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Musical Writerzine #32 - Winter 2016

Newsletter for Writers of New Musicals - Intro

Carol de Giere, author and editor of the Musical Writerzine newsletterFrom Carol de Giere

This Winter issue is so filled with festivals information that we might as well call it the FESTIVALS issue. You'll find submissions details and deadlines. William Squier has interviewed Alex Higgin-Houser for our Growing Stages column about the Chicago Musical Theater Festival and the Underscore Theatre Company.

As usually, the Musical Writerzine provides tips and other resources to help you nudge your new musical along its path to an audience. In the upcoming Spring issue, in addition to submissions opportunities, we'll focus on developmental readings, covering the benefits of this form of feedback as well as potential pitfalls.

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 bookCarol de Giere is the website publisher for MusicalWriters.com and author of Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked, and The Godspell Experience.

New Musicals Submissions Tips - FESTIVALS

Ready for a fun and productive summer? Consider submitting a new musical to one of the festivals listed here.

Planet Connections Festivity in NYC Summer 2016

The deadline is January 21st for this adventurous opportunity! Planet Connections is the country's leading socially conscious/eco-friendly annual theatre, film and music festival. From their blurb: "We encourage our artists to partner with non-profit organizations to raise awareness for their causes through the work they do. Each season, our month long Festivity plays host to over 30 artists and productions with over 150 performances and readings." One of our Musical Writerzine subscribers has had two of her shows staged as part of this festivity and recommends the opportunity.

Direct link to application is here: Submissions - Planet Connections. For a view of their website to to planetconnections.org/

Fringe NYC - Aug 12 - 28th, 2016

The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC), will present the 20th Annual Festival from August 12 – 28, 2016. It's a multi-arts festival that is juried - the largest one in North America, that provides venues and some overall festival marketing to help gather a crowd. Accepted shows are given a slot in the schedule but all the other work is up to the show's creators (to hire a cast, crew, and staff, run your own rehearsals, etc). Submissions deadline is February 14th (earlier for International submissions). Fringe NYC

Fresh Fruit Festival - Summer 2016

The final deadline for submissions to the next Fresh Fruit festival is March 13th. This festival, with an LBGTQ theme, provides support by way of their venue, marketing, and networking. In an article for the previous Musical Writerzine, Jared and Jessica Fields reported on their positive experience at the 2015 Fresh Fruit Festival. They noted that the musical's creative team does not need to be a member of the LBGTQ community, but it helps if some part of the show is related.

The Festival's submissions materials give greater detail on what they provide: AEA-approved performance venues and insurance, marketing and publicity assistance, ticketing services, professional theater staff (logistics manager; a light or sound technician; front of house), repertory lighting plot and sound system, and networking events. See Fresh Fruit Festival - Submissions

CMTFChicago Musical Theater Festival

Chicago theaters are keeping the new works environment lively with the Chicago Musical Theater Festival. Now in it's 3rd year, the CMTF is primarily a showcase for Chicago's emerging musical theatre creator community, however it is open to anyone who can travel to Chicago. See the Growing Stages column below for details on this annual festival for new musicals.

Other Festivals

If you're keen on submitting a show to a festival some year, or attending one, read about other festivals here on our Festivals page.

"Inside NYMF and Other Festivals" Part II – Eric Sirota's Journey

Sirota and de GierePHOTO: Eric Sirota and Carol de Giere from the Summer 2015 meeting.

In the Fall issue, we included an article based on MusicalWriters.com's "Inside NYMF and Other Festivals" event in the summer of 2015. It revealed details about writers' experiences with festivals.

For Part II, I asked Eric Sirota, a composer, lyricist, and bookwriter, to write up his story that he briefly described at our meeting. Eric has worked the Festival scene with his new musicals and shares experiences here that we can learn from.

Inside Festivals Part II - Eric Sirota - PDF file

If you missed Part I - See the PDF File here: Part I Inside NYMF and Other Festivals that includes comments about NYMF and Fresh Fruit Festivals by Matt Gurren and the Fields, whose musicals were staged in those festivals.

