Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New Work In Progress: GIRLS VS BOYS

An interview with Henry Fonte, Chair of the University of Miami's Department of Theatre Arts, about their upcoming production of Girls vs Boys, written by Nathan Allen, Chris Mathews, Jake Minton & Kevin O'Donnell, this November 1-11.

Girls vs Boys explores the complicated lives of modern high schoolers as they manage their way through the funny, violent and emotionally turbulent period of adolescence. The story focuses on Casey, a young man who distances himself from not only his fellow classmates but also his sister, Sam, a freshman at his high school. Casey and Sam share a dark past that pulls them together while still keeping them at arm's length.

How did you find the show?
This season we decided to look for a new contemporary musical that could be developed by the University and The Adrienne Arsht Center. We were on our way to producing something else when the negotiations collapsed. Scott Shiller, our co-producer at The Arsht, who already had a very strong relationship with The House Theatre of Chicago, had seen the original workshop of Girls vs Boys by our good friends at Northwestern University’s American Musical Theatre Project, and suggested we pursue it. Girls vs Boys made sense on many creative levels and also has the potential to attract young, diverse, multi-cultural ticket buyers.

What drew you to the show and how does it fit with the goals of your program?
Girls vs Boys focuses an unblinking eye on the pent up rage, sexuality, fear and humor that all young people experience. Its themes are universal and, still today, swept under the carpet as we adults try to fight these feelings through medicating kids into NOT feeling, or at least not displaying or “acting out” on those feelings. The most obvious fit is the fact that the cast is exclusively young. There are no adult characters. It also fits with our mission, which in part is to develop new, edgy and exciting work for the American Theatre. This creative collaboration with one of the premier performing arts centers in the southern United States, which also happens to be in our own backyard, offers students a paid, real-world working experience on a world-class stage and ensures that they will have a competitive edge upon graduation.

How will the show be developed while at U of Miami?
We will first do a two-week workshop with the full cast, our creative team and the writing team from The House Theatre. This workshop will concern itself with the story, and how the story is presently served by the book, songs and the current structure. Nothing will be off the table. After that, we will begin a four-week rehearsal towards the production. The show will be co-produced by us and The Arsht, where it will play, in its beautiful, state-of-the-art Carnival Studio Theater.
In addition to featuring students-as-professionals on stage, the production also provides students majoring in technical theatre and design to work side-by-side with the Arsht Center’s production team–helping to create professional sets, costumes and lighting design; assisting stage managers and other key production positions.

What is the thing you are most excited to see when the show gets in front of an audience?
Like all great art, Girls vs Boys has the potential to be highly polarizing. The subscription audiences at both The Arsht and UM’s Ring Theatre, plus our students and the single ticket buyers will form a wildly diverse audience demographic. We look forward to seeing how different age groups react and empathize with the action unfolding before them. While we hope to please as many of these constituencies as possible, we also hope the show will retain some of its raw energy, force and the dangerous electric current that runs through the material. Also, the rock score is pretty exciting.

Why should your fellow members swing by Miami to catch the show?
If we do our job, Girls vs Boys will become, or be on its way to becoming, a very hot and exciting new property. We can’t have too many of those. It's new theatre. It's our job as theatre artists to support and encourage these new voices in as many stages of development as possible. And it’s Miami in November...What’s not to like?

For more information about Girls vs Boys, please click here.


An interview with John Fionte, New Works Director at Cumberland County Playhouse, about their upcoming production of 2011 Festival show Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge, by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel, playing Aug. 23-Oct. 26.

A pitch-dark comedy with the kick of moonshine, Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge transplants J.M. Synge's classic The Playboy of the Western World to 1930s Appalachia. Bluegrass music and backwoods mayhem abound in this coming-of-age story about a slapdash murder, a whirlwind romance and a most unlikely hero.

What drew Cumberland County Playhouse to Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge?
Producing Director Jim Crabtree first became aware of Golden Boy in 2009 through the authors' agent, and he asked me to pay particular attention to it when the show was presented in the 2011 Festival. We both felt that Golden Boy's rural Appalachian setting, combined with its bluegrass score, made the show something worth investigating.

