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Musical Writerzine #8

Spring 2009

Carol de GiereFrom Carol de Giere: In Musical Writerzine #8, you'll find notes on new and useful publications, upcoming workshops, and festivals. In his Growing Stages column, William Squier fills us in on the The Next Wave Festival Of New Musicals, in Montreal, Canada. Also, as part of his reports on theatres that showcase new musicals, he profiles Stamford Connecticut's Curtain Call theatre and it's American Harmony Prize for new musicals.

[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.]

Publications and Workshops

The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations

This new work (April 2009) by Steven Suskin is a landmark effort. I asked the publisher for details about the book and have included a full description on this site: Orchestrations page

Chicago Workshop: Writers must be between the ages of 18 to 30.

The Johnny Mercer Foundation and the American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern University seek talented young songwriters to apply for the fourth annual Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project, June 21st to 27th. This week-long intensive will be led by master teachers Craig Carnelia, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Lari White. Carnelia is the Tony Award-nominated lyricist of Broadway's Sweet Smell of Success. Miranda is the Tony Award-winning composer, lyricist and creator of In The Heights. White is a three-time Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and producer.

The program will include master classes and workshops, a master teacher cabaret and a student songwriter showcase, all taking place on Northwestern University's Evanston Campus. Last year's program featured emerging songwriters from across the country in the fields of pop, music theatre, hip-hop, folk, Latin and country. To qualify, writers must be between the ages of 18 to 30. For writing teams, at least one member must meet this criterion.

Through the generosity of The Johnny Mercer Foundation there is no fee for this workshop for the writers and writing teams selected, and a stipend will be offered to cover a portion of travel and boarding expenses.

All 2009 applications must be postmarked by April 6.
To learn more and download an application, visit: www.amtp.northwestern.edu/mercer.html. Email questions to mercersongwriters@northwestern.edu.

Commercial Theater Institute - Their Book and Upcoming Programs

Commercial Theater Institue Guide to Producing PlaysWho is going to produce your musical? If you know someone who might be interested but has no training or experience, tell them about the Commercial Theater Institute's intensive three-day program. The institute also offers a book: The Commercial Theater Institute Guide to Producing Plays and Musicals

From their advertising for the live intensive program: "...the three-day program offers practical information of interest to prospective producers, general managers, and investors. Each session consists of presentations and panel discussions with experienced producers, general managers, entertainment attorneys, and managing directors who offer specific case histories that illustrate the various means of developing theatrical productions. This program is of special interest to anyone exploring relationships between the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors in the development of a theatre project."

The Institute also offers a Dramaturg program that teaches how to read and analyze a script. Visit their website for details on their programs: www.commercialtheaterinstitute.com

ANMT - Academy for New Musical Theatre in North Hollywood, CA

According to the ANMT website, their programs "include opportunities for writers, lyricists, composers, actors, singers, directors, music directors, and everyone with a love for new musical theatre." They are among the participants in the LA Festival of New Musicals. Find out about getting your musical developed with them: ANMT - production page

The Story Gurus

Musical writers share a common concern with screenwriters: how do you tell a good story to an audience in a few hours? To help writers address story issues, "story gurus" have developed systems that they expound in classes, books, and audiobooks. Among them are Robert McKee, John Truby, Chrisopher Vogler, Syd Field, and others.

StoryRobert McKee, author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting is among the most popular. He has scheduled classes in 2009 in New York City, London, San Francisco, and elsewhere. He also teaches by way of his book and audio book. McKee Story seminars

As claimed on his website, "For over 15 years, Robert McKee's Story Seminar has been the world's ultimate writing class for over 50,000 screenwriters, filmmakers, TV writers, novelists, industry executives, actors, producers, directors and playwrights."

Other story gurus include John Truby: www.truby.com/ , who has his own elaborate system, and Christopher Vogler, who was inspired by Joseph Campbell to write in terms of mythic structure. www.thewritersjourney.com/. Syd Field, Michael Hague, and others have their own approach.

I've recently discovered Chris Huntley, who was one of the developers of a system called "Dramatica." He has decided to compare other story systems to Dramatica, and in doing so, helps to reveal the benefits and limitations of these systems and helps us cut short the time it would normally take to learn about them. (On the other hand, his comments are quite intellectual and would be best used in analyzing story problems once a story/musical has been written.)

On the Dramatica website you will find a link to a podcast and other information. Dramatica Podcast and other info . There's also a transcript at: Dramatica.com Text, Huntley teaches workshops as well. Info on Screenplay.com - Dramatica Workshop

Even though story gurus don't speak directly to the writing of musicals, story considerations are at the heart of the musical writing journey, and you may pick up insights from them that will readily transfer to your work.

New York Magazine - Arthur Laurents.

