The dreaded synopsis

I do not claim to be a very good synopsis writer. But I had to boil down my lengthy synopsis twice for the upcoming Capital Fringe Festival. And I think it’s actually a good exercise for anyone else out there struggling with putting together a good, concise pitch.

So here’s the long-form version of my synopsis for my play ALICE:

It’s June of 1971. And Tricia Nixon is getting married. Every reporter in town is determined to interview the last bride to be married in the White House, 80-something Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

Long before there was a Lady Gaga or a Jenna Bush, there was Alice. She was the daughter of one of America’s favorite Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt. She married a future Speaker of the House in a White House ceremony that was the event of an era. Before she was married, Alice made headlines in an era when tabloid journalism was exploding. She was tall, gorgeous, and loved to shock the American public with her antics. She endures, perhaps because every other sentence she uttered was a sound bite with teeth that still nip.

In tonight’s play, Alice is being interviewed by an unseen reporter. She offers her opinions on the Nixon presidency and several other presidencies in her long lifetime. But she is also trying to justify her own gadfly existence to herself and to her father. The ghost of TR appears in the play to question Alice’s version of events and force her to confront the truths in her own life: her unhappy relationship with her daughter, the infidelity of her husband, her own marital indiscretion, and her selfishness in general.

Welcome to an evening with the ultimate political celebrity: Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

The Fringe Festival asked for a much shorter synopsis: no more than 40 words. Here’s what I finally came up with:

“If you haven’t got anything good to say about anyone, come and sit by me.” Alice Roosevelt Longworth was the ultimate political celebrity: daughter of a President, married to the Speaker of the House. Spend time with “Washington’s other monument.”

That was frustrating, because I couldn’t get in the fact that she was Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter. But I figured the quote was famous enough and conveyed exactly who she is and that was more important to attracting an audience for the show.

But the Fringe wasn’t done with me. They wanted a TEN WORD version! Here’s what I ended up with:

Meet the ultimate political celebrity: Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

Very unsatisfying. But again, I was thinking of my audience: a Washington DC crowd that LOVES political celebrities. And the names Roosevelt and Longworth are famous enough to entice even those who’ve never heard of Alice.

Or at least that was my thinking. (I welcome better rewrites!)

But it’s a useful exercise: start with your synopsis. Then write a 40 word version. And then a ten word version. You may never use them, but just think how pithy that ten word version would look as an opening sentence in a pitch letter!

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