Why is it a great show for your audience?
The Cumberland Plateau is a part of rural Appalachia. This region is fiercely proud of its rich musical heritage...and of the Scots-Irish roots of its culture. Peter Mills' compelling score celebrates both the contemporary bluegrass musical idiom, along with that music's deep Celtic roots. Additionally, our audience loves shows with onstage musicians, as is evidenced by the perennial popularity of Smoke on the Mountain, which is in its 19th consecutive year here at the Playhouse. Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge has all of that, and it's fresh, new and exciting. I hope it appeals to Smoke fans and beyond.

Are there any special approaches you are taking to the show?
Just as Pete and Cara wrote a play that's an intricate blend of the traditional and the contemporary, I've tried to give equal weight to both of those things in terms of the production. The choreography, staging, design aesthetic... all those choices are firmly grounded in Synge's Playboy of the Western World, but filtered through a contemporary eye. I've also been careful to always consider Golden Boy's Irish roots. While it's not particularly present in Playboy, Synge was part of an Irish literary tradition that was steeped in a sense of enchantment, of magical realism. I've tried to bring a sense of that to Golden Boy.

What are you most excited about when Golden Boy finally hits your stage?
I'm eagerly anticipating that first audience reaction. Golden Boy is so full of things that our rural Tennessee audiences love; but it's also full of surprises, of fresh new sights and sounds. I think it will be an electric experience.

Why should people check out the Playhouse and Golden Boy?
Cumberland County Playhouse is truly a gem that's nestled in a rural part of the country, so it remains undiscovered to some people. It's always a joy to hear first-time patrons express their surprise and delight to find such professionalism and exceptional production values in a small town. I hope that audiences will experience the same sense of excitement and delight when they experience Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge for the first time. It's really a remarkable musica,l and it deserves to be discovered by a much wider audience.

For more information, please visit www.ccplayhouse.com.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Playing to Win

A guest post by Music Director, Orchestrator and Composer Eli Zoller. Eli was the Music Director for Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge at the 2011 Festival of New Musicals. He asked if he could respond to Adam's recent post, which itself was a response to an article on Howard Sherman's blog. We were more than happy to keep the conversation going!

I'd been struggling with my identity in the theatre for a while. For the multitude of professionals in this business, we've all had times where we've looked in the mirror and asked the daunting question, "how do I 'fit' in this industry?" My question wasn't about my abilities on stage, confidence in my background, or my taste in current theatrical trends (though all weighed on my mind). I asked myself: "Am I in this as a dedicated professional, or as a dedicated fan?"  

I didn't grow up a theatre fan; I grew up a sports fan. My heroes didn't score music, they scored touchdowns. However, my love was music and theatre, and today I find myself working in the very field that combines those two wonderful entertainment mediums into the perfect story-telling mechanism known as the musical. However, upon arriving in New York professionally, I quickly became frustrated to find that unbridled and unmatchable creativity had been replaced with add-water-and-stir box office gimmickry; these were not championship teams.

As a sports fan, there are two kinds of teams that the majority of fellow fans root for: the powerhouses (teams with a history of dominance in their sport) and the underdogs (teams that, on paper, don't match up to the others but still possess the intoxicating will to win…and every so often, they do!). Then there are the teams in the middle; the teams that lack some sort of spark or drive or full-bodied will to compete at the highest level. They think they can bare the same power and skill as the powerhouses, but don't know how to properly execute. They think they're better than the underdogs, but are too afraid of failure to go all-in against the toughest challenges. Instead, they play an over-calculated and timid game with underwhelming spirit, overburdened by outside opinion. With all of this focus on how not to fail, they don't trust their fans to be enough of a motivation for them to just go out and play their hearts out. As a result, their fans abandon them, broken-hearted.

Cast off from the love of theatre audiences of all ages for the powerhouses and underdogs, these "middle teams" are the equivalent of commercial musical theatre today. So far as the entire industry is concerned, the conversation about how to improve has got to start focusing around our honesty between us and our fans; otherwise, we risk losing them for good; the clock is ticking. We as theatrical professionals on all fronts seem intimidated by our surroundings and outside competition (television, film, iTunes, even reality shows), and that's exactly what turns our audiences away. We shouldn't be focus-grouping to decide what the next hit Broadway show should be; we should simply be aware of our culture and choose how to affect that culture with our craft as opposed to the other way around. People don't buy tickets to sporting events because they know the final score before the game starts; they want to see the action, feel the tension, experience the magic. We're robbing our audiences of that opportunity every time we ask ourselves "what sells today?" "how can we sound more like...?" "has it succeeded yet?" Of course, it has been argued that the quality of the material is the constant culprit, but to what extent can we see a future for our industry if the best of our abilities are being spent on high-quality duplicates of previous art?

