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Musical Writerzine #26 - Spring-Summer 2014

Newsletter for Writers of New Musicals - Intro

Carol de GiereFrom Carol de Giere

new musicalIn this combined Spring/Summer issue you'll find notes on networking, seeing and submitting shows, writing tips, a special conference, and more. For our Growing Stages column, William Squier interviewed the managing artistic director of the Pallas Theatre Collective in Washington, D.C. about the theater company's approach to new musicals. (The photo is from a new musical reading at the Pallas.)

We won't be publishing an issue this summer (while I finish my book on the musical Godspell) so we hope you will take the time to explore this Spring/Summer issue's tips and links, including the tips article that Steve Cuden wrote for us.

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

Los Angeles - The Biz of the Musical Theatre Biz - July 18-20

Note: A special conference rate has been extended for subscribers to the Musical Writerzine. You can receive the ANMT Member discount, even if you aren't a member.

The Biz of the Musical Theatre Biz Conference is not just about inspiration and theory. It's also very practical. In addition to talks, the organizers have arranged for opportunites to pitch your show. Here's from their blurb: "....Writers enrolled in the conference will be given the opportunity to submit a short pitch about a musical, which we will forward to the producers in advance. The producers will share their thoughts about which musicals caught their attention...and why.... BONUS: "We're compiling a long list of producers of new musicals who will agree to receive an email pitch from you..." Go to www.nmi.org/develop/conference/

This is sponsored by New Musicals, Inc, the new umbrella organization that now includes the Academy for New Musical Theatre or ANMT. Full conference rate: $450 for members and Musical Writerzine subscribers. (Regular rate: $ 595). Discounts are also available for attending part of the conference.

ANMT Search for New Musicals July 15 Deadline

ANMT also hosts an annual Search for New Musicals. Winners receive awards worth up to $25,000 in workshop productions, concert readings, feedback, and developmental support. The next deadline is July 15. www.anmt.org/search_submit1.asp

Using the Internet for Networking and Submissions Opportunities Searches

In addition to checking through Musical Writerzine issues, as well as our essential books pages, here are a few other sites you might want to visit.

~~The leader of the "Show Off Your New Musical" group on Facebook says writers are invited to join and post. Go to www.facebook.com/groups/ShowOffYourNewMusical/ and ask to join.

~~If you are a playwright, look for for submission opportunities on NYC Playwrights, Emerging Playwrights, and Stageplays-forum.com. Note that Stageplays-forum is a message board that includes a collaborators wanted section. Also, some of the listings on these sites are for writers who live in specific regions. For example, there's a musicals submissions opportunity listed on NYC Playwrights for writers living in NJ, NY, or PA: Wayne NJ musicals.

Musical Writing Tips on Blogs

Musical Musings blog: guest writer Steve Cuden

Musical writers may have heard that songs are supposed to advance the plot, but newer composers and lyricists often rely on the lyrics to carry far too much of the story's water. READ MORE: Steve Cuden's article on Lyrics Writing: With a Song in Their Hearts

Writing Tips from musical writer Jake Lloyd

Nothing disappoints me more than when I go see a new show and the score comes across immediately as generic... The score neither evokes the world, nor the character..... READ MORE: Blog post about specificity in the songs of Aherns and Flaherty

TRU Feedback Workshops in NYC - Submissions Deadline June 18

From TRU's website: HOW TO WRITE A MUSICAL THAT WORKS! TRUBeginnings-Musical.htm
A 3-part workshop for writers, directors and producers exploring the traditional structure and dynamic interplay of an effective libretto and score. We will examine successful musicals, discuss basic dramaturgical principals and why they work, and hear presentations of submitted new works and works-in-progress. A panel of producers and writers will evaluate how successful the songs and scenes presented are in fulfilling their purpose.

Each workshop will accept up to 10 writing teams and/or producers who will share works in progress and get feedback from a panel of expert evaluators. Audience members will also have a chance to offer their observations, participate in discussions and network sessions and enjoy refreshments. Submission deadline: June 18

Summer Festivals of New Musicals

It's too late to submit a show for this year but attending the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) in July will give you an idea of the new musicals culture at the festival. It will help you plan for a future summer, and who knows who you might meet. The writers of the show are often in attendence, so you can ask the ushers who they are and have a chat. NYMF Musicals Summer 2014. Looking for more festivals to attend? Visit our Festivals page for ideas. Note that some festivals are juried or included some carefully selected pieces. Others are open to all, so the quality can be quite varied.

