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Musical Writerzine #10

Fall 2009

Carol de GiereFrom Carol de Giere: In this issue I've listed new noteworthy publications and several 2010 events for musical writers: a seminar and workshop. William Squier describes Western Kentucky University's program for new musicals, and includes information on submissions (See Growing Stages, below).

[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.]

Recent Publications and Releases

Joe Papp Kenneth Turan's new book Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told has topped the best selling theatre biography list on Amazon.com since its release in early November 2009. I know because I check this category daily to see where my own book ranks. Theatre bio bestsellers at Amazon.com

(Defying Gravity: the Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked has remained in the top 5 most of this time.)

Free for All's rapid success is due, in part, to the exposure the author was able to give it. Turan is a film critic for the Los Angeles Times. But it is also a theatre book list best-seller because it is a major work about a signifant theatre personality and phenomena. To write the book, Turan says: "I interviewed close to 160 people and turned out what I still consider the most significant and compelling work I've done in more than 40 years of journalism." Papp overcame many obstacles to realize his vision. Thus, although the central focus of the book is not musical theatre, it could be inspiring to writers.

A Chorus Line Every Little Step DVDA Chorus Line documentary Every Little Step on DVD released in October provides a gripping behind-the-scenes look at the audition process for Broadway musicals. You'll see clips of choreographer and musical theatre legend Michael Bennett. The camera also takes you into actual auditions for the A Chorus Line Broadway revival directed by Bob Avian, showing the responses from the casting team in several instances.

Musical writers are often involved with casting when productions are mounted. This DVD will no doubt prove insightful as well as enjoyable.

Guide for PlaywrightsThe 2010 Screenwriter's & Playwright's Market is on Amazon.com. 2010 Screenwriter's & Playwright's Market (Screenwriters & Playwrights Market)  This is the Writer Digest version of a guide that offers: play markets, play competitions, playwright resources, and more.

Compare it with the Dramatist's source book and the Dramatist's Guild book Musical writers reference books


Ken Davenport, an off-Broadway and Broadway producer, is putting on a seminar: "How To Get Your Show Off the Ground," on January 23rd, 2010. He's accepting a maximum of 20 people and the price is reasonable.

Among his topics are

How To Get Your Show Off the Ground - The Seminar


Stephen Schwartz will be back leading the ASCAP Foundation/Disney Musical Theatre Workshops this year (after a year off while he finished his opera). At these sessions, portions of several original musicals-in-progress are presented by actors. The musicals receive critiques by a panel of the most prominent industry people (theatre producers, directors, lyricists and/or composers). Only about four musicals are selected for the workshop. But these lively sessions are presented in front of an audience, and everybody learns a lot.

The New York workshop will be in the spring, as always; dates to be announced.

The Los Angeles Workshop is accepting submissions, due December 30th. ASCAP session dates for Los Angeles are Feb 2, 3, 16, 17, 18, 19. For details see www.musicalschwartz.com/ascap.htm

When is it time to send your musical to a dramaturg?

According to Dramaturg Anne Hamilton:

GROWING STAGES by William Squier

For this Musical Writerzine #10 column, William Squier interviewed Tracey Moore.

The Before Broadway Series at Western Kentucky University

It's done at Penn State. Northwestern University does it, too. So does Pace. There's even a high school in California that's done it several times! All over the country academic institutions are becoming breeding grounds for musical theater by producing staged readings, workshops and even full productions of new works.

Tracey Moore interview[Photo: Tracey Moore at WKU]

One of the latest colleges to join the trend is Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, KY. In March of 2008 WKU launched "Before Broadway," a series of new musicals presented as staged readings that are performed by students from the theater and dance departments. The idea for the series came from Assistant Professor of Theatre / Music Theatre, Tracey Moore, who joined the college in 2007. Her dream was that WKU could be a place where musical theater writers could see their completed work "on its feet" for the first time and that her students could benefit also from exposure to unfamiliar musicals.

Tracey Moore's interest in musical theater development can be traced back to performing new material at virtually all of NYC's workshops throughout the 1990's, including Arts & Artists at St. Paul's, ASCAP, BMI, Musical Writers' Playground, New Dramatists and NYU's graduate musical theater program. "I love being around writers," she says. "It gives me a rush!"

