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Musical Writerzine #23 - Summer 2013

Newsletter for Writers of New Musicals - intro

Carol de GiereFrom Carol de Giere

This Summer issue is full of ideas for connecting to the world of musical theatre. We've got things to read, a video to watch, and places to submit a new musical.

In the Growing Stages column below, you'll find William Squier's interviews with two organizations that accept your submissions. One is a theatre group in San Francisco and the other a cabaret group in Washington, D.C. They introduce musical theatre writers to local audiences through shows and concerts.

For future issues of our Musical Writerzine newsletter, if you are not already subscribed, please fill out the form on Musical Writerzine. To view back issues, see the links to the left.

[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 Writing Tips and Publications

New Books about How To Write A Musical

Two excellent books have been published in the past few years that seem essential for a musical writer's personal library. Beating Broadway and How Musicals Work are both clear and filled with specific, useful details about structuring a musical, and they are filled with specific examples. (If you decide to buy them, it would help us if you used our Amazon.com links below).

Beating BroadwayThe most recently published book is Beating Broadway: How to Create Stories for Musicals That Get Standing Ovations  by Steve Cuden, 2013. One of the unique features of this 433-page volume is a section on the story beats for 35 Broadway musicals. If you're wondering if your plot twists are too complicated or not complicated enough, consider reviewing this material. Cuden also makes valuable points about conflict, character development, believaility, making a scene memorable, and much more.

The other book, published in the UK in 2012, is Book: How musicals workHow Musicals Work: And How To Write Your Own (Theatrebook)  by Julian Woolford. This beautifully designed book is like a workshop, complete with interesting charts and exercises. Chapters include Source Material, Structure, Song Spotting, Rewrites and Workshops, and more - fourteen in all in this 376-page book.

And while you're buying, if you don't already have Defying Gravity by yours truly, maybe it's time. I structured Defying Gravity to include Stephen Schwartz's insights on the musical making process.

For other useful books see www.musicalwriters.com/books/how-to.htm

Blog post: Real life at The PiTCH

Growing Stages columnist William Squier recently participated in the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival’s residency program The PiTCH, where he, composer Jeffrey Lodin and book writer and co-lyricist Bill Nabel went to work on Act One of their new musical Love On Ice. And along the way, Bill found time to keep a diary of the experience. musicalwriters.com/musings-blog/musical-writers-at-the-pitch/

Blog post: The Mission of Music in a Musical Is....

Blogger Ken Davenport took on this important topic in a recent post. He noticed that someone sitting near him at a show began tapping his feet when the musical was starting to really take off. He reflects on what it means to be moved by music and how important that is. The-mission-of-music-in-a-musical-is

Watch a Video of a talk by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman

BroadwayWorld.com has posted a video of a talk by Wicked's writers Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman. They were interviewed about the process of writing Wicked, as has also been covered in greater detail in the Schwartz biography Defying Gravity. As mentioned in the book, when Schwartz considers the responses of a reading, workshop, or out of town production, he looks for trends like the high points on the bell curve. Holzman discusses why you it can be harmful to listen to one person. You need to weigh multiple comments. Dramatists Guild Conference Talk: Schwartz and Holzman

Submission Opportunities for New Musicals



The First Annual Sound Bites little festival of little musicals is accepting submissions for their event sponsored by Theatre Now New York (www.tnny.org). Sound Bites accepts both ten-minute musicals and ten-minute excerpts of larger musicals. Any ten-minute piece that can be performed and includes music qualifies.

Theatre Now New York will select the top ten finalists to present their ten minutes to an audience of industry professionals and celebrity judges in November. Each musical will compete for Festival Awards and for inclusion in future programs with the creative team of Theatre Now New York on the development of new works. Sound Bites offers a unique opportunity for talented writers, composers, and lyricists to showcase their work publicly in front of a live audience. For more information and submission guidelines and procedures visit the Sound Bites website at www.soundbites.tnny.org. If you have any direct questions or would like to volunteer please feel free to email Stephen Bishop Seely at soundbites@tnny.org.


As we announced in the last newsletter, Planet Connections offers a summer festivity. Their 2014 application form is now online at Planetconnections.org/. This is for a program of about 15 staged readings per season curated by their Literary Manager Jenna Doolittle. In an email I was told "It's $150 for a staged reading and that includes the space, front of house staff, marketing/PR and tech staff. The reading must provide a director and actors themselves - but we do have a list of directors and actors to reccommend if needed." They also have some full productions.


See our Growing Stages column below. Also check previous issues for ideas, if you haven't already.


