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Musical Writerzine #6

Fall 2008

Carol de GiereFrom Carol de Giere

In Musical Writerzine #6, you'll read about the release of my book, as well as Charles Strouse's memoir and a podcast. William Squier profiles the 4th Wall Musical Theatre and introduces the New York Theatre Barn. NOTE in 2015 I posted an update for the 4th Wall article.

[Carol de Giere is the website publisher for MusicalWriters.com and author of Defying Gravity, a career biography of Stephen Schwartz filled with musical development stories. William Squier has written numerous musicals and articles for a wide variety of publications.]

Recent Musical Theatre Publications

Defying Gravity the bookSeptember 2008 notes from Carol de Giere, author and webmaster for Musicalwriters.com:

Finishing my book took all my time and attention this year, but at last I can post another newsletter and also let you know about the book. Bill Squier has also updated his column for this issue with a report on 4th Wall Musical Theatre and the New York Theatre Barn.

New Book: Defying Gravity

When I wrote Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked, I kept in mind the many aspiring musical theatre writers I've met at ASCAP Workshops or elsewhere. I structured the book so that writers could locate the essential tips from Stephen Schwartz. In addition to the career narrative and many behind-the-scenes anecdotes, readers will find a series of "Creativity Notes" offering direct insights into the process of creating an artistic work. They are all listed in the index (under Creativity Notes) so you'll be able to locate them easily. I hope writers will find these notes to be helpful.

I've also provided a thorough account of the development of Wicked as a musical, from its conception to completion. You'll find the original outline and stories about collaborative meetings, a series of workshops and readings, the influence of designers in the later stages of development, the traumas and triumphs of the San Francisco pre-Broadway tryout, the opening on Broadway, and Schwartz's response after the Tony Awards.

Please see the official book site for ordering information or more details. www.defyinggravitythebook.com/

Or view the Table of Contents at Defying Gravity Contents

New Book: Charles Strouse's Memoir - Put On A Happy Face

Charles Strouse - Put on a Happy Face Charles Strouse's writing style is light even when he's covering serious subjects, and the work is a pleasure to read. Of course he talks about Annie and Bye Bye Birdie, but also about more obscure shows, including Rags--a show he worked on with Schwartz.

"Strouse's superb backstage memoir deserves a standing ovation."--Publishers Weekly

Put on a Happy Face: A Broadway Memoir

Stephen Schwartz podcast 4

My latest podcast with Stephen Schwartz was a discussion of his work on Enchanted. Stephen Schwartz - on songs for the Disney move Enchanted

Festivals

NYMF http://www.nymf.org/

New York Musical Theatre Festival runs September 15 - October 5, 2008 this year. This regular event allows new musicals to be seen.

GROWING STAGES by William Squier

In this column, William Squier profiles the 4th Wall Musical Theatre and introduces the New York Theatre Barn

UPDATE 2015: The 4th Wall is still accepting new musicals. See more details below.

“BREAKING INTO THE 4TH WALL”

Gregory Allen, Artistic Director, New Jersey's 4th Wall Musical Theatre“You’re never going to see us doing ANNIE,” stresses Gregory Allen, Artistic Director of New Jersey’s 4th Wall Musical Theatre. “I can go to see THE WIZARD OF OZ or OKLAHOMA and really enjoy them. But, I’m involved with 4th Wall because of what I think we have to offer our audiences: something they’re not going to see anywhere else.”

The 4th Wall Musical Theatre is one of a handful of “arts partners” that occupy The Westminster Arts Center (campus.bloomfield.edu/Westminster) on the campus of Bloomfield College in Bloomfield, NJ (467 Franklin Street). The community-based theater group, which is headed by Greg Allen and Executive Director Gwen Ricks-Spencer, performs in the Robert Van Fossan Theatre, a 300 seat converted church with stadium seating and a semi-circular thrust stage.

4th Wall mounts three or more musicals per season. Their main stage shows typically run for three weekends, Friday through Sunday, at various times throughout the year. The company’s physical production values tend to be spare but tasteful, with a few well-chosen effects and scenic elements – like the clever use of rolling metal scaffolding to suggest the prison settings in KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN. The shows are cast with a mix of local actors and moonlighting professionals, who just this past season began receiving a stipend for their involvement.

