This month, we check in with Elise Dewsberry, Artistic Director at New Musicals Inc. as she tells us about the reason for their new name and tells us about their brand new musical, The Max Factor Factor.
It’s 1936; the golden age of Hollywood, and two rival movie studios are in a heated battle for survival when their opposing leading men fall in love. Reminiscent of screwball comedies of the past, this new musical takes place in a world of artifice, backstabbing, lavender weddings, double-crossing starlets, and a moral crusader from the Legion of Rectitude, making it increasingly more difficult for the leading men to hold on to the one real thing each has ever found. It’s funny, charming, romantic, happily nostalgic, and very tuneful.
Before we dive in to the show, Academy for NewMusical Theatre recently rebranded as New Musicals Inc. Tell us a bit about the motivation behind the change and what this means for the company.
This is actually our second name change: for 30 years, we were the Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, focusing entirely on writers.
But in 2002, we added workshops for actors and producers, and felt we needed a new name to reflect the larger vision. Since THAT time, we have expanded our mission to include public performances, concerts, and production. That expansion has been very successful, giving us national presence, national partners with producers and theatre companies, and so we felt the need to make a distinction between our academic programs and our professional production and development branches. We wanted a name that would characterize us as a professional organization with ties to the commercial producing world, that also runs a school. So…”New Musicals Inc.”
(We will still be running our academic division under the name “Academy for New Musical Theatre,” as a program at NMI.)
This show was born out of your workshop/reading process. Tell us a bit about how NMI helps develop shows.
We’ve been developing musicals for nearly fifty years, so as you can imagine we have several different approaches we use, depending on the musical itself. Generally, we stay in outline until it’s rock solid…even before adding songs, we want to make sure the story tracks, and the characters have strong, clear motivations. We find that all too often if writers gloss over this outlining step, and dive into writing songs too early, they fall in love with wonderful songs which don’t serve the story, and spend the rest of their time trying to justify songs which belong in a different show.
So after outlining, we then encourage writing a very rough rambling draft of the book of the musical, exploring character diction, action beats, and conflict, etc. It’s not until after the rough draft that we start to encourage beginning to think about songs. I think we’re fairly unique in this step: many composers create songs straight from the outline, or even before that…but we’ve found the specificity of the rough draft really helps focus a lyric.
Another unique approach we have is to develop musicals FOR producers…to initiate musicals based on producers’ and audience’s needs and wants, rather than writersworking in a vacuum and hoping there will be some interest in it. For many projects at New Musicals Inc, we start with an idea, rather than with a script, partnering writers with producers to create the script together from the very very beginning. (This was, in fact, the case forThe Max Factor Factor with Celebration Theatre.)
This is the 3rd world premiere production for NMI; how do you go about selecting which shows go past the reading stage?
Many of NMI’s shows are developed in partnership with producers, so it’s usually the producer who says “This is ready to go past the reading stage.” If we’re the sole producers, we usually look for shows which have grown up in our own workshops, of course, but beyond that there’s not really a common element. Dramas, comedies, big/small…family or edgy—that doesn’t matter to us. Instead, we’re looking for shows which would benefit from OUR producing it ourselves, where we’re trying to balance honoring writers’ visions, but at the same time, we’re also often trying to lead the writers to see what changes might make their show more appealing, or commercial.
Why are you excited to present this show to a California audience?
We love “The Max Factor Factor.” It’s a screwball comedy that takes place in the 1930’s about two rival movie studios whose leading men fall in love with each other. This show asks us to examine what kind of sacrifices we’re willing to make for success or societal acceptance.
Why should people swing by North Hollywood catchThe Max Factor Factor?
Although the show was developed especially for Celebration Theatre, we believe it has a truly universal appeal in its message of acceptance and perseverance—not to mention it’s just a lot of fun!
For more information about The Max Factor Factor, please visit www.nmi.org