"Growing Stages" by William Squier

The Pallas Theatre Collective

The fledgling theater company Pallas Theatre Collective (www.pallastheatre.org) is in its fourth year, but it is shaping up to be a year of "firsts." It's the first season that its' Founder and Managing Artistic Director, Tracey Chessum, Ph.D., will share the responsibility for running the Washington, DC, based company with Artistic Director Ty Hallmark. And it marks the first time Pallas will fully realize its' stated mission of fostering "the continuation of the American musical theater legacy" with productions of a musical adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher and a chamber musical based on a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper.
At her "day job," Dr. Chessum is an educator and a musical theater historian. In May, we chatted with her about Pallas' first four years, what's in the works for the future and what the company will have to offer for writers of new musical theater.

Musical Writers: What inspired you to start The Pallas Theatre Collective?

Tracey ChessumDR. CHESSUM: "Because I'm a historian and I teach the history, I get pulled into conferences to talk about the state of musical theater today. And I realized that we're starting to lose the "Americaness" of musicals today. Most of the things we see on Broadway are copies of some other form. You have to have a recognizable commodity or huge name recognition. That's part of the tradition, but it isn't functioning in the same way that musical theater functioned in the 1940's and 50's or even as late as the 70's. So, I started talking to the musical theater creators that I knew. A lot of them said that they can't even get their foot in the door – "I have four original musicals, but no one will do them." My firm belief is that if our musical theater is going to retain its special place in American culture it has got to start as a grassroots movement in regional theaters. What we try to do at Pallas is to span the gap to help develop original musicals that deal with the American experience as it's happening right and are sitting on shelves." [Photo: Tracey Chessum.]

MW: At Pallas, you present both musical and non-musical programming?

DR. CHESSUM: "That's correct. What we found very, very early is that a small, up-and-coming theater company cannot live on musicals alone."

MW: You will, however, be debuting two new works of musical theater this season: The Fall of the House of Usher and The Yellow Wallpaper – works that Pallas developed. Can you walk us through the steps?

DR. CHESSUM: "We put writers through a year and a half to two year development process. We really want them to think about the conventions and the limitations of regional theater stages. These musicals are often written with Broadway in mind. We try ask what we can do to allow a regional theater to take a chance on them? The writers do one-on-one early development with me so I can get a sense of their vision and where they want the piece to go in a perfect world. Next, we do a staged reading in D.C. in June in our Tableread Series. They are one-night events that are open to the public. But we try to think very specifically about who we want at those readings – people who can think about the piece critically. So, journalists, critics and donors are all brought in to watch. There's a talkback with the audience to get their first impressions."

Pictured: Development work on The Fall of the House of Usher: A New Musical with Chessum, and writers Sarah Hirsch and Molly Fox.

Pallas Theatre new musical development: Fall of the House of UsherMW: Are the talkbacks geared to addressing issues of practicality as well as artistic concerns?

DR. CHESSUM: "Yes. We do a lot to develop the artistic nature of the work. But, I'm big on the practical side of it. I want the creators to know who their audience is and how their piece will sell. We do a lot of marketing analysis and look at donor response. For example, when we did last year's reading of The Fall of the House of Usher, (Libretto: Molly Fox, Music: Sarah Hirsch) we got more donors in one night than we'd ever brought in for three years. So, we knew we were sitting on something really special. And we were able to craft the show from there. When they leave Pallas the creators take with them not only demographic information, but a website, professional pictures, and marketing that will help to convince a regional theater that it's not going to break their budget – that they can take a chance on it. They can say "it had this kind of following on social media and had this kind of press attention in D.C."

MW: What happens after that first reading?

Fall of the House of Usher reading at PallasDR. CHESSUM: "I boil the feedback down and we talk about how the musical is going to get from point A to point B. Usher went through, I think, 5 or 6 drafts. In the spring we then do readings at the universities that we have partnerships with -- Point Park, Ball State, etc… -- to give the creators an idea of what it looks like in its new form. And so I can see what I'll be dealing with when I put it onstage."