New Musicals Submissions Tips - Theaters

Here are a few updated ideas and tips for submitting a show for a reading or full production in a theater

Davenport Theatrical

Producer Ken Davenport has recently commented that he's looking for a family musical for his small theaters in NYC to run on weekend mornings. It needs to have relatively simple production requirements. Also, he accepts submissions of any new musical. Davenport submissions.

If you are not alread subscribed to his Producer's Perspective blog, and you'd like to read what's on a producer's mind, go to Producer's Perspective and enter your email address in the blank subscribe box on the right.

Woods Hole TheatreStaged Reading on Cape Cod

If your musical is ready for the feedback that a stage reading can provide, consider this opportunity. My friend Corinne has written up her wish list for readings of new musical at her venue on the Cape. Woods Hole Theater - accepting submissions for readings. Because of the theater size, she's especially looking for small musicals, cast of less than 10 persons, including any ensemble. Here's a chance to have someone else sponsor a reading. Your cost is the travel and copies of the script!


See other suggestions in back issues by clicking on the left-hand menu.

Workshops, Development, Networking

Rhinebeck Writers Retreat

Can you imagine being tucked away for a weeklong summer retreat with your creative team? This ongoing funded program provides a fully furnished private home for one writing team for one week in the country outside of Rhinebeck, New York, round trip train transportation from New York City to Poughkeepsie, a $400 stipend for each writer, and more. Submissions open in January 2016 for the summer 2016 retreat program. Rhinebeck writers submissions.

Read testimonials about the program from previous participants: musical writers retreat testimonials.

ASCAP LA and NYC 2016

This year the LA workshop has a ticket reservation page Wallis.org - ASCAP/Dreamworks workshop for watching it as an audience member. Hopefully there will also be a workshop in NYC in 2016.

For Young Writers

Know any musical theater writers who are under 26 years old? There's a creative opportunity for them with an upcoming deadline for this year. Young playwrights, composers and lyricists receive workshops and concerts of their work, with feedback sessions from executives from Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment and New Musicals Inc. Selected finalists will have their work critiqued in an in-house workshop in March of 2016; and then presented in concert in Los Angeles in April 2016. New Voices Project

Give Yourself a Class

Further your education in musical writing by reading some of the helpful books in the books section of MusicalWriters.com. How To Write a Musical books give tips. Making of the musicals books keep you inspired and help you appreciate the challenges that others faced.

Get Your Show Published

Musicalwriters.com has a new page about publishing & rights licensing of musicals. Licensing your show. This is appropriate for proven works only.

Growing Stages

Underscore Theatre Company
Chicago Musical Theater Festival

William SquierBy William Squier; Photo credits for CMTF: Braden Nesin

"Our whole mission is to foster the development of new musicals in Chicago," states Alex Higgin-Houser, Artistic Director of the Underscore Theatre Company (Underscore Theatre). "There's a musical theater creative community here. They're just invisible. We want to give them as many resources as we can."

To that end, Higgin-Houser reports that Underscore is gearing up to present the third annual Chicago Musical Theater Festival. For three weeks in August, the company will partner with Kokandy Productions (kokandyproductions.com) and CPA Theatricals (cpatheatricals.org) to mount a dozen new musicals, written by Chicago area artists and others, in barebones, repertory stagings.

Alex Higgen-HouserTheater Love; Creating Something New on Stage

"I've been involved in theater my entire life," Higgin-Houser notes. "It's a familiar story. Just doing it a lot and anywhere I could." However, when he was a teenager in Minneapolis he was involved in a high school drama program that included workshops with professionals from the city's adventurous theater scene, like the Theatre de la Jeune Lune – a company famous for mounting reinvented classics and ambitious original works. And that opened Higgin-Houser's eyes to how exciting it can be to create something new for the stage.

Next, Higgin-Houser attended Carleton College where he met the like-minded artists who serve as Underscore's Executive Director, Laura Stratford, Director of Development, Brendan Seigfried, and Producing Artistic Director, David Kornfeld. "It's a small campus where it's basically impossible to not know someone," he jokes. After working on several school productions together, Higgin-Houser proposed that they collaborate on writing and mounting an original musical. "David said, 'That's a terrible idea,'" he recalls. "So, I spent a couple of months convincing him. Then, we wrote a show called Liberal Arts: the Musical – which is exactly what it sounds like."

