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
our team as director after three rehearsals, and used practical blocking to turn a bare stage into something that resembled the midwest of the late 1800’s. And when it was my turn to step away from the guitar, it went more smoothly than I could have imagined. Eli took in the unique style and process of captaining the show on acoustic, and my mind at this point is very much at ease thanks to his commitment.
And the cast. Wow. They take in notes and work so quickly, none of the process with any of them is close to being called a challenge. They have adopted the energy and groove essential to establishing what this show is about, its appeal to the masses, which in my opinion, is good, fun, driving, powerful music. I can indicate only so much through notes written in a score; it takes our whole team to specify exactly how it’s done. And no matter how big the role, whether its two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster making moments come to brilliant life, or her understudy Shannon O’Boyle, who stepped in on her fair share of rehearsals without thinking twice, the quality of work being done is nothing short of tremendous. 
Corey Mach and Steel Burkhardt,
photo by Ben Clark for NAMT
We have men, too. The unquestionable presence of Steel Burkhardt in our leading role paired with Cory Mach and his powerful tenor strength brings vocal range that is always available. Good solid walls of sound come out of this ensemble, making this larger-than-life musical explode into the audience. 
Life beyond music rehearsals is looking good. There’s nothing more satisfying to a writer than feeling like you could open your material to an audience early if you wanted, due to the commitment of your production team. Whether the show has a long life, or this is the beginning of a number of other experiences, I will forever keep with me the things I was a part of here at NAMT. For a musical composer, there is simply no other festival that accommodates new work like these artists do. 

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