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Musical Writerzine #34 - Summer 2016

Newsletter for Writers of New Musicals - Intro

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

In this issue you'll find events for musical writers, such as the upcoming Biz of Musical Theatre Biz conference for which our subscribers can receive a discount on the registration fee. In the Growing Stages column, we feature the Conundrum Theatre Company of Pasadena that is eager to review submissions of new works! You'll also find other submissions suggestions for your musicals, some with fast-approaching deadlines.

For this summer issue's themed articles, we focus on the value of short presentations as part of the musical writing journey. Related to getting your work out there, you'll find a helpful guest blog post by Trudee Lunden about showcasing songs online on music websites.

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.

Summer Events and News

Los Angeles - Biz of Musical Theatre Biz Conference, July 22-24, 2016

Special discount available to Musical Writerzine subscribers (info below).

New Musicals Inc is again offering their biennial Biz of the Musical Theatre Biz Conference July 22-24. As they describe it, they're holding "eight panel discussions, eleven power-networking sessions, and several opportunities to pitch your musical to producers all around the country." If you're looking beyond theory to real-life practices, this is worth checking out, especially if you will be self-producing any readings of your new musical.

In addition to nitty gritty details like funding, legalities, and marketing, they are also offering an ideas discussion that is also important to career musical writers: "What Makes a Good Idea for a Musical?" "We've had an overwhelming demand from our writers asking us how to know what makes a good musical, and how to avoid spending years and years and lots of money on a BAD idea," says Elise Dewsberry, NMI's Artistic Director. "Where can you find a good idea for a musical? How do you know a good idea when you've found it? How can you head off a problematic idea before you start?"

DISCOUNT: Register for the Full Conference or the Full Conference + Pitch Review, and proceed to the Checkout.  On the Checkout page, you will see a spot near the top to enter a Coupon Code.  Enter the Code “MUSICALWRITERS” to receive $100 off your registration. NMI - Conference

New York City - NYMF - Free Panel Discussions for Writers - July & Aug

NYMF playbill 2016This year's NYMF (New York Musical Festival, shortened from New York Musical Theatre Festival) includes several free events that may be of interest to writers plus dozens of new musicals in full production or readings. See nymf.org/ for the full listings.

July 24: This free panel at NYMF may be of interest: "Writing Across Media: Stage, Screen, and Song" - Writing Across Media

August 7: At 1 pm, ASCAP is offering a free panel discussion they call "For the Love of Originality: How to Invent New Stories in Musical Theater." They promise to"include some of today's most buzzed about musical theatre writers discussing what it takes to turn their own inspiring ideas into successful shows." According to Michael Kerker, the writing team of Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (zacharyandweiner.com) will moderate the panel. Reservations recommended.

See ASCAP panel - NYMF. I'm gathering a group to meet up there to network. Please email me directly at carolmusical@gmail.com if you can join us.

Festivals: Chicago, New York, and elsewhere.

Please see our newly updated Festivals page for events to attend or consider for submitting your show. You'll find festivals around the USA and the world, including one of my favorite: the 10-minute musical festival Sound Bites (submissions deadline Sept 1).

Some festivals are open for any type of work and others take a narrower approach like shows that are enviornmentally-related or women's issues. If you want to attend to network, try asking the ushers if the writers are in the room watching their shows. Say hello and trade business cards.

For UK Writers

Mercury Musicals is a membership organisation dedicated to developing new musical theatre writing. See Mercury Musicals. They also hold open mics in London and other events.

Short Presentations and Showcasing Your Work

Showcasing Your Musical Online

by Trudee Lunden

Showcasing your musical online has never been easier. In addition to creating a website for your new musical, innovative digital platforms of all kinds now exist to promote and sell your music, and also live performances.... READ MORE on our Musical Musings blog about Soundcloud, YouTube, Ourstage, CD Baby, Bandcamp, Livestream, Stageit, and Ustream.

SEE BLOG POST: Showcasing Your Musical Online

Showing Short Pieces: Part of the Musical Writing Journey

by Carol de Giere

NMI ConcertWhy should you take time to go public with a sort piece of your work? This blog post gives several answers. We're exploring the role of short presentations as part of the long musical writing journey: 15-minute excerpts, 10-minute musicals, songs presented in a concert or cabaret situation, and the like. The article includes comments from writers Elise Dewsberry, Beth Blatt, Joan Sorkin, and Ryan Luévano.

