We think of Broadway as being the commercial center of American theater, but there is another hub for emerging new musicals in this country: NAMT, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre. Virtually every theater company that actively stages and supports new works is a member of the Alliance, through which they receive information about works in progress.
NAMT has over two hundred organizational and individual members, from Barrington Stage in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley in California. The members collectively ensure that new works are being generated. NAMT members believe in the value that NAMT adds to their theatres, which they support by paying membership dues. In addition, NAMT’s programs are funded through a combination of grants, sponsorships, and donations to fund NAMT’s annual Festival of New Musicals, two monthly newsletters, meetings, grants, and operations.
Some of the hit musicals that have been discovered and nurtured through NAMT include the new hit Broadway musical Come from Away, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. Others have become popular through licensing, like Children of Eden and Honk.
I asked Betsy King Militello, Executive Director of NAMT, if there was a trend in terms of more or fewer theatres engaged in producing new works. She commented:
I think more are at least considering it. More theatres are doing musicals as part of their season even if that has not historically been the case, and the natural next step of that is, what’s next? If you’re a theatre that is invested in good storytelling and your audience is realizing that musicals can do that, then you also may be interested in exploring who is telling today’s stories well, and that is when you get into new musical development.
~Betsy King Militello
Annual Fall Festival of New Musicals – Creating a Pipeline
It’s nice to know that someone is thinking about the “pipeline” of new musicals, ensuring that when local theatre groups are tired of repeating the older shows, there will always be a fresh new show to stage. Not all of their members focus on brand new works but they are all investing in the shows that they will be able to stage in years to come.
For NAMT’s Festival of New Musicals, held every autumn, eight new works are chosen from submissions. This means eight writing teams become known to all these leaders when the event is described in the newsletter.
At the Festival itself, shows are presented in 45-minute readings with professional actors. NAMT pays for all the expenses of the eight presentations. The Festival also includes concerts, giving several other writers a chance to have their work heard.
Interview with Karin Nilo, Program Associate of NAMT
Carol de Giere: Does NAMT primarily serve member theaters?
Karin Nilo: It’s serving the members and the future of musical theatre at large. In addition to the Festival we have our granting program for the members that helps to support the future of musical theatre.
CD: Tell me more about that.
KN: The new works component of our granting program is called the National Fund for New Musicals. This is for helping members with new musical productions and workshops. For example, The Band’s Visit, which was an Atlantic Theater Company production, was funded in part by our grant. The show moved on to Broadway, so we’re glad to be able to help the pipeline in that way.
CD: In what way do you nurture writers? For the Festival, you pay for actors, which is a huge benefit.
KN: The phrase we use a lot is that we want our writers to focus on being writers. When they have to think about how they are going to fund [a reading or workshop], it really takes away from their ability to focus on the work.
CD: Do Festival shows get dramaturgy?
KN: We don’t hire a dramaturg, but every one of the 8 shows gets at least one consultant who ideally was on the Festival committee and heard the discussion about the show choices; sometimes consultants are NAMT members who aren’t on the committee, but are leaders in the new works field. They will work with the writers on the 45-minute cut and discuss what they think is successful, as well as casting, directors, and how to make the best presentation.
CD: Another benefit is exposure and credentials.
KN: Yes. The Festival is attended by over 600 industry members every year. It’s people from all over the country who come to see the shows, so it’s definitely a huge exposure opportunity. And about 85% of shows that are featured in the Festival go on to some sort of life after the Festival, whether it’s a production, workshop, or reading. The writers might get a commission from someone who came to see it, or they might be interested in the writers’ work and reach out to them even if they aren’t interested in the particular show. So there are all sorts of ways that that exposure is really beneficial for the writer.
CD: Are some of the submitted works plugged into the Songwriter Showcase?
KN: For the Songwriter Showcase, sometimes the songs come out of other shows that have been submitted and sometimes they come from composers and writers that the co-chairs are aware of and excited about that they think the NAMT membership at large should know about. In addition to our Songwriter Showcase, we also have Songwriter Cabarets that focus more on a composer’s body of work rather than on one specific show.
NAMT Festival Submissions Information
CD: You say in your submission requirements that everyone needs an endorsement. Who can that come from?
KN: It can be from anyone who works in the theatre industry: specifically, an employee at a profession theatre company, a theatrical literary agent, or a commercial producer. Our members are able to endorse more shows for a lower fee, but we accept other endorsements as well.
CD: Do you recommend cultivating a relationship?
KN: That’s something that we always recommend. During the submission process every year we do get people asking, how do I find an endorser? The first thing we recommend is to go take a look at our website, see who our members are, and try to cultivate a relationship with a theatre. Or if there’s a professional regional theatre in your own area cultivate a relationship with them, even if they are not NAMT members.
CD: What kind of development work should precede NAMT submissions?
KN: We don’t have any rules on prerequisites. One of the things we try to do at the Festival is present a wide array of shows both in material, cast size, and development history. Some members are looking for a show they can pick up and put on the stage right away and others are looking for something they can nurture from the ground up, like a show that hasn’t had a reading before. The only requirement we have is that a script has to be fully completed and you have some demo tracks.
CD: What do you suggest for demo quality?
KN: It can be a composer at the piano with their iPhone or professional studio recordings. We’re not picky about that.