Another website maintains a list of submission opportunties. http://emergingplaywright.com/category/musicals/

Workshops and Classes


Tuesday September 24th, 7:30pm - the next TRU Panel. Topic to be announced. These panels explore topics relevant to producers, theater companies, self-producing artists 
and anyone who is interested in the business of the arts. Details will be announced at www.truonline.org/currentpanels.htm. They will also have a TRU Writer-Producer Speed Date in October.

First Act Feedback Fest

Keaka July 20Our July 20th, 2013 First Act Feedback Fest, co-sponsored by TRU, proved to be a wholewhile adventure in exploring new musicals. A panel of experts critiqued a dozen new musicals following brief presentations. Pictured: singers present a family musical Keaka. We're now looking for ways to make future events like this one economically viable and even more helpful to participants.


There's a chance that Stephen Schwartz will be leading the ASCAP Foundation musical theatre workshops in L.A. this coming winter. Submissions information will be released in the fall if the workshop will be scheduled. If you are not on their musical theatre mailing list, contact rperkins@ascap.com


Los Angeles: ANMT has ongoing programs and online classes www.anmt.org/

NYC: Get Your Show Off The Ground, How to Market Your Show for Free, Social Media for Shows. www.davenporttheatrical.com/seminars/

Classes for playwriting and lyric writing are scheduled regularly in NYC www.primarystages.org/writing

Chicago: Midwest New Musicals workshop with John Sparks is ongoing. www.midwestnewmusicals.org

"Growing Stages" by William Squier

“Love and Chances” - New Musical Theater of San Francisco & La-Ti-Do

More and more musical theater writers are finding an outlet for their work by performing songs from the scores for their new musicals in concert settings. William Finn, for example, regularly champions new writers in his cabaret series and Songs By Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists You Probably Don't Know, But Shouldevent at Barrington Stage in the Berkshires. Also groups like Cutting Edge Composers showcase up-and-comers several times per year in New York. So, in this column we thought we’d introduce you two organizations at either end of the country that have not only been successful at introducing unfamiliar writers to local audiences, but have also recently taken the first step toward production of new musicals. To do so, we spoke to Anne Nygren Doherty, Producing Artistic Director of New Musical Theatre of San Francisco, and Don Michael Mendoza, Co-Founding Artistic and Executive Director of the La-Ti-Do cabaret series in Washington, DC.

New Musical Theater of San Francisco

Anne Nygren DohertyAnne Nygren Doherty originally founded New Musical Theatre of San Francisco in 2001 as Not Quite Opera. “Nobody got the joke!” says Doherty of the decision to rename the organization in 2012. “I thought we’d better change it. This is the path we’re on, so we felt we had to make it clearer.”

Doherty came to her leadership of NMTSF after a career as a writer, composer and actress whose credits include work with Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts, Chicago’s Remains Theatre and Organic Theatre (where she was in the cast of their long-running hit E/R, Emergency Room) and being mentored by the legendary composer and lyricist Bob Merrill (Funny Girl, Carnival, Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol). “Whenever I write a show, it always has some musical element to it,” Doherty says. “Even if it’s a play.” So, when she thought about forming her own company, Doherty naturally gravitated toward the development and production of original, small musicals.

Musical Writerzine: What motivated you to start New Musical Theatre of San Francisco?

Doherty: “I’m a person that likes to solve problems. It’s rewarding. And solving other people’s helps me to solve my own. Talking to someone else about their idea and helping them to get it to work teaches you a lot about what you’re doing yourself.”

MW: Your focus from the beginning has been to showcase musicals written, composed, and performed by regional writers and actors?

Doherty: “I’d like there to be a community of people who are committed. A salon where people come in and help and there’s real trust. It’s a Chicago thing, where people naturally think in terms of creating a group that helps everyone to rise to the top. At the Organic, if you were an actor, you could also be a writer. They didn’t have barriers. You could really grow.”

MW: Tell me about is the free monthly writing workshop you’ve been leading for two years?

Doherty: “People can drop by, play their stuff and we talk. It’s usually held at the Alcove Theater on Sunday, depending upon the schedule of the theater.”

MW: What motivated you to start the workshop?

Doherty: “The goal is to get to know people; to get a sense of who they are. There’s a temperament that one has for musical theater writing. You rhyme all the time and think of things in a semi-logical, poetic way. You have little things that you’re trying to accomplish with a song. I think Bob Merrill took an interest in me because of that temperament. And having a collaborative nature is very important. That’s what I’m looking for in a person.”

MW: What do the workshops consist of?

A: “We don’t have a specific curriculum. We do classes about topics like “theme” or lyric writing. We’re in the technology capital of the Universe, so I’ve had a few people lead classes on technology.”

MW: NMTSF also puts together public performances that are an outgrowth of the workshop?

