Crazy Enough to Write a Musical

“If you write a musical and it is produced on Broadway you will never ever worry about money again.” — Producer Kevin McCollum

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NY Musical Festival (NYMF) Founder Emeritus Isaac Hurwitz, Mega Producer Kevin McCollum and NYMF Managing Director & Producer Dan Markley, share their insights and advice with authors selected for the 2015 Festival.

Dear New Musical Foundation,

I am in the process of writing a musical based on a true story about an all-girl band that was created in the early 1960's at my high school in Maryland. I noticed that even though Signature Theater, which is located in Virginia, does new musicals, it doesn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. Do you know of any theater in the Maryland, DC, or Virginia area that does work on new shows after their inception?

Thanks,

Lisa

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Signature Theater, in Arlington, VA, is one of DC’s leading producers of musical theater.

Lisa,

Let me first say, I’m on your side. Anyone crazy enough to tilt at the musical theater windmill with a new work is a friend of mine. I think Signature is just giving you a little taste of how hard it really is, free of charge. Allow me to elaborate.

Signature does not accept submissions because they would get thousands and drown in paper. Nonetheless, they will gladly help your show — if you have a hundred thousand dollars to “enhance” it.

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The New York Musical Festival and the NAMT reading festival get hundreds of submissions every year.

Regional theaters like Signature and Arena Stage are first obligated to satisfy their 10s of 1000s of subscribers. Therefore they tend to do four kinds of shows: (1) new musicals which are “enhanced” (ie paid for by the producers) like Dear Evan Hansen (Arena Stage) and Come From Away (Ford’s Theater) (2) new musicals written by established composers for their “American Musical Voices” program* (3) shows that were hot in New York last year and (4) shows in the musical theater cannon (Cabaret, Threepenny Opera, Fiddler on the Roof, etc.).

*Signature received half a million dollars from The Shen Foundation to develop new musicals. They are doing this by commissioning work from a handful of notable authors, such as Adam Guettel (Light in the Piazza) and Jeanine Tesori (Throughly Modern Millie). Note the name of the program is “American Musical Voices” NOT “new voices”.

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I probably should have told Lisa about “Shout! The Mod Musical”, originally produced at The New York Musical Festival in 2004.

In other words, as a new writer, your options for getting your work out there are limited. Follow the links on the New Musical Foundation web site for a good list of resources for new writers. In the past twenty years, over a dozen new programs have emerged to help authors of new musicals with the development of their shows.

  • Apply to the BMI and ASCAP workshops. If you live outside NY or LA, find a way to make it work. Many, if not most, of our leading composers went through these programs.
  • Apply the NAMT (National Assn of Musical Theaters) reading festival. They get over 300 submissions for 8 slots. Their audience of non-profit theater artistic directors interested in helping new works is unsurpassed.
  • Apply to the NY Musical Festival. This year alone, NYMF had over 200 submissions, even though it can cost writers as much as $50,000 to mount their show at the Festival.
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A still from my 2012 production of Michael Ogborn’s brilliant new musical, “Baby Case” at the NY Musical Festival. Best show, best composer, best director, and mentions in every category did not arouse serious interest from commercial producers. Even if you win, there is no guarantee of success.
  • Apply to all the other festivals and writers’ programs listed on the New Musical Foundation web site. Many of these, such as NY’s new Musical Theater Factory, and the Finger Lakes festival, assist writers with the development of works-in-progress.
  • Self produce at the NY Midtown Festival, the DC Fringe, the NY Fringe and any other theater festival that you can. Fringe festivals are the best deal as it generally costs less than $10,000 to produce shows there.

At the New Musical Foundation, if we love your show, we will help you get it out there by producing readings, workshops and/or festival productions. To apply to the New Musical Foundation send us a one page synopsis of the story, the bios or cv’s of the principals and no more than three song recordings. “Dirty” piano only demos or you tube videos are fine. If we like it, we’ll ask for the full script and score.

You might be interested in my advice to young performers in this Medium blog entry, “Set Yourself on Fire”, because if you don’t set yourself on fire, no one will ever see you.

Anyone with any sense would walk away now, but then if I can discourage you, you probably shouldn’t be doing this.

Hope this helps,

Charlie

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Aladdin authors Alan Menken, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Tim Rice, Elton John and the late Howard Ashman are each making over 5M/year in royalties from the productions of Aladdin. All of them, worldwide, forever.
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AR/VR Consultant, Columnist, Author of the AR-enabled books “Metaverse, A Guide to VR & AR” (2018) & “Convergence” (2019). http://forbes.com/sites/charliefink

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