FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: First time at the Festival

Our guest blogger, Dan Collins (writer of Southern Comfort), talks about what he learned from his first time presenting at our Festival.  

This is my first blog post.  Ever. 
As monumental as the occasion may be, I can say (type?) with confidence, and relief, that this is far from the top of my ‘take away’ over the course of my experience as a writer at this year’s NAMT Festival;  which – like this blog –  was also my first.  Ever.   And, similarly, I was only familiar with NAMT from the outside looking in and based on the experiences of others.  I knew the basics, but what I didn’t know could fill books (blogs?) – however, in the interest of being short and (hopefully) sweet, there are two “big thoughts” I’ve walked away with as a NAMT first-timer:
1   The 45 minute cut is NOT a throwaway.  My cynical assumption was that I would do a lot of work to create a disposable, condensed version of the show.  And while it’s true that our 44 page draft of an abridged/re-organized Act 1 is not going to be replacing the full libretto; I was astounded by what I learned from the process.  By forcing myself to scrutinize, in a very real way, how each moment connected to the next, and what occurred if a moment was removed, I discovered things about the story and characters that were brand new (or, if not, things of which I had  only been aware on a ‘subconscious plane’).  Beyond that, the cut also forced me to be  less “precious” about the scenes – knowing in the back of my mind that I was “only doing this for the 45 minute version” allowed me to make edits in which I otherwise might not have recognized the value or had the courage to make; edits that – in some cases – may remain and result in a more streamlined version of the full libretto.  But aside from being simply informative, it was actually just fun to get back into the writing of the musical; to “get to know it again” – like an old friend who’d been all business lately, and then we rediscovered the good old days!     
2   Theater is huge!  It’s easy to get wrapped up in the New York City theater scene – but it’s also just a small part of the theater world/community.  This certainly isn’t a revelation to anyone by
any means, I know.  A Chicago transplant myself, I’ve always been aware that theater is happening from black boxes tucked away in the backrooms of hardware stores to the main stage of Steppenwolf and everyplace (and space) between.  But a cerebral understanding is no match for seeing it face to face (to face to face to face!).   Meeting the numerous individuals from theaters all across the country was not only a lot of fun – but incredibly inspiring.  It was a reminder that I first became compelled by (i.e. ‘obsessed with’) theater while watching a production of The Wiz at the Marriott Lincolnshire Theater in Illinois.  These are the experiences and places that keep theater relevant, vibrant and immortal – like missionaries of a faith, spreading the “good word” far and wide.  Because the pulse of the living theater relies on so much more than a handful of commercial productions in any one city, state or country; and I can’t imagine anyplace where that truth is more evident, and more celebrated, than NAMT. 
Admittedly, I am only a few days removed from the festival and therefore still “within the experience”  (seeing as how a large part of NAMT is the result of the presentation).  However, the new discoveries and re-discoveries made as a result are already well worth the effort.  And whether that’s just the tip of the iceberg or the whole thing, I can still say, with total certainly, that this was my best first NAMT.  Ever.

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