In the process, Moore discovered so many promising new tunes that she recorded a cd appropriately titled "Workshop, Volume 1" featuring the songs of Deborah Abramson & Amanda Yesnowitz, Beverly Ross & Tom Spahn, Brian Woodbury and Clay Zambo. "We are actors who sing in the musical theater," she feels. "And you have so much more freedom to make your mark on a song that hasn't already been sung by Kristen Chenoweth."

When Moore began teaching at WKU, she wanted to introduce her students to the wealth of new musical theater material that exists. So, one of the first things that she did was to establish the Before Broadway Series. "They had never done a musical premiere before I arrived," Moore explains. "It's been wonderful to see the students learn about new shows. Now, they research new writers and songs on their own and bring new, original music into voice lessons and classes."

For WKU's first attempt at a staged reading of a new musical, Moore choose "Chipper," a down-home version of the Cinderella tale that centers on a Southern farm boy written by Tennessee-based songwriter John Thomas Oaks. Moore met Oaks at BMI where she reports performing almost weekly when she lived in NYC. With the songwriter to accompany them, her students rehearsed the piece for two weeks and then, performed it before a capacity crowd in WKU's 300-seat Russell Miller Theater in March of 2008.

The performance was followed by an audience talkback session patterned after a guideline for critical response developed by choreographer Liz Lerman. "You begin by affirming what really works," Moore explains. "Then, the writers get to ask questions. Next, the audience asks questions. And then, only if the writers are interested, do you go into opinions."

Greenbriar Ghost reading - article from MusicalWriterzineWKU's first staged reading was such a success that a year later Moore repeated the process with "Greenbrier Ghost" by another set of writers that she knew from New York, Susan Murray (Book) and Clay Zambo (Music & Lyrics). "We rehearsed for two weeks and Clay joined us for the second half," Moore recalls. "The opportunity for my students to meet a musical theatre composer and to receive feedback and coaching from him on his own music is something that rarely happens."

[Photo above is from the Greenbriar Ghost reading at WKU. Photographer: Caitlin Denman]

Clay Zambo found the experience equally rewarding. "That was the first time I saw the whole show," he says. "In addition to our twelve principals, we had another twenty-four in the chorus! I could rewrite a section of the show on the fly. The students skipped classes and sweated blood for my show. It was all we did for a beautiful week." [See more photos from the WKU Greenbriar Ghost reading]

"It was fascinating for the students to experience on-the-spot re-writes, cuts, and additions," Moore feels. "They'd never had that experience. We're not quite at the stage where my students can sight-read like whizzes! My goal is always for the students to learn something from this and grow."

This year, Moore has chosen Dan Aquisto (Music) and Sammy Buck's (Book & Lyrics) "Like You Like It" for the Before Broadway slot. "My students are a little more experienced now," she says. "And the music for 'Like You Like It' is a little more complicated. We'll see how it goes."

At this point Moore feels as if she's hit on a formula for mounting a stage reading at WKU that works reasonably well. The entire first week of rehearsals is focused on learning the score. Then, Moore begins to work with the book and the students learn how the whole piece comes together. In the last day or two, Moore does some minor staging to give the presentation a little production value.

Next year, Moore plans to move away from soliciting material from writers that she already knows and choose a piece from open submissions. There are no specific restrictions on subject matter, although, due to the fact that the University is located in the Bible Belt, she has tended to choose pieces that were family-friendly. "With 'Greenbrier Ghost,' we issued a kind of a PG-13 label because it deals with death, mourning and, potentially, murder," Moore notes.

Though Moore is willing to consider smaller sized musicals, for the moment shows with substantial casts have an advantage, since she needs to provide performance opportunities for as many students as possible. "However there's nothing to say that, in the future, we won't do a four-person staged reading," she adds.

The deadline to have your musical considered for performance in March of 2011 is January 20, 2010. Musical theater writers who are interested in being considered for Western Kentucky University's Before Broadway Series, should submit a complete libretto, a demo recording with a minimum of 5 songs and a piano / vocal score for a minimum of the 5 recorded songs, (plus a synopsis and a character breakdown that indicates vocal ranges if available) to:

Western Kentucky University
Department of Theatre and Dance
1906 College Heights Blvd.
Bowling Green, KY 42101
Att. Prof. Tracey Moore

Visit their Website: WKU Dept of Theatre and Dance

About Tracey Moore


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