MW: Has your development process evolved in the past four years?

DR. CHESSUM: "We started with a musical called The Many Women of Troy (Librettist: Michael John Boynton Composer: Brian Allan Hobbs). We consider it our first full musical production. It didn't go through the development process that everyone else has, but it opened our eyes to the struggles that creators have with their works. The Fall of the House of Usher was the first piece to go through a two-year process."

MW: Your website describes The Yellow Wallpaper as a chamber musical. How does it differ from The Fall of the House of Usher?

DR. CHESSUM: "Our Second Stage musicals tend to be shorter form -- works that are just stellar, but you would kill the momentum of the show if you lengthened them. The Yellow Wallpaper (Book and Lyrics by Lane Williamson, Music by Sarah Taylor Ellis) is an hour and five minutes. Another musical, which we invested in this year, Left to their Own Devices (Book and Lyrics: Steve Multer, Music: Karen Multer), is an hour and fifteen minutes. People learn by putting these little musicals together."

MW: Pallas is presenting its full season at the Anacostia Arts Center (anacostiaartscenter.com). Is that going to be your home for the forseeable future?

DR. CHESSUM: "It's a brand new space. We're in talks with them right now to be the company in residence. And I'm thrilled about that. It's very flexible. It's a black box that can seat as many as 85 people. We try to keep the productions as minimalist as possible."

MW: How long do your productions run?

DR. CHESSUM: "Usually three weeks. We're one year out from being admitted as a full member of Theatre Washington (theatrewashington.org) and are required to have 18 performances for our shows to be eligible for the Helen Hayes Awards."

MW: Back in May you put up a one-night event titled the New Musical Premiere-A-Thon. Can you tell me a bit about that?

DR. CHESSUM: "I take individual songs and scenes from the best six or seven of our Tableread submissions, so we can see a little bit of those shows up on its feet."

MW: When will you accept submissions of new musicals for next season?

DR. CHESSUM: "We put a call out for submissions in September. The call is open for four months. By January 1, I have 25 to 30 musicals on my desk. They are sent out to a committee comprised of directors, actors, technicians, composers, musicians and university level dramaturges. I try to get as many different people in on the process as I can. They read all of the different selections. Then, we talk about their challenges; which of the pieces they think will sell well and the things that they think the creators do well. Then, in March we choose two pieces a year to invest in."

MW: What submission materials you prefer?

DR. CHESSUM: "Bios and resumes, a production history, a summary of the work, any sort of demo recording of the best songs they have, the complete book / libretto and a complete piano / vocal score with no lead sheets."

MW: How do you prefer to receive the materials?

DR. CHESSUM: "We choose to work electronically. You can upload everything right on our website. And there's email for anyone who has trouble uploading the material. When it's uploaded to our own system that's how we get it to the people on the selection committee. We've also made commitment to staying green. So all of our readings are done on ipads. It's so much easier to make changes to the script and score. It allows us to take the money that would be spent on printing it and put it back into the show."

MW: Any restrictions that the writers should consider before submitting?

DR. CHESSUM: "I look for musicals that have been completed."

MW: Are cast size or other production requirements considered?

DR. CHESSUM: "I won't say that it's not a part of what I look at. We had someone submit a piece that was for 45 people. We asked if they were open reducing the number. They said no. So, it wasn't something we could handle. But, cast size is a secondary concern to the quality of the book and the music. I'm looking for something that sparkles – that has that emotional engagement – that audience members can lose themselves in."

MW: Is there anything in terms of content or subject matter that you don't want to see?

DR. CHESSUM: "We're committed to the continuation of the American musical theater form. So, we tell people not to submit anything based on a film or a jukebox musical. Most of the time they don't have all of the rights that we would need to actually put it up. Other than that, we're all over the map content-wise: The Fall of the House of Usher is based on the Poe story, our Tableread selection, Code Name: Cynthia is the story of a World War II spy; Left to Their Own Devices is about kids trying to save a park; The Yellow Wallpaper is about post partum depression."

Musical Theater writers interested in having their work considered by the Pallas Theatre Collective should visit their website www.pallastheatre.org and watch for their next submission period.


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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




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