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Musical Writerzine #15

Spring 2011 Newsletter for Writers of New Musicals

Carol de GiereFrom Carol de Giere, June 3, 2011

In his GROWING STAGES column for issue 15, William Squier chats with West Coast producer Brisa Trinchero about her latest venture: the Running Deer Musical Theater Lab, a writer's retreat devoted to the development of new musicals.

In this issue you'll also find background resources for your musical-in-progress, as well as news and ideas to keep you going.

[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.]

Musical Theatre Announcements and News

Broadway Show Business Defies Gravity

As you may have read, Broadway grosses have defied gravity this past year, finishing up with a record-breaking $1.1 billion worth of ticket sales. The growth is partly because 42 shows opened during the season, the second- highest total in at least 24 years. Executive director of the League, Charlotte St. Martin, states,"The diversity of shows currently on Broadway succeeds in providing something everyone, so it's no accident that we're having the biggest season in our history in the toughest economic times." Also top shows like Wicked now charge what the market will bear for the best seats, adding revenue.

The TV series Glee helps inspire interest in songs from musicals. And next year NBC's Smash will be even more direct. It's about the genesis of a Broadway musical. Their blurb states: "In the era of The Voice and Glee, executive producers Steven Spielberg and Craig Zadan & Neil Meron, and songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, bring you the blood, sweat, and tears of the making of a Broadway musical."

Sondheim Books Will Keep You Company...

...for a long time to come in his published books. Starting with "Finishing the Hat," the maestro offers "attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines, and anecdotes for the musical writing adventure." This first one includes includes collected lyrics from 1954 - 1981.

His next book is already available for pre-order and is quite popular. "Look, I Made a Hat", features "attendant comments, amplifications, dogmas, harangues, wafflings, diversions and anecdotes." It will include lyrics from 1981-2011.


Send Your Questions

David Spencer, author of the wonderful book The Musical Theatre Writer's Survival Guide, is writing a second book covering more details. He has invited MusicalWriterzine readers to send questions that he will answer in the book. Please send your questions to me and I'll collect and forward them. If you have issues about musical writing, collaboration, music and book relationship, dialogue, or whatever, please send them along. Write to carol@musicalschwartz.com (if you don't get a reply from me soon, try again).

Chicago Area

If you're in the Chicago area, there are several regular opportunities to expand your craft. One is with an organization called "Midwest New Musicals." It provides an ongoing forum where lyricists, composers and book writers create and discuss their work. Classes meet on Chicago's north side. They are part of Light Opera Works: See the website - www.light-opera-works

Also, as we've mentioned before, the Johnny Mercer Foundation in association with the American Music Theatre Project, produces a weeklong songwriting intensive for emerging songwriters and writing teams each summer on the campus of Northwestern University. Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project

The Making of Memphis Video Clip - collaboration insights

Memphis is one of most high energy, exciting Broadway musicals today. It's about an underdog character who leads the popular music shift into rock 'n' roll in the 1950s in Memphis. The songwriting collaborators had never met before working together on the show. Hear their story in this behind the Scenes video: Memphis Songwriters David Bryan & Joe DiPietro Free Broadway.com Memphis video [The interview starts after an ad.]

BUY Memphis: A New Musical (Orginal Cast Recording)


UPCOMING ON BROADWAY: Want to know if your show is different from what's already scheduled for Broadway? Here's an annotated list of what's coming and what the shows are about. Playbill.com - upcoming shows

MOVIES AND THEATRE: Something to ponder. Imagine sitting first in a theater and then in a movie house - what's the difference in your experience? Writer Chris Brandt considered this and other questions in an article in ONE: The Journal of Literature, Art, and Ideas. Theatre and Movies

GROWING STAGES by William Squier

BRISA'S PIECES: Rising Producer Brisa Trinchero Launches The Running Deer Musical Theater Lab

TrincheroFrom the time that she was 5 years old you could find Brisa Trinchero, founder of the Running Deer Musical Theater Lab, somewhere onstage in the Pacific Northwest. "I was the little kid in whatever show was going on," the native Oregonian claims. "And I was very fortunate to have supportive parents who would drive me all over the place to do it."

By college age, however, Trinchero had tired of acting--but not because she thought the profession was too demanding. "I realized that there was a way that I could be part of every show and not just the ones that I happened to get into," she explains. "That was by working with a theater company."

So, after Trinchero graduated from Whitman College with a degree in music, she enrolled in the University of Portland's Pamplin School of Business to earn an MBA. Her intention was to get into arts administration. Ironically, it was her career as a child actor that landed her an administrative job before she'd even completed her studies.