SEE BLOG POST: Showing Short Pieces: Part of the Musical Writing Journey

Submissions of New Works

Submissions Opportunities for New Musicals

READINGS: If you are new to Musical Writerzine or haven't had time to check recent issues, please also see our Readings-themed Musical Writerzine Issue 33 for submissions opportunities, including the NMI readings with a deadline of July 15 each year, the Pittsburgh CLO, New Musical Theatre Exchange of MN, and many others. Be sure to notice TRU's reading series with a submissions deadline of mid August. Most of the expenses are covered for TRU readings and they feature a dollars and sense panel after the reading.

UPDATED page! Since the previous issue, I've added details and theaters to the list on our productions page at Musicalwriters.com/production/theatres including New Line Theatre, 5th Avenue Theatre, and the Public Theater. Some accept unsolicited material and others take agented submissions only. It may be frustrating to get your work seen, but there are theaters around the USA that are looking for new works.

Also see the Conundrum Theatre Company article below!

Workshops, Classes, and Critiques

Plan ahead for ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop in LA, 2017

For anyone wanting to submit a musical to be considered for the annual ASCAP/DreamWorks Musical Theatre Workshop with Stephen Schwartz, the most reliable way to get considered is to submit for the Los Angeles session, as the New York City option hasn't been consistently open for submissions.

In 2017, the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills will be repeating its hosting of the workshop and special Q and A evening with Stephen Schwartz and other writers. The February 2016 event drew sold-out crowds in a sizable theater. Here's what their brochure includes for 2017: "February 3rd, The Wallis and ASCAP present An Evening with Stephen Schwartz Music & Broadway Memories with special Broadway guest stars. The Wallis will also bring back the popular ASCAP Foundation Musical Theatre Workshop in Partnership with DreamWorks Animation and the Wallis: February 1 and 2nd, 2017."


Want to advance your skills? Have you visited the websites of groups that regularly hold workshops and classes? Here are a few:

New Musicals Inc (NMI) holds regular workshops throughout the year in Los Angeles and uses online video technology to include students from around the world in their programs. BMI Musical Theatre Workshop offers an ongoing program in NYC that is run by NMI on the westcoast. Theatre Resources Unlimited (New York City) provides workshops and networking opportunities in NYC, as does Davenport Theatrical (some are available online). Primary Stages is among the many places that offer playwriting classes

NYU is one of the few graduate programs in musical theatre writing. NYU musical writing

Ken Davenport's Producer's Perspective Podcast Series

If you want to know what it really takes to make musicals, be sure to listen to Ken Davenport's podcast series. So far he's recorded 80 episodes with many of Broadway's key players. You can download them to your phone or other mobile device and listen to them on the go. Go to Podcasts OR to itunes podcasts.

Critiques for One-on-One Feedback

If you're ready for some direct feedback, consider one of the critique services listed on our recently updated Musicalwriters.com Critiques page. You will find a range of services that address the overall musical or specific notes on the script. One service even offers table readings for a fee.

Growing Stages

Conundrum Theatre Company - Raising a Glass to New Musicals

By Carol de Giere

UPDATE 1/30/17 - Sorry to report that Conundrum has closed their new works program. Please check other recent issues of Musical Writerzine for places to submit your musical. See the left hand column above for links.

I will leave the article here just for the record.


Conundrum Theatre Co - 1Imagine having your musical read in a California winery while the audience sips wine, or in an old vaudeville house revamped for modern use. Conundrum Theatre Company of Pasadena, CA has been staging traditional shows and readings of some new works in the two colorful venues they use for events. They are always taking submissions for original plays, song cycles and full-scale musicals. Conundrum is also known for presenting lesser-known musicals or producing musicals with a contemporary spin. It also offers educational programs, and hosts special events.

(Photo: Bryan Snodgrass and Meggan Taylor perform for the Conundrum Theatre Company. Photo by Travis Perkins)

Operating for almost two years, Conundrum Theatre Company has created its own niche for theater artists in the Los Angeles area. The founders have gathered a community of trained theater professionals who make a living in non-theater jobs but who still want to be on stage or backstage. With their team of non-union actors, they produce readings to help writers get feedback on their works in progress.

While many companies are looking for small shows, Conundrum is open to larger casts (knowing that larger casts might attract a larger audience to a reading by way of the family and friends of the actors).

I spoke with Conundrum Theatre Company's president, Ryan Luévano (composer, theater critic and music director), about their programs.

Carol de Giere: Tell me a little about the company.

Ryan Luevano, composerRyan Luévano: We're working to build a community of people: actors, directors, choreographers, and many other theatre professionals. January is our two-year mark, which means we'll be eligible for grants and with this type of funding we plan to expand all of our programs like the new theater works initiative.

CD: I love the idea that Conundrum is aimed at people who have other jobs.

RL: Right. And the way we make that possible is in how we put together our rehearsal schedule. We pick days and times that will work for working professionals, so if they're working a 9 to 5 job then we'll do rehearsals 3 nights a week from 7pm to 10pm – that kind of thing. And productions are on weekends of course.