Lesser Known and Seldom Seen

The folks at the 4th Wall like to characterize the musicals they produce as lesser known and seldom seen (although Allen kids that his Board of Directors has occasionally suggested that he consider doing “something people have heard of.”) Early in their history the theater’s preference was for ensemble shows like COMPANY, GODSPELL and WORKING. “They wanted to do... pieces where everybody gets a moment to shine,” Allen recalls. “But, after the first few years they realized that there are only so many ensemble shows.”

At that point, 4th Wall branched out into such challenging works as FALSETTOS, A NEW BRAIN and VIOLET. After Greg Allen came on the scene in 2001, they also began to experiment with presenting slightly more mainstream properties with a 4th Wall twist. “When I directed LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, we set it in New Orleans,” Allen explains. “We didn’t change a line. But, when the characters came offstage in the nightclub, they started talking [with Cajun accents]. And while the characters were escaping at the end, I had it happen during a Marti Gras parade.”

4th Wall also dabbled with presenting unfamiliar titles by very familiar writers. Just this past season, for example, rather than produce Kander & Ebb’s CABARET or CHICAGO, they chose THE RINK. And Schmidt and Jones’ rarely staged PHILEMON was performed in lieu of THE FANTASTICS. “It allows our audiences to experience something they’ve never seen and don’t know as much about,” Allen feels.

Lately, however, things have begun to change. “There was a time when people would say ‘That’s a show that 4th Wall would do.’ And the other community theaters would stay away from it,” Allen says. “Now, they are taking more risks. When URINETOWN came around everybody said, ‘4th Wall’s going to do that show.’ And we almost did. Then, three other community theaters announced that they were doing it!”

The logical next step for 4th Wall was to begin presenting musicals that nobody had heard of – in other words, brand new works. So, in 2007 the theater established their Musicals In Development, or M.I.D., series. As the acronym would suggest, the resulting production fell midway between a reading and a production: a barebones staging with a 7:30 pm curtain and a talk back session after each of the performances.

Invisible Fences Musical“It was a different way to expand our mission,” Allen explains. “We started with a musical that I had written, INVISIBLE FENCES, which deals with racial tensions in the South during the sixties. We did it for three nights during Black History Month and we were shocked by the turnout! We had people show up that had never come to a 4th Wall show.”

Emboldened by their initial success, 4th Wall solicited submissions of new works in the fall of the same year, in the hope of finding a piece they could stage the following January. Among the scripts that arrived was Charles Bloom’s HEAVEN KNOWS. “Before knowing anything about the organization, the geography appealed to me,” Bloom says. “The show was at the stage of its development where I wanted it to be presented by a nearby theatre company, but I didn't yet want it seen in New York.”

From the outset, Bloom was impressed level of commitment that he sensed from everyone involved with 4th Wall. “When something is in its early stages, it needs people whom the writer feels truly care about it more than just about anything else. From the start, it was clear that the primary objective of 4th Wall was to nurture and improve the show by providing it residency in that rarely-visited level of presentation: not a formal production with lots of "bells and whistles,” but not a dreary "stools in a semi-circle" sort of reading, either,” he explains. And, as far as Bloom was concerned, the M.I.D. staging was exactly what HEAVEN KNOWS needed. “A good dinner tastes no better on an expensive tablecloth,” he adds.

Though he was only able to attend a few rehearsals, Bloom worked closely with the director, Gwen Ricks-Spencer, on revisions. “I thought there would be a smattering of changes but, once I knew the rewards the rewrites would bring, I worked non-stop,” Bloom says. “By the time the cast had their next group read-through, they had in front of them a brand-new draft.”

“We thought we were finished, too,” echoes Greg Allen of his own experience with INVISIBLE FENCES. “But, two weeks before the performances we rewrote the title song and moved songs from one act to the other. It really about the process.” So much so that he demurs when asked if the ultimate goal of the M.I.D. series is to find a musical that they can fully produce. ““If 4th Wall could play a part in someone else taking what we’ve done and producing it, I think it would be very exciting,” Allen says.

Charles Bloom, on the other hand, would be eager to work with them again. “If their approach to a workshop is any indication of how they would handle a full production, I would have no hesitation whatsoever,” he states.