Doherty: “We’ve done a show called Round One Cabaret to see how people who are new to us work -- to find out if they’re collaborative. When they work with a music director, do they listen? Can they talk with the music director and collaborate to create something? I like to talk about The Third Thing: it’s not what I think or what you think, it’s the third thing that we create together that’s going to excite the audience. So, they’ve got to be able to listen and to love the process of thinking and creating. If somebody’s going to be stuck in their ways, that’s not interesting to me.”

Tom Reardon and Tim HomsleyMW: What is Pen and Piano?

Doherty: “That’s our core group. We did Show Me Yours with our Pen and Piano writers with a band.” [PHOTO: Tom Reardon and Tim Homsley in Show Me Yours: Songs of Innocence & Experience by Pen and Piano – Photo: Anne Doherty]

MW: You also produced shows at the Alcove Theater, including a lengthy run of your one-woman show Absolutely San Francisco?

Doherty: “We’ve been serious about producing at the Alcove for the last two and a half years. Chance: A Musical Play about Love, Risk and Getting it Right (book, music and lyrics by Richard Isen) is the first big show that I haven’t written. It’s about a gay psychologist in his mid-fifties who has face his mortality and that risking love is risking death. It’s very funny, sweet, magical, moving and something that everyone over forty will relate to. It’s our first big thing and it’s going to show people our mission at its best.” [NOTE:Chance ran from July 5 – 28, 2013]

MW: Do you accept submissions of new musicals on an ongoing basis?

A: “Yes.”

MW: Do you just look at musicals written by writers on the West Coast?

Doherty: “We prefer it. But, I do take submissions from outside of the area. If people are here, they can come over and get a feel for the needs of the theater. Someone from far away is never going to quite get it.”

MW: Size-wise, you look for musicals with a cast of eight or fewer?

Doherty: “That’s what we prefer.”

MW: And musical arrangements for solo piano? Orchestrated digital tracks are okay, too?

Doherty: “The space is really small, so we prefer piano and love tracks. For Absolutely San Francisco we did tracks and never got a negative comment on it. But, it has to be really done well.”

MW: I’m assuming simple production requirements – set and costume-wise – are a plus?

Doherty: “Understanding that we are a small company is very important. They should be excited about doing things that are intimate up-close in a very welcoming, pretty space.” [NOTE: The Alcove Theater seats 49 and has a flexible playing area with a raised platform stage approximately 24? x 12. The theater is located in San Francisco’s Union Square, a central shopping, hotel and theater district that serves as one of the city’s major tourist destinations.]

MW: Any restrictions on theatrical style, content or subject matter?

Doherty: “I like stories about some aspect of the universal human experience. I do not like shows that are overtly political – people with a huge axe to grind. If you have a point of view, I believe that the best way to persuade people is to be very subtle and universal. If you want to reach out to the broadest audience possible, you don’t want to ‘preach to the choir.’ Writers should also think about the area that we’re in. Make sure it’s the right balance between something that will play in Union Square and also presents a rich, human experience. Where the audience might laugh, but also feel moved.”

Musical theater writers interested in having their work considered by New Musical Theatre of San Francisco should submit: (1.) a synopsis? of their musical, (2.) a character breakdown?, (3.) a list of songs in the score (?4.) recordings of five or more songs from the score (“I just want to see that you’ve got 5.”), (?5.) piano/ vocal sheet music for one song (“You don’t need to send me a whole score.”). Submission can be sent by either mail or electronically.

“I actually prefer getting materials through the mail,” Doherty says. “But, it’s such an expense! And I can get to submissions sooner if they’re electronic. If they send it electronically and have made an error – like sending us a script with 25 people in the cast and an elephant – I can respond right away!”


New Musical Theater of San Francisco
414 Mason Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Att. Anne Nygren Doherty, Artistic Director

La-Ti-Do in D.C.

La Ti Do posterWhen Don Michael Mendoza and Regie Cabico were cast in a show in the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, DC, two years ago, they initially disliked one another. “We played brothers,” Mendoza remembers. “I thought Regie was really loud and boisterous. And he thought I was a goodie-goodie.” Yet, the two eventually bonded over their shared Filipino heritage, their love of musical theater and their frustrated efforts at trying to combine the two. “Regie said he saw himself in me twenty years ago,” Mendoza continues. “And he thought, ‘You’re screwed unless you start something yourself.”

So Cabico and Mendoza put their head together and dreamed up the La-Ti-Do cabaret series they curate, host and perform in at The Black Fox Lounge in Dupont Circle in northwestern DC. For Cabico (who serves with Mendoza as La-Ti-Do’s Co-Founding Artistic and Executive Director) the series was a way to combine his musical theater training from NYU with the spoken word poetry that he’d found success performing since graduation. Mendoza had also studied musical theater at nearby American University, along with broadcast journalism, and agreed that it would be an appealing mix.

