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Musical Writerzine #25 - Winter 2014

Newsletter for Writers of New Musicals - Intro

Carol de GiereFrom Carol de Giere

In this Winter 2014 issue you'll find event listings, ideas, and resources in support of new musicals.

Our Growing Stages column covers a new musicals submissions opportunity you may not have considered. Musical theater writers of all levels of experience are turning to college campuses to develop new work. "We're fortunate enough to have a lot of resources: rooms with pianos, students that are excited to do the work and its curricular driven," says Lori Bales, who heads up Millikin University's New Musicals Workshop. Find details on their program in the article below.

Want more options for submitting a show? Check our back issues by clicking through the links on the left hand menu, and stay subscribed. To read future issues of our Musical Writerzine newsletter, if you have not already subscribed, please fill out the form on Musical Writerzine. To view back issues, see the links to the left.

Defying Gravity by Carol de GiereCarol de Giere is the website publisher for MusicalWriters.com and author of Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked, a career biography of Stephen Schwartz filled with musical development stories. Available in print and ebook formats.

New Musicals Notes

March 28th, 2014 Application Deadline for Songwriter Workshop in Chicago

Songwriters or Songwriting teams ages 18-30: If you're accepted into this free advanced workshop, you'll be able to focus on your craft for a week with three master teachers: Carnelia, Lippa, and White.

I've watched Craig Carnelia (Working, Sweet Smell of Success) give feedback at ASCAP workshops and he's a genius at it. You'll also have a rare chance to work with fine writers Andrew Lippa (Tony Award Winning Composer/Lyricist for Big Fish, The Addams Family, The Wild Party) and Lari White (Three-time Grammy Award-winning songwriter and performer).

Details: The Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project is a weeklong intensive for emerging professional songwriters in all genres. This weeklong intensive takes place on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Illinois from June 22 – 28, 2014. Go to Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project

NYC Event for Finding a Cast

A message from TRU's executive director, Bob Ost:

The TRU Audition Event takes place on April 5 and 6, with musical auditions on Sunday the 6th. Writers with projects who are looking for talent are welcome to contact us TRUStaff2@gmail.com to request a seat at the audition. They would need to commit to the full day and acceptance would be dependent on the level of production and available slots. We will be at Baruch Performing Arts Center, which is a large venue and we should be able to accommodate many of the interested writers.

Los Angeles - The Biz of the Musical Theatre Biz

Plan ahead for this summer's conference in L.A. This biennial conference on the business of musical theatre will again be held July 18-20, 2014. Closer to the date, check at Anmt.org for application details, and see our Musical Writerzine issue 20 for commentary on the 2012 conference.

About Festivals of New Musicals

According to comments at a recent panel discussion about the topic, festivals are most advantageous for musicals that are fully developed and have producers attached to them. If you are at that point or want to attend a festival before submitting a show, visit our Festivals page for ideas.

Book Writing Tips from Wicked's Authors

On one of the YouTube videos that is part of a "Behind the Emerald Curtain" series, Wicked's writers talk about the musical libretto. You'll find a link to the video on the Musical Musings blog post: Wicked's creators as well as a discussion of tips based on my own interviews.

Studying a Libretto on Your E-reader (or in Print)

When was the last time you read someone else's libretto? Here are a few to consider studying. The are all available in print and electronic form to read on your computer or on your ipad, Kindle, or other mobile device.

Four by Sondheim includes Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, A Little Night Music, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Also shown are the librettos for Once, Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, and The Book of Morman.


"Growing Stages" by William Squier

Bill SquierTHEY GET IT
Millikin University's New Musicals Workshop

For the past seven years the Department of Theater and Dance at Millikin University (www.millikin.edu) in Dectur, IL, has hosted a January developmental workshop of a new musical. The program was instigated by the department's Associate Professor of Theatre, Lori Bales, and begun modestly in 2007 with readings of three fifteen-minute musicals.

MusicalWriterzine-Millikan1The annual presentations, which take place on campus either in the Kaeuper Recital Hall in the Perkinson Music Center (a 167 seat auditorium) or the Albert Taylor Theatre in Shilling Hall (a 269 seat auditorium), are directed by Bales and cast with her students. But, it's the writers – among them such up-and-comers as Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond, Marissa Michelson and Frank Terry, Adam Gwon and Sarah Hammond – who get an education!

"It's all about them," says Bales. "Our focus is to help the writers to go where they need to go." But, she's quick to add that everyone in the department is eager to join them for the ride. "If I say to my students 'Come back in an hour and we're going to work for four more hours tonight' they're like 'Yay! Okay!' They're thrilled to be in the room with the writers. And their resumes are filled with the names of these people. They get it! After seven years, they get it!"

MW: I see in your bio that, early in your career, you interned at Hal Prince Productions. Did that have something to do with sparking your interest in musical theater development?

Lori Bales: "While I was working in Mr. Prince's office I was fortunate enough to attend performances of new pieces. They got many requests. I went to the first reading of Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World. It may have been from working there that, when I found NAMT (New Alliance for Musical Theatre), it resonated with me. I first went to NAMT ten years ago. There was a small focus group of universities headed by John Sparks where he talked about development. He talked about the kinds of things that writers need. And I realized at that meeting that development was very doable at a university like Millikin.

