Friday, January 27, 2012

New Work in Progress: A ROOM WITH A VIEW at The Old Globe Theatre

An interview with Eric Louie, Associate Producer at The Old Globe Theatre, about their upcoming production of A Room with a View by Marc Acito and Jeffrey Stock, happening this summer.

Amid the golden sunlight and violet-covered hills of Tuscany, sheltered English girl Lucy Honey Church meets freethinking George Emerson. For the first time, she glimpses a world of longing and passion she never imagined. Back in her corseted Edwardian life, Lucy must decide whether to yield to convention or give up everything she has ever known. Comic, romantic, satirical and real, A Room with a View blends a gorgeous score with this timeless story that gives a new voice to these unforgettable characters.

How did The Old Globe discover A Room with a View?
Director Scott Schwartz is an Old Globe alum (Golda’s Balcony, Lost in Yonkers, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound). The project came to us a little under a year ago and we fell in love with it.

How closely does the show follow the story of the book or the movie?
It definitely follows the book, but as with any adaptation for the stage, there are of course changes—some characters are combined or cut, some dramatic moments added, etc. We’re true to the heart of the story and the characters.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Work in Progress: POOL BOY at NYU: Steinhardt

An interview with John Simpkins, faculty member at New York University's The Steinhardt School and director of Pool Boy by Nikos Tsakalakos and Janet Allard, which NYU will produce in March at the Provincetown Playhouse in New York City.

A young singer-songwriter from New Jersey lands a job as a pool boy at the Hotel Bel-Air. Trying to parlay his interaction with celebrities into his own dreams of fame and fortune, he encounters people who see him only as a servant. As he learns “the game” and the lifestyle around him, he falls for the one other “real” thing poolside—a girl named April. Nick must choose between ambition and love—and struggle with how this fake, material world might even give him what he never knew he needed—something to write about.

NYU Steinhardt has been developing new musicals every spring for over 10 years now. Tell us a little about the program and its goals.
This facet of the NYU Steinhardt program [in Vocal Performance] is dedicated to working on shows that we feel we can help to the next phase of life in whatever way seems most beneficial to the specific project and writers. In some cases, we have provided a workshop-type experience with rewrites every day, the first chance for writers to see something out from behind music stands and “on its feet.” In other cases, the show has already had productions and we can offer the chance to implement any large changes the writers may want [...] in a low-pressure environment.

What benefits do the writers get from working with students?

Our students are in class every day asking questions about characters, analysis of songs as an actor, strong choices they can make, etc. Having that kind of critical and process-based thinking involved in the rehearsal room can only benefit the development process. Our students have also (hopefully!) not yet learned any of the political side of being an actor—it is as utopian a situation as one can expect with regard to the personalities in the room! We are also able to offer a long and luxurious (over 6 weeks) rehearsal process, which allows for constant exploration and experimentation in rehearsal and in the writing process.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

FROM THE ROAD: A weekend in Connecticut

For the past 4 winters, I have spent a January weekend in Connecticut catching a show at The Spirit of Broadway Theater and attending Goodspeed Musicals' Festival of New Artists. It is one of my favorite annual excursions to see great new musicals and catch up with members and writers.

I started out my trip with a visit to see The Spirit of Broadway's production of the new musical The Boy in the Bathroom by Michael Lluberes and Joe Mahoney. This beautiful and touching production was directed by Brett Bernardini. The three-person show tells the story of a young man who chooses to live locked in the bathroom of his mother's house while he finishes his dissertation. It is a quirky story rendered wonderfully in this production. The show is running through February 5.

It was then off to Goodspeed's 7th Festival of New Artists
in partnership with The Hartt School and Boston Conservatory. This year there were 3 staged readings of new musicals, 2 cabarets and a sneak peak at one of the new musicals Goodspeed will present this season. The readings this year were:

Harmony, Kansas by Anna K. Jacobs and Bill Nelson (a past recipient of a NAMT Writers Residency Grant at Barrington Stage Co.)
Not Wanted on the Voyage by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill (the writers of NAMT Fest '07 show- The Story of My Life)
The Dogs of Pripyat (NAMT Fest '11) by Jill Abramovitz, Aron Accurso and Leah Napolin.

Also in residency that weekend working on other shows were Jeremy Desmon (NAMT Fest '04-The Girl in the Frame) and Jeff Thomson, NAMT Fest '11 (Dani Girl) writers Michael Kooman and Chris Dimond, and the team of Marcy Heisler, Zina Goldrich and Hunter Bell working on The Great American Mousical which was the special sneak peak musical that weekend.

As you can see, there were a whole lot of NAMT connections throughout the weekend with Festival alumni involved throughout. I had seen previous incarnations of all of the shows and was really excited to see all of the great work the writers have done on them. All of the shows have grown so much, and I hope that they all find great futures across the membership.

