Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Festival Show Update: THE TROUBLE WITH DOUG

A catch up with the writing team from Festival 2010 show The Trouble With Doug, Will Aronson and Daniel Maté.

The Trouble With Doug is a modern comedic re-imagining of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, in which a happy, healthy 27-year-old man transforms—suddenly and inexplicably—into a giant slug. From this unlikely premise, a touching and universal story unfolds about a family dealing with change, and a young man facing the loss of everything he thought he was.

Doug was really well received at the Festival. What was it like presenting your show to industry at the Festival?
Our NAMT presentation was an exciting and rewarding experience from start to finish. It was a thrill, obviously, to have Victoria Clark as our director – we’d both long been fans of her performing work, and were delighted that she connected with the piece so effortlessly. With her help, we felt that we’d succeeded in arriving at a 45-minute version that delivered the heart and humor of the musical to the NAMT Members in attendance, and we were very gratified by the positive responses we received. People seemed to get and appreciate what we were going for, which, considering the musical’s somewhat unconventional subject matter, was both relieving and exciting.

Did anything change with the show after seeing at the Festival?
Yes. Trimming the show down to its essence for NAMT helped us identify what worked, and also helped us see where certain characters were not sufficiently fleshed out and where some of our plot devices needed fortifying, clarifying, or (in one case) replacing. A subsequent writers retreat at [NAMT member] Weston Playhouse in Vermont in April 2011 helped us solidify a list of planned changes and a general game plan for implementing them.

Doug was supposed to premiere at Florida Stage this season but unfortunately Florida Stage has closed. How has this sudden change affected your plans for developing Doug?
Well, it’s certainly confirmed for us that nothing can ever be counted on as certain in this industry, and that building relationships with as many organizations as possible is the way to go. We were pleased to re-meet many producers and artistic directors at this year’s NAMT Festival and begin some new conversations about the piece. While we were sad to lose the Florida production—and very sad to see a great regional company go down—we're still confident that ‘Dougger’ will find himself a nice home before too long.

You just had a fantastic time in the UK working with NAMT member Royal & Derngate. What was it like to bring Doug across the pond?
The two weeks we spent at Royal & Derngate exceeded our greatest expectations. R&D provided us with accommodations, space to work, a wonderful cast, a top-notch music director, and the dramaturgical and directorial expertise of artistic director Laurie Sansom – and they basically said, “take whatever time you need to rewrite your show as you see fit.” Without a built-in “presentation” component, we were truly free to use the time to overhaul the show’s book and upgrade aspects of the score. By the end of the two weeks, we had a completely revised version of the musical, one that we feel heightens what was already compelling about it while addressing our concerns about plot and character. And working in a UK theatre environment was a fun change of pace. Among other discoveries, we found that our story can speak to people in a different cultural context.

What are you hoping to happen next with Doug?
We feel great about the new script we returned with from England, and are ideally looking for a production track at a regional, UK, or New York theatre. Having been through several readings and workshops, we feel that the arc of show is finally in the shape we’ve always wanted it to be, and that adding in the physical element will help us take it to the next level. So we’re hoping that someone will believe in the piece strongly enough to take that sort of plunge with it.

In the best of all worlds, in two years, what will be the status of Doug?
At the risk of sounding evasive, we don't have a single defined destination in mind. There are so many logistical factors that go into producing musicals, most of which are beyond our comprehension. Obviously, as its creators, we entertain dreams of our piece reaching a very large audience, and having a long life on many, many stages. But our main and immediate hope, no matter the scale, scope, or trajectory of production(s), is that Doug will find its core audience, who will connect with it and love it as much as we do— an aspiration we feel is equal parts lofty and modest, and hopefully just right.

For more information about The Trouble With Doug, please e-mail

New Work in Progress: GIANT at Dallas Theater Center

As Michael John LaChiusa and Sybille Pearson's Giant prepares for its co-production in Dallas and New York, we thought it would be a good time to chat with Dallas Theater Center's Artistic Director Kevin Moriarity about Giant (recipient of a National Fund for New Musicals production grant). Giant will be presented at Dallas Theater Center (DTC) this January-February and will then at The Public Theater in their next season.