Part of what convinced Kornfeld to sign-on as the musical's composer was the unique way in which the show was to be created. Inspired by classes in group writing taught by Carleton alumni who had gone on to work at Second City, the Colbert Report and Desperate Housewives, they decided recruit a few other students and form a Writer's Room where they could bounce ideas off of one another and brainstorm. "We'd write scenes in the morning around our classes, workshop them in the afternoon and try to get them to a final stage in the evening," Higgin-Houser says. "In ten weeks we had a two-hour new musical that was, by some miracle, cogent."

The Underscore Theatre Company Emerges

Their experience with the creation of Liberal Arts: the Musical formed the basis for what would eventually become the Underscore Theatre Company. "We learned what it means to write, revise, workshop and kill your darlings over and over and over," Higgin-Houser explains. "We were lucky, because it's a hard lesson to learn later on." When Korfeld, the last of the team to graduate, joined the others in Chicago in 2011, they founded Underscore to provide an environment for the development of new musicals through a similar process of ongoing, constructive feedback.

"Development is our first great love," Higgin-Houser insists. "The germination of an idea. But, if you really develop it, bring other voices into the room and decide to trust them, it's going to be a better product every single time." So, they opened a storefront studio / rehearsal space at 4635 N. Clark St., Chicago, and gathered an ensemble of artists who participate in staged readings, song showcases, writing sessions and group discussions – all related to the development of new works of musical theater.

The idea for the Chicago Musical Theater Festival was also born of personal experience. "We wrote and toured a show (Grind: the (coffee shop, comic book) Musical!) through the Midwest Fringe Festival circuit in 2010," Higgin-Houser says. "From Minneapolis, to Indianapolis, Kansas City and Chicago. And we quickly got a sense of what worked and what didn't; what was wildly frustrating; what we wished that we could have; and what we did not need. And we wanted to bring that to bear on the development of new musicals."

Underscore experimented with the festival format, in May 2013, with Stuck, four thematically connected works presented in repertory. "We wanted to see what it would be like if we totally broke the mold and had shows performing back-to-back without breaks in between," Higgin-Houser explains. "We tried a lot of different things and spent a long time working with the artists, and the producers behind them, to find our takeaways. The next year, we started the actual festival."

The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival

The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival (cmtf.org) officially launched in June of 2014. "We were really heartened by Chicago's incredibly supportive theater community," Higgin-Houser says. "The response has been overwhelming and wonderful! Folks have come out of the woodwork to support festival -- from very large companies and brand new storefronts. And it has become abundantly clear that the city needs this musical theater festival. Underscore was already the only organization in town dedicated to the production of new musicals. Through the festival, we're able to double and triple that goal."

CMTH - "How To Run For Mayor"PHOTO: How to Run For Mayor, from a performance at the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival

The first festival showcased 8 new musicals over a two-week period that were mounted by 8 separate theater companies at the Den Theater, a 75-seat black box proscenium space in the city's Off-Loop theater district. The musicals were, again, produced in repertory and the maximum length of each piece was 60 minutes. "Underscore work-shopped one of the works from that festival, Mr. Munch Has a Murmur (by L.C. Bernadine and Erik Olsen) for about seven months afterward and ended up producing it in May of 2014," Higgin-Houser reports. "Another show that was submitted to that festival, The Guide to Being Single, ended up being our Fall show."

Underscore returned to The Den in June of 2015 for three weeks to showcase 13 new musicals in association with 5 other production companies. "You could submit a 60-minute one-act or a 75-100-minute show," Higgin-Houser says. "If you wanted an intermission, that counted as part of your time. And by a small series of miracles all of the timing worked out. The amount of energy in the room at any given time for those three weeks was delightful and crazy and wonderful!"

This coming summer, Underscore plans to present 12 world premieres. Though he can't reveal where the festival will that place just yet, Higgin-Houser reports that Underscore has been approached by a larger producing venue in Chicago that he says is easy to get to, has increased technical capability and higher profile than their former home. "We haven't inked every detail of the deal yet," he says. "But, it's going happen."

