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Updated: May 31, 2019

When I was producing Community Theatre, I was responsible for selecting the season. To do so, I assigned each show a color and then determined the season from there…

Assigned each show a color?

When I discussed the potential season with the Artistic Director, I said something like the following:

“We can’t put that show next to that show – they’re both red.”

He did not understand what I was talking about…

Apparently, I have a disease. Or rather a phenomenon. It’s called Synesthesia.

According to Wikipedia, Synesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report a lifelong history of such experiences are known as synesthetes.

All of my life, I’ve “seen” colors in my mind when I think of titles, any kind of title, books, movies, songs…

Some people affected by Synesthesia see individual letter colors as well, but when I try to “see” a color for a letter, I lose the ability altogether.

It turns out that what I was doing was assigning a color to each show title, then arranging them based on my own set of rules to schedule the season.

For example:

Annie – Red

Little Shop of Horrors – Green

La Cage Aux Folles – Purple/Pink

Urinetown - Yellow

The Rocky Horror Show – Red

Now, according to my philosophy, I would not be able to schedule Annie next to The Rocky Horror Show because they are the same color. Likewise, La Cage would not be able to precede or follow Annie or Rocky Horror.

My internal rule was never put two like colors together.

I’m not saying there is any science behind this, but on the seasons where I followed my rule of not putting like colors together, we did better than the seasons I did not. Of course, there could be a myriad of things that affect the success of a season – interest in the show, a larger cast, a ticket discount – whatever, but I like to believe there is something behind it.

I also use the rule in my process for spotting the songs in my musicals…

It works exactly the same way. I assign a color to the song title I desire to put in a specific spot. For example, in the case of the “I Want” song, I may say to myself or my collaborator that I want it to be blue. Then, I compose songs and write lyrics.

Once I’ve written a song, if it “hears” like green to me, it’s not what I wanted – so I have to start over.

For fun, let’s look at the song titles from My Fair Lady:

Without analyzing it too closely, it does seem to follow the rule of not putting like colors together.

Now, think about your song titles… do you have red titles next to red? Or blue next to blue? If you were to change up the title, do you get a different “feeling” for the color?

Again, I’m not looking at this from a scientific point of view, merely as one way to determine the “color” or tone of a song title.

Now that's one way to songspot - think about yourself... do you have a special trait that might allow you to approach songspotting another way?

Alan Saunders,

Friends told me I was late to the game for writing musicals, even though I've been writing them almost my entire life. so this blog is my journey into writing professionally for the stage.

Check out for how-to articles and resources for writing your own musical for the stage!

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