I often feared that we'd need to build from the ground up a new musical theatre for Broadway's future, but it's out there; it just needs greater support and the time to start is now. It's certainly what our audiences expect of us as artists, and we owe it to them to be honest, eager, and unafraid to create an original musically theatrical experience. It's time we admitted it: we're underdogs! ...and we should rejoice! Audiences love an underdog! But being an underdog means playing like one. We need producers who will stop predicting box offices and start believing in artists. We need writers who'll start believing in their individualities instead of trying to sound like what's popular. That, and only that, is where the beginnings of a new commercial musical theatre will start. Pundits like Howard Sherman see the proper ways to view our art form on Broadway for potential, not just product. NAMT offers new voices to audiences by giving proud musical theatre underdogs a stage that has the ability to reach across the country. We may lose a lot before we start winning; but I'd rather leave it all on the field than come away with an average and forgettable record. Those are the teams I root for: the underdogs, the fighters, the believers; they never lose the appreciation of their fans, and the legacy of both them and their game lives on forever! It's a tough game, but I'm a die-hard fan and a die-hard professional, and I'm ready to play! 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: Promoting a show at the Festival

A guest blog entry from writer Gaby Alter, from Nobody Loves You, about promoting readings and shows to the industry.  Gaby was recently in the Festival with his show Band Geeks! in 2009.  

A demo recording for a musical is an odd thing. So much of the impact of a song in a musical depends on it being experienced live. The facial expressions of the actor often provide the subtext, or fight the subtext of the song. And hearing a score played live under the actor is one of the electrifying things about theater. It lets us know that the art is being created, in part, in front of us. It begs our active participation in imagining the story.

The fact is, however, that a demo recording is now critical to the fate of any musical. It represents the show to a producer, or a literary manager or artistic director, who are too busy to come to a reading (which can only happen in a blue moon anyway, given the resources it takes); or who live outside New York. If it's good, a demo will  transmit the piece's musical world and vocabulary. It will get people excited to see how the musical would look on stage.

For good or ill, the difference between a good quality demo and a so-so one is usually a large factor in a piece's perception. And, in an escalating arms race of quality, demos are now usually expected to be fully produced, often near-album quality pieces with vocal and instrumental arrangements, mixing, EQ-ing, etc.  As the need for a high-quality demo continues to rise, and the level of quality expected, so too does the cost, which generally falls on the artists.

To help this situation, NAMT has started a RocketHub campaign to help cover the costs of printing the demos of its musicals. Supporters of a specific musical, and those who care more broadly about the development of new musicals, can donate towards this cost, knowing that they are helping with a critical step in the process of realizing our shows onstage. With hundreds of CDs to give away to industry professionals, a musical's chance of finding its backers at NAMT and after it have risen greatly.

A small note: NAMT is the one festival where all costs related to the reading are covered. Once you're in, you're in--there are no rental fees, production costs, actors' stipends to pay. However, there still remains the cost of the demo, which is technically not part of the reading. And even at NAMT, not everyone can make it to every reading; many will still need to hear a recording. And those who do see a show they love still need to go back home and sell the show they loved to the rest of their staff.
So the demo remains an indispensable tool at NAMT.

Monday, August 13, 2012

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: The importance of demos

An important message from Brendan Milburn, composer of Sleeping Beauty Wakes, about why the writers need to have demos at the Festival.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: From the novel to the classroom to the stage to the Festival

A post from Beth Turcotte, bookwriter of The Circus in Winter, about where the show came from and its connection to arts education.  

The Circus in Winter is the product of an immersive learning project developed with support from the Virginia Ball Center, Ball State University in the spring of 2010.  The class consisted of fourteen remarkable students from five different disciplines from across the campus.  Over the course of three months, the students adapted the novel, The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day, into a musical.  Now, anyone who has ever directed, produced or taught, knows that some days working with a group of creative folks is like herding cats.  Then comes the day when you figure out which student is Antares, the anchor, and you become Ben Hur taking the curve with all four white horses perfectly lined up.

