I had a fantastic evening in Chicago the other night. First, drinks at a skyscraper-top bar overlooking the city called Signature Room. It was an appropriate pre-show stop for the evening of theater that would follow.
We were seeing the musical Working. It’s a show that was put together by Stephen Schwartz several decades ago and has been dusted off and re-worked for a commercial run in Chicago. The show is a series of vignettes about various people and their jobs – cleaning woman, executive, factory worker, truck driver, etc. Rather than writing all the songs however, Stephen Schwartz had several prominent songwriters contribute to the piece. In the updated version there were even some new songs added.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to look at the program to see who wrote which song, before the lights went down . It turns out — I didn’t need the program to tell me. It was crystal clear who wrote which song. The writing voices of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor, et al were obvious. They were all perfectly suited to the style their individual scene demanded and yet, each composer’s “signature” shown unmistakably through.
While I’m not a composer, it made me wonder if I have my own “signature” — that thing that people associate with me? Do you have a signature in whatever you do?
When I started thinking about the producers, writers and directors I know, I could associate a signature with each of them. They all work on a variety of of projects but they keep their signature — be it a writing style, an approach, or something about their personality. All the people in these success stories have a strong enough sense of their voice that it shines through, no matter what material they’re working with.
I’d argue that may be the key to their lasting success. While they may not get every job (because the job isn’t suited to their particular signature) the jobs they do get (and none of these guys who composed for Working, for example, is hard up for work!), they know they can do it well.
While you don’t want to be overly predictable, it’s nice to have a niche. If you don’t know what yours is, trial and error is sometimes the best way to learn where your strengths lie. Just make sure you don’t rely too heavily on artistic inspiration that becomes imitation. The people you are imitating are already doing that work and getting those jobs. If you want to find your place, excel at what YOU do best. Find your signature and someday, the new up and comers will imitate you, on the path to finding their own signature.