Musical Theater Festivals logos 450x250

Theater fans enjoy musical theater festivals with their entertaining productions at discount prices. Musical writers can take advantage of the crowd power and use festivals as a relatively economical way to reach an audience while preparing for the next stage of development. The gathering of artists also makes festival participation helpful for building a network for future projects.

Some festival shows get lucky. In 2017 “Six” was one of 3,398 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and this year “Six” opens on Broadway. Although the NYMF (New York Musical Festival) has now closed, 105 of their shows went on to further productions, including four to Broadway.

Is There a New Musical Theater Festival in Your Future?

On February 25, 2020, the NYC-based organization Theater Resources Unlimited or “TRU” presented a panel “Festivals: Working Hard to Give Your Show a Chance.” This event focused on festivals in New York City where new musicals can become part of the artistic landscape surrounding Broadway. Here is my report from the evening, along with a few additions.

TRU executive director Bob Ost introduced the topic by saying, “Rather than sitting around waiting for a commercial producer to find you and put you on Broadway, a lot of us self-producers realize that there is the option of creating our own opportunities. There’s no better way of creating your own opportunity than through one of the festivals.” He noted that participation can save money compared with stand-alone productions.

None of these musical theater festivals cover the entire production costs. They give each show three or more time slots in their whole program. They usually provide a theater space, ticket vendor and box office management, front of house staff, basic pre-hung lights, a keyboard or piano, some marketing, some insurance, and some professional advice. That means the writers are on their own to hire administrative and creative teams, crowd fund or otherwise raise money, cast the show or hire a casting director, rent a rehearsal space, and do everything else to present a performance. (If it sounds daunting, there are people who can help, including some of the festival leaders and people like Bob Ost who can serve as a consultant.) So, the best time to participate is after a show has received several readings and it is ready for some love from the public and prospective investors.

Panelist Suzanna Bowling, the spokesperson for New York Theater Festival Summerfest and Winterfest, summarized the benefits of musical theater festivals for writers: You can see your show up, “get your ducks in a row” in terms of your presentation, and start a database for followers and supporters.

The New York City festivals are not free-for-all Fringe events but involve a careful selection process. It all begins with submissions by the writers. How do you decide which one to consider? Here is a summary that should help. Future articles on each festival will follow in the coming months.

NYC Festivals that Showcase New Musicals

Broadway Bound Theatre Festival

Submissions deadline: March 15. 2020.
Runs Aug. 10 – Sept. 6, 2020 at Theatre Row
Accepts previously unproduced musicals and plays.

Broadway Bound accepts musicals for the first time this year. Lenore Skomal, Festival Director, described this festival in terms of its focus on providing writers with support for developing their work. It could be especially helpful for anyone who doesn’t have a theatre background or doesn’t have a network in New York City. Skomal said to the gathering of writers and producers: “This really came from my desire to help other playwrights like myself and give the support and teach you as much as we could teach you so that when you were sitting in the audience seeing your work up for the first time, you have that pride of ownership–you were the person who pulled this thing together. But every step of the way you have someone helping you.”

Broadway Bound has a blind submissions and review process, so that the reviewers will not be influenced by the writers’ credits or lack thereof. All writers receive written feedback on their submissions. The top forty are interviewed and twenty shows are chosen for a place in the festival. Each accepted show receives three prime time performance slots, weekend days and evenings. Submissions fee: Participation fee: $1000 for those accepted. The company is self-sustaining; profits return to the festival.

Dream Up Festival

Submissions deadline: May 17.
Runs Aug. 23 – Sept. 13 at Theater for the New City
Accepts a wide range of inventive shows including new adaptations.

Michael Scott-Price curates the Dream Up Festival that is under the umbrella of an established off-off-Broadway company Theater for the New City. The company is already dedicated to nurturing playwrights as they experiment with new forms, and the festival is an extension of that. Scott-Price explained that they are flexible regarding the length of the musical because they create their program around the lengths of the accepted pieces. They offer a minimum of five performance times. The theater has a large room of props and costumes for festival use. Participation fee: $600. Nonprofit theater. If there is room in the festival, they would consider staged readings as well as full production.

Fresh Fruit Festival

Submissions deadline: March 15.
Runs July 6 – 19 at various Manhattan venues.
Accepts shows that feature LGBTQ characters or themes.

