Over two days, I listened to six new musicals at the 29th Annual Festival of New Musicals -- hosted by the National Alliance of Musical Theatre . Actually, it was six, 45-minute concert-style excerpts. Also two cabarets of new songs and a one-hour showcase for songwriters. The eight main musicals were selected from 240 submissions.
For two days, I immersed myself in what's going on with new musicals, and scouted for Micheline's composer/lyricist partner. I had no idea what to expect, and in fact I was imagining a small scale gathering for folks in suits and maybe a platform stage and a ring of music stands, like you might see at a backers audition or a talent show.
This was a giant, shining and well put together machine -- a Convention of Producers, Writers, and Composers, supported by top of the line singers, technical people and administrators. If you don't know NEW WORLD STAGES, it's home to five theaters on at least three floors. It's contemporary, new and cavernous. The spaces are large and fully equipped. For this festival, the place was full.
Throngs of people waited in several different lines, or they talked to writers, or interrogated the hard-working staff for where to go next. And all the while there were huddles of people, out on the main floor, catching up with each other and talking shop.
After coming out of one reading that had a full house of considerable size, I asked a staffer what percentage of that audience was connected to the musical or were people who worked for NAMT or the festival. She said those groups all together are a "miniscule" part of an audience.
So who was there? Producers, artistic directors, leaders of development programs, musical theater aficionados, academics and program directors, actors, directors, writers and singers -- professionals from around the country and the world. I had a decent chat with a fellow from Scotland!
I also had the good fortune of meeting Keith Cromwell, Executive Director at the Red Mountain Theatre in Birmingham, Alabama. Keith listened to the CompassNeedle story, and I offered him a short history of Micheline's Musical and how I had come to look for a fiercely skilled, multi-talented composer. He said, "I don't know why I'm telling you this, but I have an instinct..."
Now...I will pause here for moment. Because people often begin in this way when they talk about CompassNeedle and our projects, and I've begun to love hearing it, because it seems to be a signal for some kind of blessing, either direct or indirect.
"I have an instinct," he said, "that you should reach out to a fantastic lyricist and composer I know who are ready to explode and this is their time, and their names are _________________, and here's her phone number." Sorry to make it anonymous, but if we talk, I'll ask if I can mention names later.
Thank you, Keith.
I also ran into Rick Edinger, currently Musical Director and Professor at Shenandoah Conservatory. We had a good chat and it was nice to see this very conscientious faculty member at S.U. digging into new musicals in the city.
I have to mention Ciera Iveson, the New Works Director. As hundreds of us were scooting in and out of back-to-back presentations in various spaces, we’d get booted from one space and in minutes be led into another for yet another show. Every time I was led into a theater, there she was! -- calmly standing at the bottom, by the stage, surveying the room and talking on her headset with the SM for the upcoming show. She must have been seven people.
In all seriousness, I mention her because although she was clearly one of the experts, she was also part of a whole group of staffers and helpers who worked the miracle of those two days. They did excellent work.
Making a GREAT musical is difficult business. Most things were very good, and one or two were utterly beautiful -- and all were in development, or at least in the later stages. Next entry will be thoughts on what we're looking for and what I learned about what makes a musical work.
It was an amazing education, and so inspiring. I would not have guessed that so many enthusiastic and energized people would give two days to see what's going on with new talent. Absolutely exciting! I'm happy to be in this neighborhood.