Friday, October 12, 2012

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: Making the most of rehearsals

A guest blog entry from Itamar Moses, one of the writers of Nobody Loves You, about the secret blessings of only have 25 hours to put together your show for the Festival

There's a possibly apocryphal story that I'm too lazy to verify right now about a Russian director who was asked how long he wanted to rehearse a production of Chekhov. He said, "Two years." When he was told that that was impossible he said, "In that case, two days."

Actors will often tell you that their best performance in rehearsal is at the first read-through and that they spend the remainder of the rehearsal process gradually working their way back there, hopefully arriving by opening night.

All this came to mind when I sat down to write a blog post on the subject of presenting a musical with only a few days to rehearse, which is what you have to do when your lucky enough to have your musical in NAMT. Because having only twenty-some-odd hours of rehearsal is, in a way, not as big a burden as one might imagine. There's a spontaneity, an instinctive tendency towards surprising and daring choices, to which performers often have access early in a process that actually becomes more difficult (for a while) as those initial impulses are gradually complicated by the questions and alternatives that inevitably arise when you start to live with material for weeks or months instead of days. And while all of that exploration leads (ideally) to deeper and more nuanced performances on the other side, there's a long slog through the desert of murky confusion in between in the midst of which it's probably best not to make an audience sit through what you've got. That's why the (possibly fictional) Russian director's second choice after having all the time in the world was to have almost no time at all.

All of which is to say that there's something clarifying, simplifying, even useful, about having just enough time

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


A guest entry from Valerie Vigoda, Lyricist of Sleeping Beauty Wakes, about final preparations for the Festival.  

Okay, technically it's one day away - but that's because the whole process of NAMT is such a whirlwind; time seems to go faster than usual, and it feels like we have just started rehearsal.
We've got one more two-hour runthrough-plus-notes session today, with the full cast + Brad Haak on piano + our wonderful Gene Lewin on drums  - and then that's it! Performance Thursday morning (we kick off the festival at 10:30 AM)...and after yesterday's terrific rehearsal, I feel really good about the whole thing. I can't wait!

Gene, Brad, Nicholas, Olli, Mary Jo
and Katrina at sound check,
photo by Vigoda for NAMT
These actors, some of whom came in at the very, very last minute (for instance, Christy Altomare, who is starring as “Rose”, came in to save our butts two days AFTER rehearsals had begun!) - they are ALL AMAZING and doing something truly heroic, which is learning these roles in 25 hours of rehearsal - actually even less, in most cases -and then portraying them as if they'd been in production for months. 

Yesterday felt like a turning point - where the nervousness seemed to vanish and the whole cast started relishing and enjoying what they were doing, really sinking in to their parts...and the energy in the room truly started to pop. Brad the music director smiled more and more, and so did Marcy the stage manager. Always a good sign.

There are some pretty tricky close harmonies for our four patients - and I've never seen singers learn their parts so fast and so accurately. There's a wall of energized, perfectly in tune,

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: On The Road To NAMT Fest-- 3 Writers talk about the NAMT experience

"On The Road To NAMT" will be a special sub-series of the Festival Countdown featuring blogs from Tom Mizer (Book & Lyrics of TRIANGLE) that will also be featured as part of his blog The Broadway Blog.  This is Tom's second entry in the series. 

William Ryall, Robin de Jesus, Sarah Stiles, Damon Daunno, Nancy Opel & Nicolette Hart rehearsing "Bleeding Love". Photo by Jason Schafer.
Writing musicals can be a lonely business. Most of the time it’s just you and a collaborator in a room together. So when I was presented with the chance to talk with a few of my fellow writers presenting shows at NAMT this year, I jumped at the chance. If nothing else, it would be like group therapy. But rhymed.
Just over a week ago, I sat down with two amazing writers: Gaby Alter, composer and co-lyricist of the recent Old Globe hit Nobody Loves You; and Harris Doran, lyricist for the post-apocalyptic fairy taleBleeding Love. With presentation preparations hitting high gear, we took a brief moment to breathe, talk about our inspirations and discuss the best part of writing versus acting in a musical (hint: booze).
Gaby Alter. Photo by Stephen Mallon.
When did you get the bug to write music theater because…how old are you?
GABY: Old.
HARRIS: I’m younger.
GABY: Usually people are younger than me.
HARRIS: You look younger.
GABY: Well, thank you.
And I’m the oldest one in the room so shut up.
HARRIS: But you look younger than me.
That’s staying in the final interview.
My point is that when I look back and think about when I was in high school and college, music theater was not popular. There’s a renaissance right now…
HARRIS: Is there? Because of Glee?
When I talk to an 18 year-old or a 22 year-old, within a certain segment, they think music theater is cool.
HARRIS: True. There are musical movies now and Glee and something else…
And Smash. There are certainly now people wanting to get into the field. An excitement. And that wasn’t so much the case when I was that age. So how did you start?
GABY: It was sort of an accidental thing, a convergence of stuff that I did. It was after high school and I had a friend who wrote plays. He was like, “Want to write a musical?” It was over the summer. Neither of us were musical fans. It’s not like I hated musicals, I just knew very little about them except what I knew as kid. I knew the Rogers and Hammerstein stuff. He said, “Do you want to write a rock musical?” And I said, “Yeah, sure.” But I thought it was a ridiculous idea.
GABY: I also didn’t think we were going to do it. Especially when you’re 17 or 18, you say so but…actually he had a whole plan and he was very organized. He came over the next day and had some lyrics.
HARRIS: Oh wow.
GABY: So we ended up doing it over that summer. And it was the high of doing it. “Let’s get our friends who were actors in high school and involve everybody.” And you invite your family and you feel really cool because you’re all of a sudden on stage. I hadn’t had that experience except in a band. But it was easier for me to write stuff in that format. I was writing with him. “You do this and I’ll do that.” There are clear guidelines. Like fun homework. I really responded to collaborating and working as a group… Later I came to appreciate musicals and how difficult writing the really good ones is.