Post-show evenings were spent in cabarets in which the uber-talented writers listed above would entertain us with other songs from shows they are working on. Goodspeed knows how to pack a weekend with the perfect amount of art, fun, music and cocktails!

I love my January trip to Connecticut each year. I get to chat with members, see work from alumni and other great writers, but, most of all, I get a chance to spend a great weekend immersed in a community of new musicals. Not a bad way to spend a cold winter weekend!

Friday, January 6, 2012

So Long and Thanks for All the Tweets

The British sci-fi author and humorist Douglas Adams may seem an odd starting point for a National Alliance for Musical Theatre blog post (he never wrote a musical, as far as I know, though this is one of my all time favorite musical numbers ever filmed), but bear with me.  I'm reading The Salmon of Doubt, a posthumously published book of Adams' miscellaneous writings. He was a technophile and a notorious early adopter, and in an article about how computers use "real world" models for their interfaces, he compares the web to a brochure:

What does a brochure prevent us from doing?
Well, first of all its job is to persuade people to buy what you have to sell, and do it by being as glossy and seductive as possible and only telling people what you want them to know. You can't interrogate a brochure. Most corporate websites are like that. Take BMW for instance. Its website is gorgeous and whizzy and it won't answer your questions. It won't let you find out what other people's experience of owning BMWs is like, what shortcomings any particular model might or might not have, how reliable they are, what they cost to run, what they're like in the wet, or anything like that. In other words, anything you might actually want to know. You can email them, but your question or their answer – or anybody else's answer – will not appear on the site....
Same with British Airways. It'll tell you anything you like about British Airways flights except who else is flying those routes. So if you want to see what the choice is, you go instead to one of the scores of other sites that will tell you. Which is bad news for British Airways because they never get to find out what you were actually looking for, or how what they were offering stacked up against the competition. And because that is very valuable information they have to send out teams of people with clipboards to try to find out, despite the fact that everybody lies to people with clipboards.

Sounds familiar, right?  Adams wrote this in 1999.  More than a decade later we're still having a version of this conversation about theatre marketing. Of course, while actual brochures haven't changed much since the printing press, the web — or at least the technology behind it  —  has changed dramatically in just the last decade. I suspect that's part of why we still struggle with this. Adams died in 2000 and never knew Twitter or Facebook or Yelp (I suspect he would have loved them), but later in the piece he does cite the still-new Amazon as a place that sells you a product and lets you review it and knows what you searched for but didn't buy.  That's worked out pretty well for them!

Social media has made it easier than ever for us to connect with our patrons and fans.  How many of us are opening up to these conversations, and how many are making a 140-character brochure?  And what, of course, do the patrons themselves want? Do they want to have a conversation with you, or do they just want to see a show? Do they want your website to be a basic brochure...or do they actually want (need?) a paper brochure? Adams made it sound so simple in 1999, and maybe it seemed then like it would be. But the 21st century has provided us with many moving targets, combining old art forms (Adams himself originally made his name in radio plays) with new technologies, older generations of audiences and staff with younger ones.

I don't have an answer to any of this. I wonder if Adams would have. But I hope and believe we can find some answers  —  multiple ones, no doubt  —  together when we discuss marketing at the Spring Conference in March. We won't have to speculate; we'll have some of the top experts in musical theatre marketing in the room to share what's worked and what hasn't worked for them.  Just no one bring a clipboard so we know we're getting the truth!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Festival Show Update: BARNSTORMER

A catch-up with the writing team from Festival 2008 show Barnstormer, Douglas J. Cohen and Cheryl K. Davis. The show was one of our first National Fund for New Musicals Production Grant Recipients in 2009.

Before Amelia Earhart, there was Bessie Coleman—the first Black aviatrix who rose from the cotton fields of Texas and the barbershops of Chicago to finally conquer the skies of France. Her brief but dynamic life inspired the disenfranchised to pursue their dreams, including her own nephew who became a Tuskegee Airman.

After the Festival, you headed down to Red Mountain Theatre Co. (RMTC) for your first production. What was it like being down in Alabama for the show?
It was thrilling being in such an historic city. We had the chance to tour that city’s wonderful Civil Rights Institute. One of the last surviving major civil rights leader from the 50’s and 60’s, Reverend Shuttleworth, later attended a performance of Barnstormer.Our theater was only about four blocks away from the 16th Street Baptist church that was bombed in 1963, tragically killing four girls. An additional two blocks away was the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. Artistic Director Keith Cromwell was kind enough to put us up during the production. He and his staff couldn’t have been more welcoming.

What did you learn about the show on its feet?
We wrote two new songs going into the production. When one of them didn’t comfortably fit our lead’s voice, we ended up rewriting the lyrics to “Grounded” and moving that song to a new spot in the show. We also had written a great deal of narrative for adult Arthur (Bessie’s nephew) but realized it wasn’t dramatic having him continually address the audience. Much of this new text was jettisoned, and ended up only using Arthur to bookend the piece. We also cut a song near and dear to our hearts that was sung by Bessie’s mother and sister-in-law at her funeral […] but we may have too been hasty cutting the elegy as it gave the audience a chance to mourn Bessie and understand the personal loss her family experienced.