"One of my classes involved doing an internship at a business that you were interested in," Trinchero says. "I'd performed with the Broadway Rose Theater, so I called them. They said, 'Great!'" Within weeks of beginning her internship at the Tigard, OR, venue, a position opened up on their development staff. "I didn't even know what development was," she admits with a laugh. "That it meant fund raising. Or I probably would have thought twice. But, I found I really enjoyed it. It meant talking to people about theater. What could be better than that?"

Once Tinchero had completed her MBA program, she took what she describes as a"money-making non-theater job." She quickly decided that it wasn't for her and returned to Broadway Rose as the head of development. After shepherding the theater though a capital campaign for a new facility, she was promoted to the position of executive director. But, three years into the job, Trinchero began to get restless.

"The company was at the point where it was in good financial shape," she recalls."It was going to hold steady. But, that was not as appealing to me as the excitement of a capital campaign. So, I started to think about what I wanted to do next."

The answer came when Trinchero was at a National Alliance for Musical Theater conference. "Through Broadway Rose I started to really get to know the new works development scene," she says. "And I found that I had a passion for new musicals." At the conference she heard several writers, including some as successful as Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, voice their frustration about how difficult it was to find a time and place to devote themselves to solely to the creation of new works of musical theater. A light bulb went on in Trinchero's head.

"I was sitting next to Greg Schaffert (321 Theatrical Management) and said, ''I have this property that has a couple of houses," she remembers. "It's very removed and secluded. Might it be a good place to get creative teams away from their real lives to work?' And he said, 'Yes! Let's do this!'" So, in the summer of 2010, Schaffert brought Boston-based playwright Bill Donnelly and Chicago-based composer/lyricist Michael Mahler to Trout Lake, WA, to work on their new musical Painted Alice. And the Running Deer Musical Theater Lab was launched.

Running Deer Musical Theater Lab for new musicalsThe Lab is located on 84 acres of wooded land at the base of Mt. Adams in the southwestern Washington state. There is a rambling main house that overlooks the mountains where guest can gather and meals are served. The creative teams that are in residence stay in a quiet, three-bedroom, two-bath guest cabin outfitted with a piano, keyboard, writing supplies, reference works, internet access and a kitchen. Trinchero reports that a third building is being built with a performance space and lighting for presentations of new material.

The creative teams typically spend a week at the retreat during the Spring and Summer months. Trinchero's plan is to host six teams per year. She restricts the residencies to musical theater projects that come with either a producer or a theater company attached to the work. "I like to support shows that have a next step so they have a trajectory," she explains. "I like to have the producer or a representative from the theater company come with the team." The writers pay nothing for their stay. Producers occasionally underwrite some of the cost, depending upon the needs of a particular project.

Running Deer users Marcy Heisler and Zina GoldrichPHOTO: Zina Goldrich, Brisa Trinchero, and Marcie Heisler at Running Deer Musical Theater Lab

Writers that have already taken advantage of Trinchero's hospitality are Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich (Dear Edwina), to work on a new musical revue of their song catalogue titled Screaming Like A Fool; Marc Acito and Jeffrey Stock (Triumph of Love), the team behind the musical adaptation of E.M. Forster's A Room With A View; and Seth Bockley and Gabriel Kahane spent time there with February House, a musical about the Brooklyn arts scene in the 1940's, to prepare for a co-production between the Public Theater and Connecticut's Long Wharf Theatre in Spring, 2012.

"I hope the exclusivity of the lab isn't discouraging," Trinchero insists. "We're referral-based because we're spending a week in the woods and we want to make sure it's with people we like and that like us!" Nevertheless, she encourages musical theater writers to keep her in the loop about their projects. "I love learning about new shows," she says. "I like to have my hands in all levels of new musical development."

Trinchero is also one of the producers of the Broadway production of Catch Me If You Can and she has recently taken over producing the Village Theatre's annual summertime Festival of New Musicals (villagetheatre.org — Musical Writerzine #5 - see "It Takes a Village" article toward the end of the page)

So, what's the best way to get your show on Brisa Trinchero's radar? "Go to my website (makemusicals.com)," she suggests. "I have a blog where I will talk sometimes about approaches that have worked or how certain projects have come to the lab." And she urges writers not to get discouraged if it takes awhile to attract her attention. "I have so much respect for anyone who can write a musical,"Trinchero emphasizes. "I'm looking to see if a show is the right fit for a particular opportunity. It could be the best show ever, but just not right for some reason. It's all about timing."


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