Charles Bloom reports that he didn’t receive a royalty payment for the performances of HEAVEN KNOWS and that he spent a modest amount on transportation to and from Bloomfield and copying scripts and score for some of the cast in advance of the rehearsal period. But, he feels that it was money well spent. And, he says, the 4th Wall folk extended themselves in other ways.

“I knew that the staff was working tirelessly for the piece both on the stage and off,” Bloom says. “Gwen and Greg traveled to see me and took me to lunch at Joe Allen to inaugurate about the forthcoming adventure. Classy, I thought. They took me to dinner before rehearsals a few times and a lovely cast party was thrown: incredible food, speeches, cards, gifts: the whole shebang. These people were as lovely to me when the curtain was down as when it was up.”

Submissions of New Musicals

UPDATED in 2015

Kate Swan, the current Artistic Director, has explained that submissions are still being taken on an ongoing basis, although there are some limitations. They are looking for shows with small casts of 3-8 people. They lean toward adult, contemporary stories rather than period or fantasy pieces (although would consider other approaches).

Submissions may be sent by email and should include the writers' resume, writers' bios, script synopsis, a writing sample from the show (or the entire libretto, if that is easier), and at least 4 demo tracks. Rather than send large files by email it's best to use links to DropBox, SoundCloud, and other file sharing platforms for the demo tracks. Kate@4thwalltheatre.org is Ms. Swan's email address.

Also visit their website at www.4thwalltheatre.org for general information and specifically MID Stage Series for more details on submissions.

And for information about Charles Bloom, visit www.charlesbloomusic.com.

“THE BARN DOORS ARE OPEN”

We suggest that you keep an eye on the New York Theatre Barn, the new kid on New York City’s musical theatre development block. In a very busy first year, NYTB actively pursued the creation and development of “new, evocative works” by producing a series of almost monthly events, many of which were devoted to new works of musical theater. These included their UNTITLED concerts, NYTB IN THE D-LOUNGE and NYTB AT THE DUPLEX – where musical theater writers were featured in songbook evenings – and staged readings of the new musicals BIG FAT CAT (Music: Brian Feinstein, Book & Lyrics: Robin Moyer Chung), B.R.A.T.T. CAMP (Book, Music and Lyrics: Bobby Cronin), I MARRIED WYATT EARP (Book: Shellah Rae & Thomas Edward West, Lyrics: Shellah Rae, Music: Michele Brourman) and ORDINARY DAYS (Music & Lyrics: Adam Gwon).

The most exciting event on NYTB’s schedule, however, is the New York Musical Theater Festival production of WOOD, a modern day re-imaging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Book & Lyrics: Dan Collins, Music: Julianne Wicks Davis) that will play the festival from September 15 through the 28th. Headlining the cast will be Tony Award winning actress Cady Huffman (“The Producers,” “The Will Rogers Follies”)

Lead by Producing Artistic Director Joe Barros and Executive Artistic Director David Rigler, the NYTB approach to musical theater development is pretty basic. “We wanted to create a company that stood for the most precious and important elements of this business,” says Rigler. “Ideas and the people who have them. Success can only be achieved when the first vital steps in the creative development of an idea are nurtured and encouraged and are presented in a forum where the process is more important than the product.”

To that end, the company’s NYTB AT THE DUPLEX series showcases the work of new composers, lyricists and performers, even as it acts as a networking opportunity for the other writers and performers in the audience. “We encourage everyone to take part in the collaborative and creative process by sharing their thoughts and ideas, and by developing relationships with us and with the artists,” Rigler explains.

Musical theater writers interested in being considered for NYTB AT THE DUPLEX (or any other level of involvement with NYTB), should submit a full script and a cd of selections from the score, along with a cover of two pages or fewer to:

DAVID RIGLER
EXECUTIVE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
NEW YORK THEATRE BARN
630 9th AVENUE
SUITE #1205
NYC, NY  10036

You can also email NYTB a brief description/plot summary (no longer than 2 pages) to:

info@NYTheatreBarn.org

But, note that if you email them a full script it will be deleted without being read. Or you can visit NYTB at www.nytheatrebarn.org or even stop by a NYTB AT THE DUPLEX performance.

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