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Musical Writerzine #7

Winter 2009

Carol de GiereIn Musical Writerzine #7, William Squier profiles two theaters that are using blogging, podcasting, facebook, myspace and youtube to develop new musicals: the Encore Theater Company and Philadelphia Music Theater Works. We also note publications and a festival.

[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.]

Noteable Musical Theatre Publications

Sondheim CDs and Podcasts

Last fall Sony BMG Masterworks published a four-CD box set Stephen Sondheim: The Story So Far.. ," and in conjuntion, they launched a free podcast series. The podcasts feature chats with Bernadette Peters, Angela Lansbury, Len Cariou, Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, James Lapine, Lonny Price, Paul Gemignani, Hal Prince and many others, who share their stories about working with the famed composer-lyricist. The podcasts can be found on iTunes by searching for "Masterworks Broadway" and on Sony BMG's Masterworks Broadway website, which is located at www.masterworksbroadway.com.

Dramatists Guild Resource Directory

A new edition is out. Info on out Reference Book page

Playscripts Creativity Book

Spaces of Creation Playwriting bookAnyone working on the story of a musical might be intrigued by the organic development of a play taught through this book: Spaces of Creation: The Creative Process of Playwriting  by Suzan Zeder with Jim Hancock. It's not a new book but noteworthy. As written in the Forward to the book, "...Spaces of Creation guides you through the writing process from the first moment of creation onwards. Breaking down the act of creation into a series of journeys through internal and external spaces, Suzan adn Jim give you a host of exercises that will inspire and guide you...."

Festivals and Events

Events - added Feb 2009: Duncan Sheik songwriting classes auctioned on Ebay as charity. See Sheik classes

NYMF http://www.nymf.org/

Jurors for The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) for the 2009 Next Link Project will include lyricist Susan Birkenhead, composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown, producer Robyn Goodman, and director Francesca Zambello. The New York Musical Theater Festival is currently accepting open submissions for its Next Link Project for the sixth annual festival taking place September 28 - October 18, 2009.

Twelve of the Festival's full production slots are reserved for participants in The Next Link Project, NYMF's primary writer service program. The Next Link Project empowers emerging musical theatre writing teams as both artists and entrepreneurs by providing the training and relationships needed to help them move their musicals from mere readings to fully-realized productions and to advance their careers by maximizing the exposure they receive in the Festival.

A meet and greet to answer any questions from those interested in applying will be held Wednesday, January 28, 6-8pm at the Irish Rogue (356 West 44th Street, between 8th and 9th Ave). NYMF staff members will be on hand to answer questions about the Next Link Project submissions process and chat about other ways to get involved with the Festival.

New Jersey - BloomfieldArts.org Theatre Writer's Festival

This festival in Feb 2009 is seeking scripts. See their site at Bloomfieldldarts.org

GROWING STAGES by William Squier

"In Musical Writerzine #7, William Squier profiles two theaters that are using blogging, podcasting, facebook, myspace and youtube to develop new musicals: the Encore Theater Company and Philadelphia Music Theater Works."

"Smart and Innovative Encore Theater Company"

Several years ago, David Brush, the Artistic Director of Ohio's Encore Theater Company, attended a touring production of "Rent." "There were no "names "in the cast," he recalls. "The actors were all probably ten years old when it opened on Broadway." Because of their youth and lack of preconceptions about the material, however, Brush found their approach to be very fresh. "That's why this is so good," Brush recalls thinking. "Why it's smart and innovative." But, being smart and innovative are terms that David Brush could just as easily apply to himself.

Brush began, like so many musical theater writers, as a performer. "But, pretty early on I realized that the other side of the boards was more interesting," he explains. He and Encore co-founder Jim Farley met when Brush directed a local production of "Children of Eden" and Faley stepped in to play the second keyboard. They discovered that each had an interest in writing for the musical theater and decided to collaborate on an adaptation of the young adult novel "The Summer of My German Soldier."

