Were you bitten by the musical theater “fame monster?”

Stephen King and John Mellencamp recently turned their talents toward musical theater on Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.

I attended a new musical reading recently where I had the great pleasure of meeting the show’s unlikely writers. You may have heard of them – Stephen King and John Mellencamp. First of all, congrats to these incredibly talented artists for taking a stab (pun intended) at musical theater with their new show Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.

Meeting these two household names got me thinking about fame…

In our world of entertainment it’s easy to fall into the trap of longing to be famous. After all, we see the perks of stardom and dream of having an all access pass for our showbiz whims. However, the term “15 minutes of fame” exists for a reason. I’ve watched friends and colleagues discover that getting a taste of fame can be as devastating as it is wonderful.

A musical theater friend of mine who became a youtube sensation laments the fact that though her video has ten million views she still struggles to pay her rent each month.

Another friend wrote a Tony winning Broadway show. The show may be a household name now but its writers certainly aren’t. In fact, their next show is struggling to find a producer.

And yet both these amazing people were interviewed on national TV, lauded in the NY Times, and on the cover of magazines. For fifteen minutes…

And to make matters worse, their temporary fame served to raise their own bar so now they approach future projects worried that they won’t be able to recreate their prior notoriety. The truth is, fame is exceedingly elusive and not something you can ultimately control. Sustained fame is no small feat and often doesn’t happen without many years of highs and lows, nor without the help of the best agents, managers and publicists in the business – all of whom come at a huge cost.

But let’s get back to Stephen King and John Mellencamp. They are bona fide stars. But look at their body of work – Stephen King wrote 50 novels and countless films and stories. John Mellencamp boasts 22 Top 40 hits among his many accomplishments. Would these men have been famous after one, two, or even three successes? Maybe for 15 minutes, sure. But they wouldn’t be the household names they’ve become without turning out a massive amount of work.

It’s the same in show business. Ask a non-theater person to name a current Broadway celeb – you’ll probably get Sondheim, Lloyd Webber, maybe a Bernadette Peters or a Kristen Chenoweth. All people who’ve had huge careers and decades of successes.

The spotlight can shine hot, but it moves on fast and can leave you cold. Trying to stay within its glow has staggering costs. So you might as well enjoy the spotlight when it hits you, but don’t depend on it. Aspire to write a great show, work on Broadway, or collaborate with your idols. But do it for the work, not for the fame. Because, calculating your life in 15 minute increments is no way to live.


  1. The work is the reward. Plain and simple. I think the obsession with “fame” and “awards” comes mainly from people under the age of 30. The older you get, the more you realize that working on a musical with characters that keep you up at night because of how much you care about them is the greatest gift of all.

  2. We live in a culture where celebrity, being famous for just being famous, is not only a goal to aspire to, it’s promoted and pays well. Forgive playwrights who might want a taste of that. Forgive artists with successful bodies of work who might want to try another form–Mssrs. King and Mellancamp, who like Paul Simon are likely to find that fame in one venue doesn’t always work in another. Don’t forgive the celebrities who are neither artists nor have “work” to point to as their validation. I’m thinking of “Jersey Shore, the Musical–with the original cast.”

  3. I love this post. Trying to hold on to anything leads to pain. Just doing what comes next, for its own sake, leads to fulfillment, no matter how the outer world responds.

    Of course, that was what I needed to hear at this very moment for the non-musical part of my life.

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