MusicalWriters Academy is made up of bookwriters, composers, and lyricists of all ages and all over the world. We love supporting our members, and we want to help share what they’re doing, what they’re learning, and where they’re headed.
How did you get bit by the theater bug?
David Stidham: Like everybody, you know early on. My mom sent me to summer camps, where there was always some sort of dancing or singing involved, and that’s where I discovered I enjoyed performing. My high school and college drama teachers were my greatest influencers. George Ward at Woodside High School taught us all the great musicals, comedies, and dramas. Kurtwood Smith (“That 70s Show”) said after the close of one of our shows, “Since you have cast, costumes, sets, and props you should use them and go book shows at local high schools and community theatres.” We did and made some great money!! Kurtwood gave us the impetus and a fertile rich platform from which to launch ourselves into the world of theater.
Writing a musical isn’t easy. What’s your “why” in being a musical writer?
David Stidham: My college colleagues and I studied theatre at Canada College. While most schools teach certain skill sets (acting, directing, stagecraft, etc.), we were fortunate that Dr. Ellet and Kurtwood Smith encouraged us to also become producers. It was no surprise when William Ontiveros, Nick Flynn Lehr and other colleagues founded Pioneer Square Theatre in Seattle. PST produced new plays, most notably a 5-year run of Angry Housewives (that went on to Broadway and Chelsea Theatre in the West End) and ER Emergency Room. Seeking to develop new plays, Nick Flynn Lehr and Dustin Waln came up with the idea for new shows based on library of Public Domain ‘B Movies’ and Roger Corman’s Bucket of Blood was one that struck a chord with everyone. The first draft of script and songs were written, then Nick unfortunately was diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer. He approached me in 2017 to work together with him on finishing the script. We worked together for the last few years of his life where he asked me to promise to complete the show and cross the finish line for him. My “why” is for Nick. I’m here because of this beautiful family I come from, where we collaborated together to enhance each others’ works while enjoying the process together.
What are you working on right now?
David Stidham: I’m working on implementing some of the fabulous notes we’ve received from the reading of Bucket of Blood. Working on an opening song and choreography. The live reading pointed out where we have redundancy, where we needed to polish and where we need more layers. While the show in the past year has really advanced, we now need to focus on polishing and tweaking it.
Why did you join MusicalWriters Academy?
David Stidham: When you are a producer/ghostwriter and your main writer passes, you are sort of lost and floating without a sense of purpose. When you catch your breath, you realize you need a new partner and new direction. I started looking around and saw MusicalWriters Academy. It was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to find a community that could support, guide and teach me the pillars of proper script structure and give honest feedback. MusicalWriters filled the void of not having Nick with me. Working with the MusicalWriters staff was very comforting. Even when I didn’t agree with some of the feedback, it was indeed what I was looking for.
What’s a lesson from your writing journey that you’d like to share?
David Stidham: I’ve learned that it’s a long, beautiful journey. So, never give up, and avoid the classic pitfalls of falling in love with your piece too much. You are going to get some wonderful feedback from talented people, so you want to have an open mind and implement their notes.
“…never give up, and avoid the classic pitfalls of falling in love with your piece too much. You are going to get some wonderful feedback from talented people, so you want to have an open mind and implement their notes.”
The second lesson is to know who your audience is. We looked at theaters that had produced Little Shop of Horrors, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Evil Dead, Sweeney Todd, and Reefer Madness as having patrons that enjoyed dark comedy musicals. Once we identified that, we continued to skew our show to focus on being a fun and a little silly with a great musical jazz soundtrack.
What made Bucket of Blood come about?
David Stidham: I always had all sorts of ideas of what would be great to write, but never took it to the next level until Bucket of Blood. We felt it had good commercial potential. From Mean Girls to West Side Story, everything goes to Broadway with a big price tag. If you can hedge your bet with a story that’s already known, you add more fuel to the potential success of your show.