CMTF - FanaticalPHOTO: From Fanatical at the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival

Each of the shows will be presented in repertory for 4-5 performances. "You have to be able to put up and take down your set in ten minutes," Higgin-Houser notes. "It's one more incentive to focus on the content: the words, music and lyrics."

Submission Options for New Musicals

Musical theater writers who are interested in having their work considered for the festival will need to submit through Option One. "That's where we act as a kind of matchmaker," Higgin-Houser explains. "We do it to reach out and meet other musical theater producers in town – companies that want to produce new musicals, but at a much smaller financial risk and have a chance to develop the work in front of an audience." Each company that produces a selected musical retains the right to mount further productions for 90 days after the festival closes, after which the writer are free to pitch the show elsewhere.

In addition to pairing writers with local production companies to mount their work in the festival, Underscore will take on a few new works as "mentored" productions. "Those shows will be workshopped, provided a lot of guidance and more creative resources," he says. "They'll have access to the festival resources like rehearsal space, marketing and publicity." Underscore's festival partners, Kokandy Productions and CPA Theatricals, will also mentor several shows.

Writers of a musical that is selected for the festival are required to contribute a participation fee of approximately $700. "That's to cover the costs -- including paid staff like light and sound operators and designers -- expand the festival's size and scope and increase the number of services that we're able to offer," Higgin-Houser emphasizes. "Then, they get a percentage of the ticket sales. That's independently negotiated between the writer and the production company, with Underscore as the intermediary. We try to hold it to a more generous percentage than your average production in Chicago, which is a 4% to 6% share to the authors. We're hoping to push that higher. Last year every group at least earned their participation fee back."

Underscore also works to keep the expense of mounting each of the show to a minimum. "We have a house band of artistic associates who are frequent contributors to our company – a full rock band with up to three horns," Higgin-Housers says. "And we're able to do a lot with that! We have orchestrators on our staff, directors, writers, producers, as well as our own rehearsal space. And being Non-Equity is helpful, though we'd eventually like to become Equity."

"For the Option One writers we recommend a smaller cast size and a simpler necessitated design," Higgin-Housers continues. "Proudly, we do not have a defined aesthetic. At least, nothing has emerged just yet! Our first year our best-selling shows was an incredibly non-linear piece about a country singer who goes to New York, is worried about his cat back home who might have a heart murmur and has hallucinations on the city sidewalk; our next best-selling shows were a pop musical for four actors and a rock band and an all acoustic musical set in the U.S. in the sixteen hundreds with Shaker-style instrumentation."


Musical theater writers who can easily spend time in Chicago and are interested in having a new work considered for the festival will need to do the following:

1. Fill out and submit the CMTF Submissions: Option 1 Application Form with your Contact Name, Email Address, Title of Show, Credits for the Creative Team (book/music/lyric by), a brief Synopsis, Number of Characters (including a gender breakdown and any specific requirements), a ranking of the musical's Degree of Completeness and a Production History if the musical had one.
Link to Application form for the Festival

2. Though you don't need to have a competed musical at the time of submission, the next step is to provide whatever script, score or demo recordings that exist. "The materials you submit as an Option One submitter are used to persuade other theater companies to join in," Higgin-Houser emphasizes. "Each of the groups comes in with their own producing agenda and aesthetic. The shows that stand the best chance at getting into the festival are ones that have title, outline, characters, some song demos and portions of the script."

"One of our internal policies is to have a low environmental impact," Higgin-Houser notes. "So we prefer electronic submissions for everything." But, if you are unable to submit electronically, the application and materials can be mailed to:

Underscore Theatre Co.
P.O. Box 408748
Chicago, IL 60640

The deadline for Option One submissions is February 1.

ELIGABILITY: (Additional Note from Alex). For all of our options, we accept submissions from anywhere. We're dedicated to making Chicago an exporter of musicals, so if an out-of-town writer chooses our festival to premiere their work, then Chicago is presenting it for the first time, and the same for in-town writers. Self-producers should choose option 2, regardless of where they're coming from--last year, Passing By, one of our bestselling shows, was from out of town and did terrifically.


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