How did Giant find its way to DTC?
In 2009, I went to Signature Theatre in Washington DC to see their premiere of Giant. Despite being three acts and four hours long, it was one of the most thrilling scores and moving stories I had experienced in years. I immediately reached out to the musical's writers, Michael John LaChiusa and Sybille Pearson, to learn what future they envisioned for their show. Simultaneously, I mentioned to Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater, how much I loved the material. He had also seen it and shared my passion for the piece. We decided to propose to Michael John and Sybille a collaboration between our two theaters, which would provide them with time and resources to continue to develop the material, leading to full productions in Dallas and New York.

Other than the obvious Texan connection, why is Giant a good fit for DTC at this time?
First and foremost, it's a sweeping, emotionally moving story, filled with passionate characters and a breathtaking score. Equally importantly, it directly addresses themes that have been at the heart of our identities as Texans, and, by extension, the fundamental challenges and hopes for all of us in America today. The musical depicts the sweeping power of history, as men transition from cattle ranchers to oil barons, the powerful changes in relationships that people experience within their families over the course of their lives, and the blending of many distinct cultures that is at the center of our American identity. It's a large, epic story, with a big heart and clear eyes—that sounds like Texas to me!

You will be presenting this as a co-production with The Public Theater. How has this enhanced the experience of working on the show knowing that it will have that crucial next step after the DTC run?
This collaboration has been essential for the development of this piece. By combining our resources, we have been able to provide the writers with an extended period of time to continue to develop their work, a unified producerial vision, and a consistent dramaturgical response. Over time, and with a deep commitment to the work that extends from Dallas to New York, you build a deeper, more meaningful artistic dialogue and a greater sense of honesty and trust for everyone involved. It's also important for us, as we develop new plays and musicals at DTC, that the work we believe in so passionately is able to continue to engage with audiences beyond our community. Being able to work toward a culminating vision that extends even past the run of the show in Dallas has been wonderful for everyone.

Giant very much lived up to its name when in DC. What have the writers done since DC to the show to prepare it for its next steps?
It's still giant - but it's now shorter than it was in DC (in Dallas the show will be 2 acts and 3 hours long). When the Public and DTC began the process two years ago, we reached out to Michael Greif to join the project as the director. He's been a vital collaborator, bringing his fresh insights and clear vision to the process. Michael John and Sybille have added and changed elements of the score and the script, ranging from deepening their explorations of some of the characters to new ideas about structure. The piece has more clarity and speed, but still retains its gloriously epic, romantic quality.

How will the show change from DTC to the Public Theater?
The writers and creative team will continue to develop the piece, not just until opening night in Dallas, but then in the months afterwards before the production in New York. Though the physical production, orchestrations, story and characters will remain consistent, the creators will be able to continue to refine and explore their vision in between the two productions. Even after months of workshops and readings, nothing is more clarifying and inspiring than experiencing a new musical with an audience. All of us will learn a great deal from the audiences in Dallas, which will then continue to inspire the creative team when they move on to the next leg of the journey at the Public.

What can people expect to experience when they come down to see Giant at DTC?
A large cast, a beautiful physical production, a ravishing score, and a musical that is grappling with large themes and ideas. It's an important piece with a big heart.

For more information about Giant at Dallas Theater Center, please visit

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Spring Conference...already!

The Fall Conference is barely over, and I'm already at work on the Spring Conference! I actually have been since June, when I traveled to two cities selected by the members as possible locations (on both trips I did double duty, attending a conference in one and visiting members in another). A lot goes into finding the right location for the conferences, both in New York and elsewhere. Hotels are great because they're all-in-one: Attendees can stay there, and facilities, catering and audio-visual services are all packaged together. Many factors are considered, taking into account the diversity of our membership. It's important to find a place where everyone will be comfortable and well taken care of, and is also affordable to all of the members. We also strive to keep NAMT's own costs down, so that we can pass those savings on to you in the lowest possible registration fees. And with all the time we spend in the conference room, it can't just be any old space. You'd be surprised how few hotels have event spaces with windows! It's important for me to make these trips to see the venues in person, try the food, and spend the night in the hotel when possible (it's worth noting that this doesn't cost NAMT anything, since the hotels are after our business and treat me pretty well!)

