Urgency vs. Whimsy

One of many favorite moments from Cucaracha Theater Company shows a long time ago in a Tribeca that no longer exists was a monologue by Todd Alcott in which he tells a story about falling asleep while driving cross-country. He talks about the struggle to keep awake and how, when his eyes close, going 70 miles an hour down a two-lane highway, he begins to have “the most marvelous dream”. The whimsical details of the dream, languidly drawn out in Todd’s retelling, become increasingly excruciating to hear, of course, because of the urgency (to put it mildly) of the context of the dream. I’ve never forgotten the effectiveness of this terrifying (and hilarious) juxtaposition.

Urgency and whimsy are two potent tools in storytelling. Most of our broadcast/web communication is unsolicited (if not, we hope, actually unwanted) and so our stories need a sense of urgency to convince the audience that they’re worth watching. Urgency is typically suggested by some narrative hook but it should also be reflected in a style that will (or at least appears to) discard with any superfluous elements and deliver the story as streamlined and effectively as possible. In other words, “you need to see this and we’re not going to waste a second of your time delivering it”.

Sometimes, a story (even utterly whimsical) crisply told suggests urgency simply by the economy of the storytelling. In this case, urgency gives whimsy – which is usually, by definition, not, apparently, urgent or streamlined – great power. And there are many stories that could use a dose of powerful whimsy.

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