This is the first in a series of “behind the scenes” posts about the stuff that really goes into producing a show in NYC. Click here to be notified when the next one goes live.
A couple months ago when we found out we made the NYMF short-list, our director Sami brought up the idea of renaming our show. When describing the show to her friends, she had gotten several reactions to the title like “huh?” and “what’s that?”
I’ve certainly encountered plenty of confusion about the title, too: is it 210 Almond Avenue? 210 Amulet Avenue? Do you pronounce the “two hundred ten” in full? (Answers: No. No. We just say “two ten.”)
We were game: we have never been so in love with “210 Amlent Avenue” that we couldn’t imagine anything else. And moreover, it’d be great to never again have to say “Amlent with an N” to anyone. (Though as a “Karl with a K” and “Becky not Rebecca” we have lots of practice.)
I did not know what we were getting ourselves into.
Where did 210 Amlent Avenue come from?
First off: I am super-jealous of writers that never have to think twice about their show’s title (I’m looking at you, Rocky). My playwright friend Charlie told me that the best titles are the ones you write before you even start the play. I’m busted there, because when I started this show I just called it “Two Act” (because it was longer than my other musical, “One Act”).
Once I started collaborating with Becky, I sent her a bunch of files called “Two Act” and we still didn’t have a title. It wasn’t until our first reading that we looked at each other and realized we had to put something on the poster. We knew our show was centered around this house, so we figured, just like Grey Gardens, we could name our musical after a house in the Hamptons and eventually Christine Ebersole would have to star in it.
Becky had the idea of combining our birthdays to get a house number (she’s the 21st; I’m the 10th), and “Amlent” was lodged in my memory as the prettiest street name I’d ever seen (probably from Christmasing in Virginia near this Amlent Hill). And bam, we had a title!
The hunt begins
Our show is kind of weird. It’s a contemporary family drama with a traditional Ibsen/Chekhovian story and a lot of humor that also gets really sad. Given how particular the aesthetic of the show is, it would be nice if the title could clue people in to what they were about to see. The themes of the show (family, memory, nostalgia, grief, secrets) don’t really make their way into the title. How hard could it be to synthesize those ideas into a new name?
Turns out: it was really hard.
We have a shared Google Doc called “This Shiz Needs a Name” with over forty titles in it, and just as many quotes, brainstorms (we call them brain poops), and excerpts from our favorite plays, books and psychology articles about family secrets.
Here is a short sampling of our terrible, cringe-worthy, hit-you-over-the-head-with-the-thematic-hammer ideas:
- A Light from the Shadow
- The Shadow of a Memory
- More Than Memory
- Not What I Remembered
- Family Portrait
- Words From the Ashes
- Lost and Found
- House of Secrets
- House of Memory
- What You Wanted
- In a New Light
Get it? Get it??? I am honestly embarassed to share them with you (and when I die you can unearth the other 30 I didn’t share, read them aloud and laugh at my grave). But seriously, you guys, choosing a title is hard! It’s this weird amalgamation of an artistic choice (what is our show REALLY about?) and a marketing decision (what will make people say, “I MUST buy a ticket”?). If it sounds like I’m making excuses, it’s because I am.
A few good options
We did come up with a few strong candidates!
Sami suggested shortening the title to just Amlent—like Fame or Wicked—but we decided that would take away the current title’s only pro (“I think it’s about a house!”) while maintaining most of its cons (“how do you spell that again?”). Next.
SOUTH OF SUNRISE
The Sunrise Highway connects NYC to the Hamptons, which I love; so many of the characters in our show are trying to navigate this weird space between city-self and vacation-self. Also, the most desirable Hamptons estates are always south of the highway, so we could argue that our show took place “South of Sunrise” (yes, geography nerds: we would have to be in Hampton Bays for that to be true). Finally, it sounds a little nostagic, a little about something coming to light… sunrise… (Right? Right???) Sami’s reaction to that beautiful explanation was, “Is anybody going to get that?” …next.
A THOUSAND WORDS
One of the newest additions from last year’s rewrites is an important photograph, which sparks Judah’s curiosity and sets him off on a hunt for the truth. (Shout-out to the well-made play and crucial props!) I pulled A Thousand Words from “a picture’s worth a thousand words,” and I still really like it. It’s sentimental, and a little nostalgic, and lends importance to the photograph. I think it’s only crime was being too generic—it fails the “I MUST buy a ticket!” test—and we didn’t love it enough to fight for it. Next!
HERE IN THIS HOUSE
Here in this House is the title of the opening number of the show, and while it does communicate that the show is, you know, about a house, it doesn’t do much else. Truth be told, Becky and Sami both liked this title but I had to cash in my composerly veto because somehow it just rubs me the wrong way. I think it seems too obvious? Mostly I think it sounds like a song title, and not a title for the show.
By this point we were so sick of discussing titles, we were about to just throw up our hands and call it House of Family Secrets of Sand and Lies and Fidelity Light In The Hamptons Sad Happy Nostalgic Poignant Musical Dramedy: The Musical!
THE LIGHT HOUSE
We talk about the light a lot in our show (thanks again, Ibsen), so The Light House seemed like a cool way to clue people into that idea while also reminding them that it’s a show about a house. The biggest pitfall of this title is that there is at least one real, historic lighthouse in the Hamptons, and we weren’t keen to replace “Amlent with an N” with “Light House with a space.” And finally, this one failed Sami’s all-important “will anybody understand the reference?” litmus test. Props to Sami for very patiently pulling all of our most flighty and poetic ideas back down to earth.
Will we ever find “the One”?
Becky said to me, “I feel like choosing a title is like trying on a wedding dress… when we find the right one, we will just know.” Becky and I are experts on this because she actually got married, and I have watched over 50 episodes of Say Yes to the Dress. Ultimately this time around, we didn’t say yes to the dress. We’re sticking with 210 Amlent Avenue for now. (Like on Say Yes to the Dress when the bride ends up tearfully deciding to wear her grandmother’s dress instead. That’s us right now.)
So, in the vein of August: Osage County, we’re here to say: learn our title! It might not have much to do with the themes of our show, but you need to remember it so you can buy a ticket! (At least we’ll always come first in alphabetical listings.)
Do you think we made the right choice, or is there a better title we didn’t think of? How have you dealt with the challenge of picking a title? Add your story to the comments below and we can commiserate. 🙂 Also, click here if you’d like to know the next time we post a “Behind the Scenes” exclusive.