Monday, October 8, 2012


A guest blog entry from Ben Clark, composer/lyricist for The Circus in Winter, about getting ready for the Festival

In this week of rehearsals, we have seen our production grow up right before our eyes. The Circus in Winter has had nine staged readings in various forms over its three years in existence and one fully staged production, all at Ball State University, where the concept to bring the novel to life on stage was born. 

But this is New York City, and we have the privilege of casting actors for the first time in our show's young life. Not only age-appropriate, but also Equity members with Broadway credentials. You just can't argue with a deal like that. 

The Circus in Winter in rehearsal,
photo by Ben Clark for NAMT
For myself personally, it is a new territory in that I have always played the guitar and led most rehearsals for the previous readings and production. Thanks to Music Director Matthew Webb and guitarist Eli Zoller, I won't be required for those roles at NAMT. It was a fearful, uncomfortable beginning in my head as I approached our rehearsal space on West 18th Street, but I was quickly reassured by Matt's careful interpretation of my pieces. He, as well as the rest of our production team and the NAMT festival coordinators, all have a presence in rehearsal that suggests a nurturing of new work. They all want your material to be the best it can be, and that pulls practicality and honesty out of these professionals. 

Each added experience tops the rest. Victoria Bussert joined

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: First Rehearsal...

A special entry from Harris Doran, lyricist of Bleeding Love, about their first (ever) rehearsal for their Festival show.  

After months of watching hundreds upon hundreds of youtube videos, our six person Broadway dream cast —Damon Daunno, Robin de Jesus, Nicolette Hart, Nancy Opel, William Ryall, Sarah Stiles— stepped out of youtube, walked through the door, and were casually chatting and snacking on the honey wheat pretzels I had bought for them. 


We didn't know what to expect, because BLEEDING LOVE has the great fortune of being chosen for NAMT after never even having a table read, so the first time the cast was reading the script was the first time we had ever heard the script read out loud other than the one day we spent recording songs for our demo—or that time Jason and I read though the script in a rehearsal studio. We were decent.

I'm sweating, couldn't sleep the night before, nervously eating the organic black licorice bits I had also bought for the actors. We had worked very hard to get a cast that was as bold and unique as the piece. Each of them a shining star all in one room, and I had lost my sunglasses earlier in the day, so I happily accepted the glare. Back to the sweating... the script is cracked open and John Michael Crotty, our fantastic stage manager (highly recommend), is reading the stage directions. So casual. Having no idea how he's the first one to read our stage directions, which of course would have no significance to anyone else in the world but us. And our mothers. And we're off.

One by one watching these actors feel as if they had walked off of the page and were suddenly sitting in chairs around the table.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

FROM THE ROAD: A Coast to Coast Summer

One of my favorite parts of my job is getting the chance to visit our members around the country.  There is no better way to take the pulse of the industry and help discover new ways for us to serve our members than to meet them on their home turf, see their shows and meet their staffs.  Summer is the busiest travel time for the NAMT staff because it is when the number of shows skyrocket in our member theatres.  My summer was filled with 10 productions (7 of them premieres),  2 workshops and 6 readings from New York to California, from Vermont to Tennessee.  We a few Festival shows and National Fund for New Musicals (NFNM) grant recipients along the way. 

Here is the quick rundown (NAMT member theatres and Festival shows are bolded blue):

Los Angeles, CA- World premiere of Los Otros at Center Theatre Group 
San Diego, CA- World premiere of Nobody Loves You (NAMT Fest '12, past NFNM Project Development Grant) and Scottsboro Boys at The Old Globe, world premiere of Hands on a Hardbody at La Jolla Playhouseand the chance to sit in on a rehearsal for Harmony, Kansas (NFNM Production Grant, past Writers Residency Grant) at Diversionary Theatre.
New York, NY- World premiere of February House (past NFNM Project Development Grant) at The Public Theater, reading of Suprema (NFNM Writers Residency Grant) at Ars Nova and Speargrove Presents (NFNM Writers Residency Grant) at New York Theatre Barn

Connecticut- Readings of When We Met and String at The O'Neill Theatre Center, production of Mame at Goodspeed Musicals

