New Work in Progress: Millikin University’s New Musical Workshop

This month we chatted with Lori Bales, an Associate Professor at Millikin University and the director of the school’s New Musical Workshop. Millikin is currently in rehearsal for their 10th Annual New Musical Workshop, featuring works by Sam Carner and Derek Gregor, as well as songs by Festival alumni Michael Kooman and Chris Dimond (Fest ’11, Dani Girl; Fest ’14, The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes).

This year Millikin University is celebrating its 10-year anniversary of producing new works—can you tell us about the history of your program?
We’d like to send out a big thank you to Scott Guy, Elise Dewsberry, and John Sparks for their support in our start-up year. In 2007 we piloted our program in collaboration with New Musicals Inc. (formerly ANMT) followed by a collaboration with Theatre Building Chicago in 2008. My initial inspiration for this program was in a breakout group at the 2004 NAMT Conference, moderated by John Sparks. In 2009 we began working with solo writing teams Michael Kooman and Chris Dimond, and Jeff Thompson and Jordan Mann. We’ve had the privilege of collaborating with many other truly gifted writers: Adam Gwon and Sarah Hammond, Andrew Lippa, Marissa Michaelson, Amy Engelhardt and Marc Acito, Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham, and Millikin alums Derek Hassler and his partner Landon Braverman, and Joshua Streeter and his partner Ryan Laney. We are currently workshopping two shows with Sam Carner and Derek Gregor. In celebration of our ten-year anniversary, Michael Kooman and Chris Dimond will join us for a retrospective cabaret celebrating their canon of work. In addition to developmental workshops/residencies we also provide fully realized developmental productions on our mainstage season. To date we’ve produced Golden Gate by Kooman and Dimond and String by Gwon and Hammond.

Tell us a little about the programming selections for the 10th Anniversary workshop and how you found those pieces.
We reached out to Carner and Gregor over two years ago, inviting them to participate in a developmental workshop. While eager to join us, 2017 was the first year their calendar fit our schedule. They have very specific goals for both Island Song and Unlock’d; Unlock’d has a production at the Queensbury Theatre in Houston in February 2018. Additionally, in a cabaret format we will celebrate a variety of songs from shows by Carner and Gregor, and Kooman and Dimond. We left the selection of material entirely to the writers. Carner and Gregor have included material from Island Song, Unlock’d and several new pieces written during their residency. Kooman and Dimond are highlighting material from The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes, The Enlightenment of Percival Von Schmootz, Homemade Fusion, among others. The following night we will perform the workshop of Unlock’d for our audience.

What does your development process look like and how does Millikin work with the students and writers to prepare for the presentations?
The shape of our process is always driven by the needs of the writing team. In general, we lightly prepare the existing material to show the writers upon their arrival. The window for our workshop is up to three weeks including a residency. Writers are here for the time their schedules allow. While the writing teams works on revisions we continue to polish existing material and respond to new material as generated. The culminating event is a public staged reading which includes a feedback session driven by questions from the writing team.
Now that we’re in our tenth year, the workshop is a tradition. Our students witness the experience as freshmen, and look forward to participating before they graduate. Their exposure to the technique and professional expectations is delivered through our curriculum and the workshop is a hands-on opportunity to practice those skills with professional collaborators.

What has been the most exciting part of the rehearsals and preparations so far, and what are you looking forward to sharing with audiences?
The symbiotic creation between faculty/student artists and the writers. Hands down, participating and sharing in the creation of new art is exhilarating. The interaction between students and professionals impacts students in a profound way unique to this process. We look forward to celebrating the artistry of students, faculty, and writers. This ten-year anniversary milestone is an opportunity to showcase this extraordinary program.

What would you like to see as a next step for the program as it continues to grow? 
We hope to build the workshop into a Midwest festival of new works.

For more information about Millikin University’s new works programs, visit their website.

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