New York Magazine featured a profile of West Side Story/Gypsy writer Arthur Laurents, published March 15. nymag.com/arts/theater/profiles/55341/

--Carol de Giere


LA Festival of New American Musicals

West coast writers and musical enthusists have a festival of their own, thanks to the organizers of The Festival of New American Musicals. Now in its second year, a multitude of offerings have been listed, some old and some new. The fest features full productions, staged readings and workshops of tuners in progress, includes more than 25 offerings across venues such as the Pantages Theater, South Coast Repertory and the Rubicon Theater.

The Festival was founded in 2006 by Marcia Seligson, Producing Artistic Director (1996–2006) of Reprise! See MusicalWriters.com Festivals page for info on this festival, New York area festivals, and more.

Montreal's Festival of New Musicals

See the column below for details on this festival for 2009.

GROWING STAGES by William Squier

"In this Musical Writerzine #8 column, William Squier describes the New Wave Festival of New Musicals in Montreal. He also profiles Curtain Call theatre in Stamford and the opportunity to submit new musicals for the "American Harmony Prize."


“Riding the Next Wave”


With our current economic woes closing the doors of such venerable producers of new work as Seaside Music Theater and the American Musical Theatre of San Jose, and threatening to do the same to North Shore Music Theater, you might expect musical theater development to grind to a halt. But, once again, grassroots organizations have begun popping up to take their place. One promising new entry is the Next Wave Festival of New Musicals in Montreal.

“I used to have a lot of questions,” says festival’s producer Stephen Pietrantoni about the lack of ongoing development of new musicals, particularly the English language variety, in his adopted city. “Now, I have the answers and I’m not sure I feel any better,” he continues. “But, I do have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t.” So, after spending the past twenty-five years in “La Métropole,” the transplanted American took steps to correct the situation by mounting the inaugural Next Wave Festival for six days in late August of 2008.

Into what Pietrantoni describes as his festival’s “test run,” he crammed in

“For years, Montreal was the bohemian place you went to lose yourself,” Pietrantoni explains. “But, eventually, you’ve got to get life! And we’re trying to make sure that includes musical theater.”

The musical theater has, of course, always been a part of Stephen Pietrantoni’s life. In a middle-class suburb of Boston where he grew up, he was exposed to the arts at a very early age. “I was sent to tap dancing classes before I was five years old – before I even knew when tap dancing was,” he recalls. “I went kicking and screaming, but when it was over they had to beg me to leave!” Then, at age eight he attended a professional production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and he was hooked. “I left thinking that what those people had done onstage was the most marvelous thing in the world and I wanted to be one of them,” Pietrantoni says.

At seventeen, Pietrantoni directed a production of Company that was performed by his fellow teenagers. “If you need examples of brazen behavior, I think that qualifies!“ he laughs. He eventually wound up in Montreal where, after spending ten years in the corporate world, he decided to make the theater his fulltime profession. “I realized that I was happiest in the performing arts, despite all the madness,” he reveals. So, Pietrantoni enrolled in business school specifically to learn about cultural affairs and events management. Before completing his graduate studies at Concordia University, he produced and directed several musicals including Oh, Coward!, and Eve Merriam’s The Club. After graduation, he simultaneously undertook the Canadian premiere of Altar Boyz (Book by Kevin Del Aguila, Music & Lyrics by Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker) in English and its French version Les z’enfants de choeur, where he was also co-translator on the project.

In addition to being an attempt to kick-start the musical theater scene in Montreal, the Next Wave Festival was born of Pietrantoni’s desire to help fledgling authors. “Compared to performers, writers have the most miserable life!” he feels. “It’s not for the faint of heart. So, I come down strongly on the side of thinking that regional development will be good for musical theater. We’re almost the only hope! I am convinced that if I focus on development of small to medium sized shows, we can create a lifeline.”

The short-term opportunity that the festival presents to writers of new musical theater who live in the Northeast is to check out some of what Pietrantoni has on tap for this year. On the weekend of August 22nd, he’ll be staging a full production of Souvenir, Stephen Temperley’s musical play about the notorious bad vocalist Florence Foster Jenkins and her long-suffering accompanist. Also in the works is a production of Slow Dance With A Hot Pickup (Book by John Pielmeier, Music & Lyrics by Matty Selman), a musical inspired by the Hands On a Hard Body contest. And since the central scenic element is, indeed, a pickup truck, Pietrantoni is toying with the idea of moving it to a space in the Place des Arts where there are frequent vehicle giveaways. The festival will also include master classes for musical theater performers with such notables at Robert Marien (Montreal’s original, bilingual Jean Valjean).”

During the festival, Pietrantoni is also planning to launch a unique workshop designed to introduce actors to the ins and outs of working on a new musical. “The idea is to give the performers a feeling of how it all comes together,” he explains. “Over a series of consecutive Mondays in August, we will have two hours of musical theater training in the morning, followed by lunch and then an opportunity to work with the composer and lyricist of The Virgin Courtesan (Book & Lyrics by Frayne McCarthy, Music by Blair Thomson). Pietrantoni hopes to develop his concept for the workshop into a format that other writers can use to hone new material, while giving performers valuable insight into their creative process.