“I said to Regie, ‘Combining spoken word and musical theater is really cool, but what’s going to make us really different?” Mendoza recalls. “And he said, ‘We do it every week.’ At first, I was like, ‘We’re going to do it every week?!” And he was like, ‘We have to do it every week or be like everyone else.’ So, I said, ‘Let’s do it.” La-Ti-Do made it’s debut on January 23, 2012 and then, just recently they began bringing shows to Duane Park / Bowery Poetry in downtown Manhattan. And this past summer Mendoza and Cabico returned to the Capital Fringe Festival, where La-Ti-Do mounted a production of Rob Rokicki and Mike Ruby’s pop-rock musical comedy Love, NY.

MW: You’re a performer and you studied theater at American University. How did you fall in love with the musical theater?

Mendoza: “I’ve performed since I was a kid. Like everyone else I was in Elementary school chorus. Then, I got involved in my first musical in high school.  When I came to American University, I was set on studying political science and broadcast journalism. But, during my first semester at A.U. I got pulled aside by kids from the Arts Department who asked, ‘Do you do musical theater?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And they said, ‘Great! We’re doing a show and we need guys!’ So, I auditioned and got in. It was a musical version of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (by Nagle Jackson) It was the most depressing show that I’ve ever been involved with! But, during those few months I realized how much I loved the theater. So, that spring I auditioned for the program and got in.”

MW: Putting together a two-hour show at La-Ti-Do every Monday seems like a lot of work. What drives you to do it?

Mendoza: “We wanted to rekindle the cabaret conversation in D.C., because it does not exist. They’re all one-offs. There are a lot of open mikes. We wanted a place were performers could go to exercise their art for an audience at an affordable price and in an environment where they can feel comfortable. La-Ti-Do has kind of turned into a community hub: a networking spot for new comers; a reunion spot for people that have done shows together; and an introduction to new things. One of our alumni, Jennie Lutz, came up after the show in July and said, ‘It’s difficult for someone of my type to get cast. When I do La-Ti-Do, I remember why I love doing this.’ That’s what we wanted from Day One. Our bigger purpose – besides helping to reignite the cabaret culture in Washington, DC – is to build a strong network of artists that want to collaborate.”

MW: How did you decide on your location in Dupont Circle?

Mendoza: “We connected with Russwin Francisco, co-owner of The Black Fox – he’s good friends with Regie. Their space in the basement level is never used on Monday. There’s a bar and a grand piano. It fits about 60 people. It feels very New York.

MW: Were Mike Ruby and Rob Rokicki the first new musical theater writers that you featured in concert? How did that come about?

Mendoza: “Every once in a while a singer / songwriter would come though, but they weren’t musical theater writers. They were the first. When I was in college, they were brought in to write out senior project. They took songs from Love, NY and their other shows and created a revue called Twenty to Life. I sing the song that I sang in that show all the time. So, I thought, ‘Why not do a new works series for a week and see what happens?’ Mike and Rob were over the moon and said, ‘Let’s do it!’ And now a lot of other composers are starting to turn to us.

MW: How did you decided to take the next step by bringing Love, NY to the Capitol Fringe Festival?

Mendoza: “When we were planning the new works series week the idea came up of going to the Capitol Fringe Festival. It was a good first production project to work on. And they were glad to see Love, NY come alive. And another show at the Fringe, One Night in New York, also did a preview at La-Ti-Do in April.

MW: You’ve recently made inroads into bringing the La-Ti-Do series to Manhattan. What have you got planned?

Mendoza: “Regie knows Bob Holman, Co-Owner of Bowery Poetry in the East Village. He was able to get us a spot there in June. We wanted to see what it would be like in the space and how it would be received. We booked talent that had done La-Ti-Do in D.C., but live in New York. The feedback that we got was excellent. Bob’s bookers said, ‘We’ve love to bring it here.’ They gave us two dates: Sunday, October 27th and Sunday, November 24th. Mike and Rob will be involved.

MW: Do you have any guidelines for musical theater writers who are interested in showing you’re their material? Is there any style of writing or subject matter that you prefer to present? Or would prefer to stay away from?

Mendoza: “We have an open door policy. We take everything, as long as it can be presented in concert form. We don’t have a stage where people can enter and exit – unless you walk into a closet, so that’s not going the happen. Step One would be a 60-minute concert reading that can be divided into two halves. That’s exactly what we’re looking for. Our network has grown so much in a year and a half that doing a new work, either through us or through a partner organization, is just a phone call away.”

Musical theater writers interested in having their work considered by La-Ti-Do should “like” the organization’s page on facebook -- LaTiDo (without the hyphens) – and submit song samples via email to: latidodc@gmail.com

[Photo credits for the La-Ti-Do poster: Kristie Fenning & Andy Sides]


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