Once the team had written their show, however, they ran into a familiar roadblock. "We were having such difficulty finding anyone to even read it, let alone produce it," says Jim Farley. So, they formed Encore Theater Company in 1999. Their first offering was co-production of "The Summer of My German Soldier" with the University of Dayton mounted on the campus. The experience was so positive that Brush and Farley were inspired continue.

"We realized that there's a whole network of writers that have experienced the same thing," Brush says. "And we thought that perhaps we could be a safe haven for them to test new work." Jim Farley echoes his partner's sentiments. "There's only one way for a creator to know how good his material is and that's to see it performed by other people," he states.

Brush and Farley started to reach out to other writers by producing a weekly podcast that showcased music from new shows. "We thought that Dayton would welcome new work if we eased them into it," Brush explains. Then, they began mounting productions of lesser-known pieces like "The Last Five Years," "Tick, Tick, Boom" "Chess," "See What I Wanna See" and "Flight of the Lawnchair Man." "Our goal was to find a balance between our local audiences and the author. What will an author gain and what will we gain from producing it?" Brush continues.

After performing at venues in the outskirts of Dayton, Encore settled into The Mathile Theatre at the Schuster Performing Arts Center in the city's downtown -- a flexible, 56' x 36', black box space that seats as many as 150 people. In the few years that Encore has performed there, Burns claims that there isn't a configuration that they haven't used. For example, they staged "Flight of the Lawnchair Man" in the round. "It was wonderful," Brush recalls. "Very intimate."

Encore's runs are short - one to two weekends - with an occasional extension for readings that attract a large audience. Casts are drawn from the local community and nearby universities. "The actors have been so responsive to doing new work," Brush reports. "The process is exciting for them because they feel a part of something that hasn't been done to death." Encore also begins each season by engaging at least one new director. "This might mean giving a recent college grad their first gig," he says. "This year we're please to have the head of the musical theater department at Wright State."

Encore's initial attempt at developing a new work from the ground up centered on turning a promising one-act musical, "No Stone Unturned" by book and lyrics writer David Hudson ("Main-Travelled Roads") and composer Denise Wright ("Saint Peter's Umbrella"), into a full-length work retitled "Jacob's Pillow." "I heard a song written for the show, which is a mix of contemporary and Celtic sound," Brush explains. Impressed, Brush tracked down the authors and expressed his interest in seeing the piece expanded. Two years later, he assembled a cast for a first read-through. "We did a table reading in my living room, filmed it, took notes, and I sent it all to David and Denise, saying that they could take or leave what they wanted," Brush recalls, adding with a laugh. "There was some taking and definitely some leaving."

"Jacob's Pillow" debuted into Encore's 2007 / 2008 season and David Hudson reports being pleased with the production. "I really have a lot of respect for what Encore brought to the table," Hudson says. "David was a good director, the choreography was inventive, the music direction was spot on and Jim put together an ace pit." Jim Farley also worked with Denise Wright to orchestrate the musical. "I couldn't recommend him more highly to anyone looking to have a score fleshed out," Hudson states.

Interestingly, Hudson says that Encore's production of "Jacob's Pillow" convinced the writers that the project wasn't one they wanted to continue working on. "In the end we decided that it wasn't a story that would ultimately succeed as a musical," he explains. He credits Brush and Faley with helping them to reach that conclusion. ""The reality is that there is nothing that can replace seeing a musical on its feet," Hudson says.

On the other hand, developing "Jacob's Pillow" convinced Brush and Farley that Encore is on the right track. "2008 / 2009 will mark our first complete season of unpublished work," states Brush. It will be made up of a mix of readings and fully staged works, with a production of Joanne and Mark Sutton-Smith's "Stand By The River" (www.standbytheriver.com) as the centerpiece. "It's a show about the underground railroad that we've always loved with a story that really hasn't been told," Brush says.