We're fortunate enough to have a lot of resources: rooms with pianos, students who are excited to do the work and its curricular driven. We started with fifteen-minute musicals (The Snow Job, The Perfect Feet and Squeak). And next we coordinated with Theatre Building Chicago and we worked with three different writing teams on thirty-minute musicals (High Five, Damage Control and Inconvenient War). The third year we went to a format that's close to what we do now when we did Dani Girl (Music: Michael Kooman, Book & Lyrics: Christopher Dimond)."

MW: What is a typical January workshop like?

MusicalWriterzine-Millikan2Bales: "It depends upon the piece and the writers. The workshop can last from ten days to two weeks. We generally meet before the writers come and encounter the music. We try to get as many of the "dots" learned as we can. That can take anywhere from one to four days, depending upon how many pages of music there are and the difficulty. My associate, Kevin Long, is the musical director.

When the writers arrive, we show them what we have – which is usually pretty raw. From then on, they "drive the bus." They might say, 'We're going to go away for awhile and write. In twenty-four hours we'll send you new pages.' So, we keep working on the music. Or sometimes they go downstairs and come up a couple of hours later with a new song. They might make really small changes or throw out whole scenes and rewrite them.

Marissa Michaelson (Composer of The Grid) was very hands-on – she liked being in the room and working with the performers. The students loved that. We just worked with Joshua Salzman (Music) and Ryan Cunningham (Book & Lyrics). Josh is a teacher, so he was here for one really fast weekend. Ryan was able to be here for a longer amount of time, so we did more scene work than music work. We've learned to just do our work and to ask the writers what they need."

MW: Millikin University's New Musicals Workshop is a three-time recipient of Writers Residency Grants from NAMT. How have you used the grants to enhance the experience for the writers?

Bales: "The grants are incredibly helpful because our budget is so limited. We usually put the NAMT money right into the writer's stipend. Or we use it to support the things they want. For example, for the last few years we've added percussion because the scores were rock and it was really important to the teams."

MW: You've also taken a couple of the shows that you've developed in the workshop to full productions on your mainstage. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Bales: "Yes: Golden Gate (Music: Michael Kooman, Book & Lyrics: Christopher Dimond) and, most recently, String (Music & Lyrics: Adam Gwon, Book: Sarah Hammond). Michael and Chris (Golden Gate) came at the end to see the show. Adam and Sarah (String) came a month before we opened and were more involved in the process. They cut a scene and a song. And Adam wrote a whole bunch of scene change and incidental music once he was able to see what was necessary because the show was up on its' feet."

MW: Let's talk about submissions. Are you open to accepting them from anyone?

Bales: "Yes. It's nice to have a connection. But, our curriculum drives our choices more than anything."

MW: Along with the usual materials, you ask that the writers include a cover letter that describes "the desired next steps in terms of the development needs and projected trajectory dates." Can you expand on that?

Bale: "I never want to disappoint the writers. So, what we really want to know is if we can help them do what they need to do in the workshop. For example, if they're looking to work on orchestrations, that's not our gig. For Bastard Jones (Book & Lyrics: Marc Acito, Music & Lyrics: Amy Engelhardt), however, the writers really wanted to see if the physical comedy at the end of Act One worked. We talked it through and I staged enough for them to see if the rhythm was there. People were running all over the room. And that was what they needed to see."

MW: Do you need to see a completed draft or will you look at a piece that's still being written?

Bales: "When String came to us, it was a paragraph. Between the time that we initially met with them, Adam wrote 200 pages of music and Sarah wrote a first draft. We sometimes get a draft of a script that looks really strong – kind of done. So, we look at it to see if, instead of a reading, its something we should put into our season so that the writers can see a production."

MW: Is there anything that the writers should consider before submitting? Cast size? Theatrical style? Subject matter?

Bales: "We try to involve as many students as we can. So, often we pass up brilliant shows that have four to six person casts. We like to have casts of 12 and up, and the more women, the better. And we very rarely develop children's material because we want material that will challenge our students' skills."

Musical theater writers interested in submitting a new musical for consideration should send a script, piano/vocal score and demo recordings. A synopsis or production history aren't required, but you are welcome to include them as well. Bales prefers that the submission materials be sent electronically to:


However, mail submissions will also be accepted and should be sent to:

Lori Bales
Millikan University
Department of Theater and Dance
1184 West Main Street
Decatur, IL 62522

The best time to submit a project in Spring and early Summer. Response times vary. "If writers don't hear from me, they should feel really comfortable emailing or giving me a phone call," she suggests. "I'm teaching fulltime and directing, so I don't necessarily get to the submissions regularly."

"Sometimes people are hesitant to come to a university," Bales admits. "Maybe they think the talent won't rise to the challenge. Give it a try! I would encourage them to talk to any of the writers who have been to universities and found it an incredibly laidback and relaxed way to work. And they're usually surprised by the talent."


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Above: Beating Broadway by Steve Cuden


Above: The Musical Theatre Writers Survival Guide by David Spencer


Above: How Musicals Work: And How to Write Your Own

Go behind the scenes with Stephen Schwartz



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