New Works in Progress: Developing musicals in Dayton, Ohio

 In June, we chatted with Kevin Moore, Producing Artistic Director of The Human Race Theatre Co. in Dayton, Ohio about their upcoming Festival of New Works (August 7 & 8) and how it has changed over the years.

The Human Race Theatre Company’s commitment to the creation of new plays and musicals takes center stage this summer with its Festival of New Works. We’ve selected 5 works in development—3 plays and 2 musicals—to present as staged and table readings for this exciting summer event. The productions perform in our 60-seat Caryl D. Philips Creativity Center and at The Loft Theatre over the course of the two-day festival, the culmination of a two-week-long workshop process in which writers have the chance to further develop their scripts with the help of professional directors and actors, then see them performed on stage. 

The Human Race Theatre Co. has been developing new musicals for years.  How did the Festival of New Works come about and how does it fit in to your mission? 
We started in 2000 with three workshops scattered throughout our season- plugging them in wherever we had time.  And we did that for 7 years.  But it became increasingly difficult overlapping with our regular productions.  So we shifted to a summer Festival because we traditionally did not produce in the summer and we now would have no competition for our housing, rehearsal space, actors and stage.  And it allowed us to stay engaged with our audience during the summer months.  Our mission always included nurturing writers and developing new works, which now includes plays as well as musicals.  This summer’s Festival combines both plays and musicals for the first time.

What does the Festival provide for the writers in residence as they work on their show? 
This summer’s Festival expands our format and allows us to work at various levels.  For example, there will be a full workshop of the new musical Mann…and Wife by Douglas J. Cohen and Dan Elish.  Our contract allows for 40 hours of rehearsal over two weeks and a public staged reading.  This really gives the writers a chance to hear their work while they continue to make changes.  We have two new formats this summer:
1) A public table reading of a new play – 11 hours of rehearsal.
2) A format I call a “Snapshot.”  This is a 20-30 minute presentation that introduces our audience to new works and includes scenes, songs and discussions with the writers.  Each work also has an 11-hour rehearsal contract.  This summer, two plays and one musical will be presented as one event for our audience.

Do you present shows at any stage on their trajectory or do you have a preference for when you present them? We have always been very open to working on shows at various stages of development.  Each work is so different.  My first question to the writers is always, “what do you need?”  If we can provide it, then great.  This summer, for example, we will have a ten-day residency with Nicky Phillips and Robert Gontier, writers of the new musical Central Park Tango.  From that residency, we will pull material to be part of our “Snapshots” presentation in our Festival.  Hopefully, a full workshop may be down the road, and maybe a production.

How does the Festival help engage your audience and donors in your season? 
Audiences and Donors love to be part of something that is considered “insider.”  They love to meet and get to know the writers.  They get to express opinions, and they feel invested in the show.  They continually ask about previous workshops.  And if we bring the show back for a production, they are the first to buy tickets and spread the word, or first to step up to support the production.  With ten plus years of actively developing new works, four years ago we launched a campaign to support our new works and were fortunate to raise $1.5 million dollars.

If anyone in the membership is considering starting a Festival, what is the biggest tip you would give them? 
Start small – one workshop.  Look at local writers and how can you be of assistance to them.  Involve your audience from the start – make it social.  Make it a party. This I learned from Robb Hunt at Village Theatre.

Why should people come to Dayton this August to catch your Festival? 
Three new plays, two new musicals—in one and a half days. How can you beat that?

For more information about The Human Race Theatre Co.’s Festival of New Works, please click here

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