Lou Lopardi, executive director and Dennis Corsi, artistic director want to push writers towards artistic excellence while removing obstacles they might face. They explained that they cover some overhead concerns that a new work would normally have to deal with. For example, the Fresh Fruit Festival has two full time technical directors, a logistics stage manager, and a production manager— they are all there to work for incoming shows. All shows run in prime times. There is no participation fee and productions earn a box office share. This is one of the few festivals that considers presenting readings as well as fully staged productions.

New York New Works (NYNW) Theatre Festival

Submissions deadline: July 1.
Dates are being determined for the 2020 run at Theatre Row
Accepts new musicals and showcases condensed versions

Gene Fisch Jr, festival director, revealed that although full musicals are sometimes submitted, only short pieces of approximately 30 minutes are featured in the New York New Works Theatre Festival. Why? Fisch set up the festival so he could bring in his producer and investor friends without asking them to spend three hours seeing an untried piece by unknown writers. He has had great success attracting them to evenings that present four or five creative new works at once. Although he emphasizes “no promises,” industry connections frequently result from participation, with several shows moving in Broadway’s direction, one that went to the Old Globe, and another on tour.

Regarding submissions, the musical should be in an advanced stage of development. Because each show is condensed, it is wise to pick the best parts that will still provide a clear beginning, middle, and end. Submit the two or three best songs. Check in mid-March for more details.

Read our featured article: New York New Works Festival: Condensed Shows Capture Attention

New York Theater Festival: Winterfest and Summerfest

Submissions for Summerfest 2020 are now open.
Runs June – late Sept 2020 at the Hudson Guild Theater. (Winterfest runs each winter)
Accepts previously unproduced shows from writers who live no farther that 30 miles from Manhattan.

Suzanna Bowling serves as the spokesperson for the New York Theater Festival, which she indicated is the largest theatre festival in America. At the TRU event she described the festival’s founder as someone who likes quirky shows and people who are passionate about their work. Performances must all be a maximum of 90 minutes and are given prime-time slots so that they can draw a crowd. The festival helps with publicity by sending an e-blast to their large mailing list and by providing a separate page for each show on the festival website. Many props are available, and materials can be stored at the theater. Cash rewards are offered for best show ($5000), best director, and other categories. Summerfest participation fee is $250 for full-length shows or less for shorter shows.


Rave Theater Festival

Submissions deadline (newly extended): March 8th
Runs July 24 through August 9, 2020 at the Soho Playhouse.
Accepts a variety of shows; may consider staged readings as well as full productions.

The Rave Theater Festival is a company project for Davenport Theatrical and is headed by Valerie Novakoff, producing artistic director. Novakoff reported that out of last year’s group of 19 shows, two writers found agents, one piece was optioned for a TV series, and some shows were optioned by commercial producers. “We go above and beyond to invite people who we know and use our network to make sure it’s as successful as possible for the people in it,” says Novakoff. “RAVE is a springboard for artists. We focus on people we think will do multiple projects.” They are receptive to a variety of shows so the festival can include a range of styles and types, from family friendly to not-so-family friendly, and from one-person to larger cast shows. Participation fee is $995. Box office split is 50/50.

Strawberry Theatre Festival

Check later on the site for 2021 dates
Runs in February
Accepts creative work from around the world.

This is a competitive festival that aspires to generate a family feeling between all involved, according to Van Dirk Fisher, Artistic Director and festival curator. “It’s like an incubator for the three weeks of the festival.” They run seven days a week, showcasing two or three musicals or plays in multiple theaters. The Strawberry Theatre Festival participants all get to know each other and see each other’s shows, attend a launch party and other networking events. They do a lot of social media work to promote the festival and provide each show with a press release. Says Van Dirk Fisher, “I put a lot of work into making sure the right people are there to see the shows.” The best play wins $1500 and a development deal to have the full play mounted at the Raint Theatre.

Not included in the TRU event:

NAMT Festival of New Musicals

Submissions Deadline: opens again in October for the following year
Runs in October at New World Stages
Accepts musicals that may be suited to regional theaters

NAMT is the exception to the rule: It offers staged readings only and writers do not pay the expenses. Audience members are mostly members of NAMT, which is a network of regional theaters. It is highly selective. See previous articles on NAMT here.


At the panel discussion, TRU’s Play and Musical reading series was also presented but is not covered here as it is not a festival. Find out about TRU here.