While there, you actually created a couple of different versions of the show for RMTC’s use. What was it like cutting down the show (again) and presenting the different versions?
We created both a shortened version of the show for presentation to student audiences, and a one-woman version of the show for school touring purposes. We tried to use the process of creating these versions to re-focus and clarify Bessie’s through-line in the piece as a whole.

What changes were made after RMTC?
We didn’t have another chance to work on Barnstormer until Artistic Director/Producer Sheila Kay Davis optioned our musical for Off Broadway’s New Professional Theatre. We took this opportunity to implement a major change and introduce a love interest for Bessie. There isn’t much known about her personal life, but she was briefly married and did have some interests aside from aviation. We believe that revealing additional passions has humanized her. We wrote a new number for the couple, as well as a number in a Paris nightclub to open Act Two. It always seemed strange that Bessie travels all the way to France to learn how to fly, yet we barely introduced her and our audience to the celebrated Parisian culture. [Our director] felt strongly about hiring an integrated cast; previously Barnstormer had only been presented with an all African American cast. At the height of her career, Bessie would only fly at integrated airshows, so it made sense to incorporate white actors and characters into our show; this also helps us illustrate racial conflict more directly in earlier scenes. Lastly, we revisited the opening containing “Cotton and the Clouds," and we believe the number at last 'takes flight' within the context of the show.

After this recent reading, what is on the horizon for Barnstormer?
The reading was very successful, and now Sheila is meeting with corporations, foundations, and individuals to help us bring our show to Off Broadway. She is also discussing it seriously with two respected regional theaters who have expressed interest in presenting Barnstormer prior to a New York engagement.

New Work in Progress: Festival of New Artists at Goodspeed Musicals

An interview with Goodspeed Musicals' Line Producer Donna Lynn Hilton about their 7th Annual Festival of New Artists happening January 13-15. The Festival is in partnership with fellow NAMT members The Hartt School and Boston Conservatory. The line-up includes readings of NAMT Festival Show The Dogs of Pripyat, Not Wanted on the Voyage from the NAMT alumni writers who wrote The Story of My Life, and Harmony, Kansas. There will also be late-night cabarets featuring NAMT alumni writers Jeremy Desmon, Michael Kooman and Chris Dimond. Plus special events all weekend!

What are the goals of the Festival of New Artists?
We have a number of goals for the festival…to provide a safe haven for very “young” musicals; to provide the opportunity for collaboration at a very early stage in the development of a new musical—for everyone involved—writers, directors, musical directors and performers; to provide young musical theatre performers the rare opportunity to participate in the creation of a new musical and its characters; and to give [these young musical theatre performers] access to the professional writers, directors, MDs and performers.

Having been at the Festival for the last 3 years, I have seen it really blossom. What additions do you have in store for us this year?
We haven’t expanded the programming of our festival weekend much this year but are very proud that, in addition to the 3 teams presenting their full musicals during the festival weekend, we are able to host 3 teams of writers for Festival Residencies and will feature the work of these teams in our Festival Cabarets. One of those teams will present a “sneak peek” at an exciting new musical being developed by Goodspeed and scheduled for the Norma Terris Theatre in 2012.

How did the collaboration with the Universities start and how does the students’ involvement shape the Festival?
The collaboration between the Hartt School (now in its 7th year) and with the Boston Conservatory (in its 2nd year) is a direct result of relationships begun and developed through our work with NAMT. Goodspeed wanted to provide another outlet for supporting new musical development in our quieter winter months and the universities were looking to expose their students to professional opportunities and training. It was a perfect match.

What is the Festival experience like for the writers?
The main focus of the first 11 days of the festival is on the writers, giving them the opportunity to hear their work read and encouraging them to respond to it with revision. The Festival presentations, while an important piece of the puzzle, are somewhat secondary from the writers’ perspective. Several years ago, in response to a similar question, one of our Festival writer said… “the presentation is our gift to Goodspeed for allowing us to be here for two weeks, to work on and rewrite our show.”

Goodspeed really provides a whole weekend experience filled with new musicals. What do you hope your patrons walk with when they leave the Festival weekend?
Several things – an appreciation for and understanding of the passion, hard work and commitment that go into developing a new musical; excitement about the talent that is entering the field today; and, of course, an acknowledgement of what a truly wonderful place East Haddam and Chester, CT and Goodspeed’s Artists Village are to develop and present musical theatre, established and new.

Why should your fellow members come to beautiful snowy East Haddam in January to catch the Festival?
You really won’t regret joining us…the synergy created by the art and artists on display will thrill you and inspire you as it has us each January for the past 7 years. In many ways, the Festival is the most exciting project we mount all year long.

For more information about Goodspeed Musicals' Festival of New Artists, please visit