For the city, we survey the members periodically to see where you're interested in going. It's better for me if we have a member in town. Some host at their venues, but even if not, having local knowledge is extremely helpful.

The 2012 Spring Conference will be held on March 22-24 in Seattle, WA. We have an amazing rate at the beautiful W Hotel, which I think you'll all like very much, and we'll also spend time at the 5th Avenue Theatre and Village Theatre. Save the date and watch for details in the coming weeks!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fall Conference 2011 - Inspiration in Tough Times

In addition to the Festival of New Musicals, NAMT held our annual Fall Conference for our members and invited guests last weekend.  Since it takes place in conjunction with the Festival, the Fall Conference typically focuses on new works.  This year we decided to take a more holistic approach, looking at the overall health and future of the art form and the industry.

We couldn't have asked for a better start than the keynote speech by legendary director and producer Harold Prince.  Hal spoke passionately about his long career and the state of the field today, with particular focus on what he sees as a lack of mentoring opportunities for young producers and artists, and a lack of singular "creative producers" in a world where making theatre has become prohibitively expensive and making a living as an artist seems next to impossible.  That sounds dour but it wasn't!  I think the attendees were inspired by the challenge to support young artists and create work with passion – something at which most NAMT members already excel.

From there we heard from a wide variety of educators about how they are working to train exactly the next generation that Hal spoke about nurturing.  We spoke about young musical theatre writers who have never heard of Sondheim (!), who are coming to the field with stories to tell and all sorts of musical styles in their backgrounds.  Plus actors, directors and more, and how we're preparing them to enter the industry with new works and classics alike.

The last panel of the day was a challenging one, addressing the issues of racial diversity (or lack thereof) in musical theatre.  This hour-long session could easily have been twice as long, as the issues ranged so widely, including color-blind casting ("I prefer non-traditional, color-specific casting," said Ralph Remington of the NEA, meaning a conscious choice made to change a character's race), diversity of stories being told, and audience outreach to different communities. It was a great discussion that barely scratched the surface, but challenged attendees to think about these issues and how we can serve the art, and our communities – both artistic and in the audience.

Day two began with an unexpected bonus: Ralph Remington from the NEA talked with us about changes at the NEA and the current state of federal funding for the arts.  As anyone following the news will have guessed, it wasn't the best news we heard this day!  But it was a great opportunity for NAMT members to gain insight into the granting process and have a dialogue about the challenges they face and the goals of the NEA.

Segueing nicely, four NAMT members shared stories and case studies of how they've been able to keep costs down during the recession without sacrificing the quality their audiences expect.  Attendees came away with adaptable, scalable ideas they could use in their own theatres. 

The next panel looked at the challenges of recording new shows for promotion or sale, especially regional productions.  Cast albums are essential to getting new shows "out there" to potential new fans and producers, but they're expensive to make and rarely make much money back. Fortunately our panel included people who are passionate and committed to preserving new shows, including Sh-K-Boom Records founder Kurt Deutsch, and the Grammys' Elizabeth Healy, who made sure we knew that any cast album can be submitted for a Grammy Award, not just Broadway shows, and that without submissions the category could be in danger.

Next up was a continuation of last year's session on continued life for new works – the challenges of getting second productions and beyond.  A lot has changed in the last twenty years or so.  How does a new work enter the canon, especially if it doesn't go through Broadway first?  There were no easy answers, but the NAMT members seem to be leading the charge to keep the new works pipeline going.

After lunch and some small group discussions, we came back together to end the conference with a session on new looks at classic works, and how NAMT member theatres are adapting classics to fit their spaces and budgets, and to appeal to new audiences, with the support of the licensers and estates.

It was a very inspiring and information-filled two days, only slightly hampered by unseasonal snow!  I personally always find our conferences very energizing, as I love seeing our members and hearing about all the great theatre happening around the country.  It's encouraging to see members sharing ideas and resources, taking techniques that are scalable and adaptable to organizations of all different sizes.

NAMT conferences are open to members and invited guests only.  The next one will be held on March 22-24, 2012 in Seattle and will be about marketing. I hope to see you there!