The message your show sends was also something we wanted clearly defined. Our message on Bucket of Blood is that “art can’t exist without commerce and commerce will die without art.” We need to work with each other. I’m glad we found that theme and can make a clear point and statement with it.
How was the experience of watching your show be performed at the Academy Reading Series?
David Stidham: With any reading, it becomes abundantly clear afterwards whether you should continue or not. If you hold a reading with a really talented cast and the audience doesn’t react, then you know it’s time to move on. The critical questions for me before the reading were: “Is the Dallas audience going to react to the jokes? Are they going to get it? Are they going to be offended?” The reading process for us was “if this falls flat on its face, at least we have some good songs to sing.” But that was not the reaction we received, people were laughing and guffawing in all the right places, furthering our belief that we should keep going.
The live reading was more beneficial than a Zoom reading. We got to hear the laughs and get audience feedback on characters, songs and story. Coming to MusicalWriters and working with producing director Rebecca Lowrey really solidified that we have something here. Everything we were looking for when we signed up for the Development Series has been delivered, and beyond. We are a part of this new community, and I feel filled with joy knowing Nick is looking down approvingly on us. The MusicalWriters community is one we were looking for, and we are happy it’s worked out so well. Rebecca has suggested three theatres in the Dallas area that she plans to introduce us to for potential workshop production and we look forward to working with her again in the near future.
“Everything we were looking for when we signed up for the Development Series has been delivered, and beyond.”
What did you learn from the reading process?
David Stidham: Rebecca did a phenomenal job casting and directing Bucket of Blood for the Academy Reading Series. It was an affirmation and confirmation of the work we’ve been doing the past few years. The book now is tight. We have to cut a song, as the reading made clear that we have two songs that are both saying the same thing. It was eye-opening to see the weak spots, so now we pick up our pencils and get back to work. When you are so close to your work it is easy to fall in love with your characters and songs, but in a reading you get to see the truth of how your show will be received. The Dallas audience laughed at every single joke and cried in certain scenes as intended and they snapped their fingers to the songs’ lyrics and vibe.
We were also able to see what was missing. The comedic opportunities that come from dance and an opening number will really help set the table for the rest of our show. The reading really helped us recognize the need for a new song in the opening scene. Rebecca gives excellent notes as an experienced and talented musical director—if she gives you notes, you better follow her advice! Her input is invaluable.
Rebecca (Lowrey) gives excellent notes as an experienced and talented musical director—if she gives you notes, you better follow her advice! Her input is invaluable.
What are your favorite musical-writing tools?
David Stidham: My favorite tool is a really great eraser. You fall in love with what you think is really good and want to keep it in show. No, just erase it and try something else. Our show started with 19 songs, of which 8 remain with several reprises, so you see why we go through a lot of erasers around here! As far as a tech tool, Sibelius on the music, and Final Draft on the book. But I’m old-school, and I love pencil and eraser.
What do you love about MusicalWriters.com?
David Stidham: There are many great organizations and people offering assistance out there, you have to check them all out and see if they are a fit for you. We looked into other programs but didn’t get that warm feeling from them. I’ve talked to big-name dramaturgs and always felt talked down to, however I never found that here with Holly and Musicalwriters.com.
David Stidham is a Film Licensing and Distribution Executive whose films include Louis L’Amour’s “The Sacketts”, Peter Fonda’s “Idaho Transfer”, “Choices” starring Demi Moore, and “The Outsider” starring Grainger Hines and Ted Markland. As Executive Director of the Santa Susana Theater Company and Thousand Oaks Repertory Company, he produced classics including Hamlet, Macbeth, and Christmas Carol to high school and colleges in Ventura County CA. David attended Canada College in Redwood City, CA and Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. David is grateful for the support and love from his wife Robin and two incredibly talented sons Jordan and Ari who have all been a part of this wonderful journey together. For more information about the musical Bucket of Blood, visit www.bucketofblood.net.