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Traditional Shows and Story Shows: What Are They?

Over the past few years, the rise in new styles of show choir has led fans of each style to butt heads. Many questions have been raised about if these two versions of show choir should be competing against each other, and additionally, which is better. Despite all the noise, however, all styles of shows continue to be enjoyed by audiences and compete against each other. This article is intended to be a guide to the different styles of shows.


To discuss this further, there needs to be a definition and examples for each style.

The Story Show

What do many think of when the phrase "story show" comes to mind? Maybe a couple Iowa groups, but mostly some larger California programs. John Burroughs Powerhouse is probably the biggest example of a pure story show group. They check all the boxes - long, cohesive narratives, non-traditional costuming, characters, contemporary choreography styles, and flashy technology. Powerhouse has been on the cutting edge of this wave for over a decade and has won many accolades over this period.

The Traditional Show

Who’s on the other side of the spectrum? Johnston Innovation is one of the last few purely traditional groups. They feature the classic wardrobe of suits and dresses, little to no narrative cohesion between songs, traditional show choir choreography, and a simple lighting and backdrop setup. Innovation’s signature style has been prevalent for many, many years, and likely won’t be changing anytime soon (despite what their name might say), as they’ve been incredibly successful over a long period of time.

The Middle Ground

One important thing to understand about this issue is that almost no show firmly fits into the rigid definitions of “traditional” or “story”. Aside from the extremes on either side, most shows land somewhere in between. For instance, Brandon Brio’s 2024 show features a theme of different toys between decades. There's no storyline to follow per se, but there is a progression through vocals and visuals that tie together coherently. There isn’t a narrative, but their costumes are far from the traditional suit and dress combination. Brio’s show falls in the middle of these two absolutes, as do most shows.

Which is Better?

Well, neither. Objectively speaking, both Innovation and Powerhouse have been very successful against traditional and story shows alike. When you get to the top echelon of show choir groups, they tend to dominate regardless of what other show styles show they face. Powerhouse and Innovation have both earned an undefeated season in the past three years. Subjectively, however, everybody has a preference. Some prefer one style to another. It’s natural. Despite all that, the majority of scoresheets are effective in eliminating that bias. Preference does play a role in scoring, but the bias comes in the form of style of singing and choreography rather than having a story show, theme show, or traditional show. The truth of the matter is that any style of show can win on any given day using a good scoring system and good judges.

Show choir as we know it is one of the newest and most niche performing arts in the world. The first-ever swing choir carnivals took place just in the 1970s, and those shows are a long way from what we have now. Perhaps the closest relative art form is musicals, which also incorporate singing, dancing, and acting, and often all at the same time. Just like show choir, the growing pains of contemporary musical theater existed in its earlier years. Every time a new and exciting show debuted, there would be naysayers calling back to the good ol’ days of The Sound of Music, and some fans of the newer, more pop- or rock-focused shows like Rent would harp on the “boringness” of the old style. Fast forward to now, 64 years after the debut of The Sound of Music and 28 years after the release of Rent, and both shows are still performed and enjoyed by audiences, alongside other new and interesting shows like Six and Hadestown. Neither style is wrong, and both styles stood the test of time. Show choir will be no different. As our beloved performing art grows and changes, there will be more debates and arguments on new and different styles. But one day, maybe 20 years in the future, we will re-hatch and take ideas from the Burroughs and Johnston sets of old, and the general population of show choir fans won’t remember or care about which style won more grand championships. Why should we put ourselves in a creative box when our chosen art form allows for so much difference? Save some time and hard feelings, let the scorecards do the scoring, and enjoy all the beautiful ideas show choir has to offer.

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Personally I don't like story shows like what Carrol Magic does but I also really dislike shows that have nothing connecting the numbers like what Homestead Class Royale does.

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I think the best shows are closer to the traditional style with something (whether it be stylistic consistency or some sort of theme) tieing the numbers together

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