Brush and Farley are also planning to incorporate more high technology into their development of new musicals. "I'm the geek," Farley claims. "I am totally enthralled by being able to use all these wonderful tools!" Brush claims that he finds a lot of new material that interests him on sites like Myspace and Facebook. And he thinks that the internet offers effective ways of communicating with both authors and audiences. "We've opened a privatized YouTube account to film rehearsals and make them available to writers,' Brush says. "That way they can watch, see what's not working and make changes. And with "Flight of the Lawnchair Man" we launched a production blog as a marketing tool. It incited a lot of audience response."

Musical theater writers interested in having their work considered by the Encore Theater Company should submit a synopsis and a cd of sample songs from the score. The theater generally produces musicals that require a cast of ten or fewer. Brush emphasizes, however, that no subject matter is taboo. "Any time we can say "Wow! That's something we've never done before," we tend to do it," he says. Submission materials should be sent to:

David Brush

Encore Theater Company

408 Oak Street

Dayton, OH 45410

For more details, you can visit Encore at www.encoretheatercompany.com.

"PMTW Gives Musical Theater the Works"

"It's always been interesting to me how theater and arts organizations lag behind in terms of technology," says Jeremiah Downes, Artistic Director of Philadelphia Music Theater Works. "Web services and email communications have been the primary means of information exchange for most other businesses and organizations for years. We're just following their lead." It turns out that it's a good thing the creative team behind PMTW is so technologically savvy.

The fledgling organization kicked off their first year last May with a kaleidoscopic celebration of new work titled "Fresh: New Musicals. Stripped." Included were songs by Chris Miller & Nathan Tysen ("Burnt Part Boys"), Nick Blaemire (Broadway's "Glory Days"), Brian Lowdermilk & Kait Kerrigan (Theatreworks USA's "Henry & Mudge") and other up-and-comers from around the U.S. They followed up three months later with "Watch the Birdie," a revue of theater songs by Philadelphia based Charles Gilbert (perhaps best known for writing a musical that inspired Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins."). Jerimiah Downes oversaw preproduction for both of the events while simultaneously pursuing a graduate degree 1,400 miles away at Oklahoma City University.

Like Downes, most of the young artistic staff at PMTW has spent time writing, acting, directing or working behind the scenes at theaters from Maine to Maryland. Their literary manager is based in Washington, DC. Yet, all have past connections to the Philly theater scene. "It happens to be an amazing theater city and encouraging of new companies and organizations," Downes says. So, PMTW chose Philadelphia as home base.

By focusing on barebones concert presentations and conducting much of their business online, Downes feels that his company has been able to make long-distance musical theater development work very well. "The emphasis is on process not product," he stresses. "The future lies in the internet. It's less costly, more efficient (on all levels) and eco-friendly."

Their most recent project was an evening built around the songs of the 2008 Richard Rodgers Award winning composer and lyricist, Ryan Scott Oliver ("Alive at Ten"). Downes is candid about his company's preference for working with artists that have a track record. "We are always seeking writers who have already made significant strides in the field," he states. "But, our organization continues to grow. If you don't hear back from us today, you may a year or so down the line. We look at everything and if you submit your materials following our guidelines they will eventually reach my desk."

Musical theater writers interested in having their work considered by Philadelphia Music Theater Works should send the following to Literary Manager / Dramaturg Danielle Martin at martind@phillymusictheater.org: a cover letter, and in pdf form: a detailed synopsis and character list, ten to fifteen sample pages of the libretto, script and/or lyrics, two piano vocal selections from the score, author bios and, finally mp3 recordings of several songs from the score. Or if you happen to be lucky enough to have all of the above available on a website, you can simply sent a link.

You can visit PMTW online at www.phillymusictheater.org,

Facebook at www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=11455808786,

Myspace at www.myspace.com/phillymusictheater)

and see clips from their concerts on YouTube at www.youtube.com/phillymusictheater.

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