience up for success, provides intrigue and fascination, and allows the viewer to access prior schema. None of that makes a show “better”, but it certainly allows you to establish a close relationship with the viewer (spectators and adjudicators) quickly. This allows them to “hit the ground running” when the program beings. When only given a few minutes to try to decipher what your performance is about, and the degree to which one connected with it, that front-loading process becomes a crucial component.

Good titles do three fundamental things: predict content, catch the audience’s interest, and reflect the tone of the program.

So, the next logical question is, “what makes a good title?” Here are a few rules of thumb:

  • Titles should be short
  • Titles should be memorable
  • Titles should be intriguing
  • Titles should clearly fit the program

 

Think about books that have grabbed your attention on the shelf or movies that have peaked your interest just by hearing the name. The title didn’t make those works great, but it certainly gave you context and pulled you in.

What’s your show about? Is it about a central character? Is it specific to a certain genre? What’s the mood you’re trying to set? Nouns in a title set a largely passive tone while verbs imply action. Choose your words carefully.

Here are some suggestions to jump-start your imagination. A title can:

  • be a popular expression – The Usual Suspects
  • be a play on words – The Cancelled Czech
  • have a hidden meaning, later revealed – Rain Man
  • come from an existing work – The Grapes of Wrath
  • be a person’s name – Forrest Gump
  • be possessive – Charlotte’s Web
  • be an association of ideas (a double meaning) – The Eye of the Needle
  • be an “event” or “activity” – “Pleading Guilty”
  • be simple – Jaws, The Exorcist, Roots, The Godfather

 

One of the biggest mistakes designers often make is inflexibility with their titles. Often, your concept will start out as an initial idea but evolve over time as the show takes form. It’s never too late to reassess your program’s title for appropriateness and continue optimizing over time. Just as your program is subject to revision, so too should be your title.

If the audience (often most directly represented by an adjudicator during critique) is finding that the title is impeding his/her ability to fully appreciate the show (or sometimes throwing them off the scent), don’t hesitate to make a change in your Director Dashboard with WGI and with your local circuit. I know the show shirts may already be printed, but it doesn’t serve the greater good to stick with something that doesn’t work.

References: writing.umn.edu; writing-world.com; scottberkun.com