Image from the Ball State University production
Over the next two years concert performances took place on campus, at the Peru International Circus Hall of Fame and at Drury Lane-Oak Brook, Chicago, Illinois.  This past fall, Circus had a fully realized  production at Ball State University. This production was also an American College Theatre Festival entry.  Circus was selected as a regional participant for ACTF at the University of Illinois in January 2012 and recognized with eight Kennedy Center/ACTF Awards including Outstanding New Work this past May.

Although the students have all graduated and moved on to new adventures, they will forever be linked with this project.  Ben Clark, composer and lyricist, remains with Circus and will anchor it around its next curve.

The Circus in Winter is arts education at its best.

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: Directors and Music Directors announced

We are so excited to welcome many of this year's directors and musical directors for the Festival!  

Bonfire Night will be directed by Sam Buntrock (Tony nominated for the revival of Sunday in the Park with George) with music direction by Kimberly Grigsby (Spring Awakening).

Funked Up Fairy Tales will be directed by Jerry Dixon (who directed Red Clay in '10 and Barnstormer in '08 for us) with music direction by Steve Marzullo.

Nobody Loves You will be directed by Michelle Tattenbaum who directed its premiere at The Old Globe.

Sleeping Beauty Wakes will again be directed by Rebecca Taichman, who also helmed the McCarter Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse productions.

Southern Comfort will be reunited with the director and music director from their CAP21 workshop production last fall, Tom Caruso and Emily Otto, respectively.

Triangle will be directed by Meredith McDonough, who is directing a reading of it this weekend at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

The rest of the directors and music directors will be announced in the coming weeks.

Click here to read playbill.com's article about our creative teams.  

It is so great to have so many people returning to the Festival and to welcome many new faces as well!

Monday, August 6, 2012


A special video blog entry from Brendan Milburn, composer of Sleeping Beauty Wakes, who is returning to the NAMT Festival after last presenting Striking 12 in 2004 and Watt?!? in 2011.

Help out this year's writers, like Brendan, by supporting our RocketHub campaign to raise $5,000 to make all of the demos for this year's 8 songwriting teams.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


A post from Jason Schafer, bookwriter of Bleeding Love about where the show came from and what is means to his show to be accepted into the Festival.  

I’ve written a musical and I think hope pray know it’s amazing...  Now what?  For me, this question seems to surface when nearing the completion of the first full draft. Maybe it’s my brain putting off those final bits of work – before the rewriting begins, of course.  Or maybe, for the first time, so much of the show is actually written, it finally seems real.  It exists.  Not just in my head where it’s been for some time, but on paper.  It’s suddenly possible to visualize actors stopping the show with the songs, to imagine audiences laughing at the jokes or being moved (to tears?) by the characters and the story.

Bleeding Love began with a desire to write something that offered audiences a huge emotional experience.  I brainstormed a list of my most peculiar fascinations – anything that ever elicited a powerful and preferably mysterious response in me.  This included Brooklyn brownstones, the sound of a cello, Klaus von Brücker from the films of Bruce La Bruce, my childhood piano teacher, the fairytales of Oscar Wilde, my mother’s greenhouse, the line art of Aubrey Beardsley, longhaired men and punk goddess Nina Hagen, to name more than a few.  Hoping this unusual combination of elements might have a similar effect on others, I fashioned them into a narrative, but the result was so rarified, it seemed no one but me could possibly appreciate it.

Harris (lyrics) and Art (music) initially rejected my “rose story.”  “We want to write something commercial,” Harris said.  But as the three of us continued to talk about it, Bleeding Love’s very strangeness seemed to be its greatest selling point.  And commercial or not, it was a show all three of us wanted to see.  A year later, when we sat down in a New York rehearsal studio to read it through beginning to end, it was still starkly unique, but our collaboration had transformed it into something bigger, something more accessible, and – dare I say it? – something commercial.  Now what?

Bleeding Love was a finalist for the Richard Rodgers Award and now, the first public performance of any kind will be at NAMT’s Festival of New Musicals.  This is an extraordinary opportunity to present a show with a first-rate cast and director before an industry audience.  Because of this, Bleeding Love has the best possible chance of finding the right developmental path, whatever that may be.  NAMT’s guidance will allow us to find the right home and the right audience for our show.  And personally, it’s a thrill and an honor to be in the company of an amazing roster of writers whose work I have loved and admired.  Or at least read about on playbill.com.

The crazy list that started this journey did not include writing musicals, but it should have.  For me, NAMT’s recognition and support is a dream come true.  Now what?