The long-term opportunity for musical theater writers is to get involved in next year’s festival. “This is a festival for someone with realistic objectives, a little motivation and the ability to follow through,” Pietrantoni says. His focus, as indicated above, is on small to medium sized musicals. Initially, Petrantoni prefers that writers interested in being considered for a reading, workshop or production send what he describes as a one-page “executive summary,” which includes a brief synopsis and a description of how the musical has been developed thus far, along with a cd of selections from the score.

“There’s ultimately a tourism aspect to my plan,” Pietrantoni explains of his expectations for the Next Wave Festival. “Montreal is overrun with festivals. There’s the Jazz Festival and Just For Laughs (the comedy festival). Canada’s about to host Olympics for the fourth time. But, there’s has to be a regular time and place here for musical theater.  New York can’t be the only answer. But, getting it together is long, long, long!"

For more information about the Next Wave Festival of New Musicals in Montreal you can visit www.cetm.ca/ or contact Stephen Pietrantoni at:

Centre for Education and Theatre in Montreal Inc.
115–2205 Parthenais
Montreal, Quebec
H2K 3T3


William (Bill) SquierI’d like to close this column by filling you all in on a project that I’ve been personally involved with since. 2001. That’s the year that Curtain Call, Inc., a small, non-professional theater in Stamford, Connecticut, (where I happen to live) began occasionally presenting Monday night readings of new musicals. These readings, which feature 50 to 60 minutes of songs and scenes from a new show performed by a mix of local actors and professionals from New York, proved to be so popular with Curtain Call’s audiences that we formalized the readings into three-events-per-season series in 2007: Musical Mondays @ Curtain Call. There’s no formal submission process for the first and last slots in each season – which tend to showcase musicals by writers with some kind of a connection to the theater. But, the centerpiece is open to submissions: Curtain Call’s musical theater writing competition, the American Harmony Prize.

Curtain Call established the American Harmony Prize in 2007 in an effort to encourage diversity of subject matter in the musical theater. The goal of the award is to showcase new musicals that explore our country’s many ethnic, religious and gender identifications. To do so, the award is given each year to the writers of a new musical that delves into a different specific segment of American society. In addition being presented as a Musical Monday reading, the winning authors receive $250.00.

In 2007, the focus of the American Harmony Prize was on work that dramatized the experience of Black Americans and this past year it centered on Jewish Americans. The inaugural award went to an adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s young adult novel Jip: His Story (Music & Lyrics by Emily Klion, Book by Danny Duncan). “My experience was incredible,” says Emily Klion, the musical’s composer. “Jip: His Story” received a fabulous reading by group of first-rate singers and actors. As a playwright and composer, it was thrilling to hear my work performed so well.”

American Harmony Prizewinners Curtain Call[PHOTO: Michael Ruby and Robert Rokicki, American Harmony Prize winners for 2008]

Michael Ruby, one of the authors of this year’s winner Love, NY (Music & Lyrics by Robert Rokicki, Book & Lyrics by Michael Ruby) felt much the same. “Winning the American Harmony Prize was an incredible honor,” he reports. “Equally incredible was the experience provided by the team at Curtain Call. They provided an atmosphere that always felt safe and fun to present our work. The audience was warm, receptive and engaged. Rob and I -- as well as our entire cast -- had a tremendous amount of fun and were able to put on a great show. You couldn't possibly ask for more.”

The theme of next American Harmony Prize will be announced in July. Submissions will be accepted via mail from Monday, August 3 until Saturday, September 26. The winner will be announced in December and the reading and award ceremony will take place next February. In order to qualify for consideration, a musical cannot have been professionally produced (Equity Dinner, LORT, Production, Special Production, SPT, Stock, etc…) or published, but it may have been performed in readings, concerts, workshops and non-professional productions.

Musical theater writers interested in having their work considered for the American Harmony Prize should submit a plot synopsis of no more than 800 words (or roughly two pages), the first 10 pages of the libretto (with all dialogue, lyrics and stage directions included), a cd that demonstrates as much of the musical’s score as has been recorded to date (it needn’t be of studio quality) and one sample of the sheet music for a song from the show’s piano / vocal score. A “short list” of applicants will be contacted after the first round of judging and asked to submit a full libretto and additional samples of the piano / vocal score for the final consideration. There is no submission / reading fee. Applicants that wish to have their materials returned should include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Check Curtain Call’s website, www.curtaincallinc.com, in July for specifics about this year’s theme. If you’ve got a piece that fits our parameters,  I hope you sent it to Curtain Call at:

Curtain Call, Inc.
1349 Newfield Avenue
Stamford, CT 06905
Att. American Harmony Prize


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