CD: On the website, it says Conundrum produces original plays, song cycles, and musicals. What would you say is the range of material you're looking for?

RL: We'll take anything. I spearheaded and implemented the new works program for Conundrum to accept all types of theater works. As a musical theater composer, I know the most difficult thing for a creator is to mount a live performance of their work of any kind. A writer's world can be very solitary, working in a room all day, typing in front of a computer or at the piano. But I know from experience that you learn the most when you can see your work on its feet. It doesn't need to be full scale initially, but just hearing it read aloud with people allows the writer to step away from the work and be critical in a different way. Readings are so helpful.

CD: What happens to works when they are submitted to Conundrum?

RL: Our process is that writers submit to us through an online form that collects basic information about themselves and their work. Then the writer emails us their work separately. Then we have a committee of theater professionals– producers, directors, writers, and theater fans—who work with us, meeting quarterly to evaluate these works. They sit down on a Sunday afternoon and read through the works, initially only the first ten pages or so, and if they like one, they read more. If it's a musical with tracks, they hear those too. Once they go through all the works submitted for a round they recommend their top three choices to Conundrum's board of directors. Then we look at those three recommendations as a board and decide about producing a reading or not.
In the preliminary round the new theater work receives a minimally staged reading in front of an audience. We audition non-union actors and we get a director.

What writers get is a reading, so they get to see their piece performed, and they get feedback from the director one-on-one. In the future, the feedback will be with the audience as well. We are also looking into providing a recording to the writers for them to keep.

These readings need to be quickly organized, so the actors get the material ahead of time. For plays they get four rehearsals, and for musicals it's more, depending on what the show requires. For musicals, we will need to charge the writers a little bit just to cover the rehearsal pianist and additional rehearsals.

Rialto - Conundrum curtain callThe idea with the new works program is that after you have a reading and get feedback, you are welcome to submit again with the new changes you made based on the reading(s). Then we'll probably do another reading if you are chosen again. Once we feel it's ready for a full performance, we'll decide if we want to add it as part of our season or submit it for a fringe festival of some kind.

CD: Do you have a preference for a type of show?

RL: If you look at our board, you see we have a range of interests and experiences. We've all worked on a variety of shows. I've worked with community theatre for years, and have done family-friendly shows like The Sound of Music and Annie, but we also love edgy theater. The first piece we produced at Conundrum was a very edgy play called The Death of Jubal by John Bolen. We also appreciate writers who submit more classical pieces; we have people who have submitted Shakespeare adaptations. We are open to it all. It just depends on what's right for us at that given time. We want to have a season that is diverse, with something for the family crowd, for the people who like edgy material, and something for theater connoisseurs.

CD: Are you open to submissions from people outside Southern California?

RL: Yes, it's open to anyone. They'll have to get their own transportation to the reading but we'll get it ready for them and they can come see the show and chat afterward.

CD: Are there any limits for cast size or type of material?

Rialto - ConundrumRL: Not really. We have access to two event spaces. One is a winery, Old Oak Cellars in Pasadena, which seats about 50, it works great for readings for a modest cast size. At the winery everyone gets a free wine tasting with their ticket, or they can buy a bottle of wine there and drink it during the reading, creating a salon atmosphere. The other venue is the historic Rialto Theatre of South Pasadena, a 1925 vaudeville house that seats 500-1200 that hasn't been used as a theater in about 50 years.


UPDATE 1/30/17 - Sorry to report that Conundrum has closed their new works program.

Stop by  www.ryanmluevano.com to read more about Ryan.


Ryan has also offered tips for demos:

"If you're sending demos, most places don't care about the quality. Piano and voice should be all you need to send, and maybe a guitar if that rhythm and sound is necessary. If you're in a good quiet room with a vocalist you could record it on your iPhone or whatever recording device you have. If you want to mix it a little in Garage Band, you can do that too. You don't need to spend a lot of money to make a great demo.

"Additionally, it depends on what you're selling. If you're selling a song, you can do it simply—piano and voice—just get a very good version of the song. If you're an artist, then you're trying to sell yourself too, so maybe get into a small studio, or get a good microphone and record it like that.

"People often overproduce songs these days. Sometimes you can't even hear the melody over all the other textures happening. What people want is the melody, the harmony, and if you're selling yourself, the voice. Everything else can be added later. Put together a very clear version of your song that is, in essence, who you are as an artist and songwriter. Don't hire an orchestrator – that comes later."

[For more tips on demos and people who can help, see our demos page at Musicalwriters.com - Demos]


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To send suggestions, comments, or questions write to carol@musicalschwartz.com

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