New York, NY- Production of Triassic Parq (by Festival alumnus Marshall Pailet) produced by Amas Musical Theatre and New Musical Development Foundation at SoHo Rep  
East Haddam, CT- Final dress of Carousel at Goodspeed Musicals
Poughkeepsie, NY- Workshop of Murder Ballad (by Fest alumna Julia Jordan) at Vassar Powerhouse

Rhinebeck, NY- Reception for Beatsville (NAMT Fest '08) at Rhinebeck Writers Retreat
Palo Alto, CA- TheatreWorks Festival of New Works with readings of Being Earnest and Triangle (NAMT Fest '12) and a developmental production of The Trouble With Doug (NAMT Fest '10)

New York, NY- Reading of notes to MariAnne (NAMT Fest '11) at New York Theatre Workshop
Weston, VT- World premiere of Pregnancy Pact (NAMT Fest '11) at Weston Playhouse Theatre Co.  
Crossville, TN- Regional premiere of Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge (NAMT Fest '11) at Cumberland County Playhouse
New York, NY- Broadway Bound concert at Merkin Hall featuring songs from Watt?!? and The Dogs of Pripyat, both from the 2011 Festival 

And I am pretty sure I am missing a few. 

I got a lot more out of these trips than a wallet full of receipts and slight confusion as to my time zone.  I was fortified in my belief that our members and alumni are creating, producing and exploring the best musical theatre in the country.  They are continually engaging, challenging and building audiences through their great work.  They are not resting on their laurels but pushing forward.  

It is very hard to find a show today that does not have the NAMT stamp somewhere on it...and that makes me very proud to be just a small part of any show that adds to the crazy tapestry of musicals across the country.  The great work continues all over the country, and I'm the lucky one who gets to take in at least a fraction of it.   

Monday, October 1, 2012

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: Recording the demo

A guest entry from Julianne Wick Davis, composer of Southern Comfort

Years ago, a friend showed me a YouTube video of a local cable talent show from the early 80’s.  One of the acts was a woman with a thick cockney accent who had a two-sided conversation with herself about demos. “What’s a demo, you say?”  And then answering herself, “Well, Libby, it’s a recordin’ of me singin’ voice.”  I appreciate this woman’s ability to boil it down to the essence, but geez, if only demos were that simple!  The demo is the calling card for your show, and since the score of your show doesn’t come to life unless someone plays it and sings it, demos are obviously the most important piece of representation musicals have.

Recently my collaborator, Dan Collins and I thought it was best to expand upon an earlier version of our demo for SOUTHERN COMFORT as part of our preparation for the NAMT Festival of New Musicals.  We recorded 8 songs several years ago, but since then the show had grown and changed and some of the recordings weren’t even relevant anymore. Our goal was to record as many songs from the show as possible, keeping several of the recordings from the earlier demo.  This kind of goal involves a lot of people and the merging of many schedules, but it is worth every hurdle to get it right. 

Once the list of songs was made, the negotiating of the schedules began.  Since our show uses all acoustic instruments, we decided it was best to record everyone live together as opposed to laying down different tracks.  I had a window of about 7 hours one day where I could gather David Lutken, Joel Waggoner, Lizzie Hagstedt, and Jeffrey D. Smith.  Because I had such an amazing team of musicians, we ended up recording the instrumental tracks for 11 songs in under 5 hours.  Having everyone play together doesn’t leave you a lot of room for fixing any errors.  If one person screws up, you have to start over.  The guitar player’s best take might be the bass player’s worst take, but we took our chances—it was too important to us to have that feeling of a live performance on the demo. 

Which brings up the question:  “To orchestrate or not orchestrate?”  Dan and I decided a long time ago when we did the first round of demo recordings for SOUTHERN COMFORT that the orchestration was important in understanding the story and tone of the show.  Early in our writing careers I remember hearing people say that it’s not important to have orchestration on your demos, after all, they’re demos.  Our experience has shown us otherwise.  Orchestration on your demo helps the producer/artistic director/new works director understand the aesthetic quality of your musical. 

Orchestration was not a question for us; however, one element of our recording that lead to a lot of discussion was whether or not to include any dialogue in songs that contained scenes.  Does it make no sense otherwise?  Will it sound like a bad radio play?  Is it the best idea for this particular show? We decided that even though we had an amazing production at Cap21 in 2011, we could not call it our definitive production because we have made changes since then and probably will continue to make changes as we seek development.  We didn’t want to be left with songs on a demo that suffer from “older-draftitis,” so we decided to leave out the dialogue.

Oh, I should mention that we did not go into a fancy studio.  We had a tiny budget.  We asked friends who had played/sung the score before, many from our Cap21 cast last year.  Instrumentals were done in a classroom at the NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.  Vocals were done in the small recording studio in the department, although at one point they were going to be done in my living room in Inwood. 

What this demo experience has taught me is that all you really need is a decent room, a quality microphone, and people who are well-rehearsed.  Now, THAT is boiling it down to the essence, Libby…