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New Work in Progress: KPOP

Ars Nova‘s upcoming production of KPOP, written by Jason Kim, Helen Park and Max Vernon and produced in association with Ma-Yi Theater Company and Woodshed Collective, is not to be missed. We reached out to Jason Eagan, Ars Nova’s Artistic Director, to learn more about the show and what audience members can expect when they experience the show for themselves. KPOP previously received a NFNM Writers Residency Grant at Ars Nova.
How did KPOP first find its way to Ars Nova?

KPOP began more than four years ago! Woodshed Collective’s Artistic Director (and KPOP‘s director) Teddy Bergman invited me to lunch to share his fascination with the burgeoning Korean Pop music industry and shared the seeds of an idea to create a massive immersive show based on the phenomenon. I was immediately taken with the idea and eventually commissioned Woodshed, along with bookwriter Jason Kim and Helen Park and Max Vernon to write music and lyrics. Since then an incredible array of wildly talented collaborators have assembled around this project and we’ve become collectively obsessed with translating the behind-the-scenes craft of K-Pop into an immersive theatrical experience.

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Festival Show Update: The Mad Ones

This month we caught up with Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk, the writers of 2016 Festival show The Mad Ones (formerly known as The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown). This November The Mad Ones will receive an off-Broadway run with new NAMT member The Prospect Theater Company, preceded by a concert with NAMT member Philadelphia Theatre Company. We talked with Kait and Brian about what’s been happening with the show since the Festival and how they’re preparing for this next exciting step.

What was the post Festival response to The Mad Ones like?
We had a powerful response to the piece. It’s a show that people in the industry have heard songs from for a long time so I think there was a lot of interest in seeing what the show was about. It was exciting for us to have the songs seen in context and have the piece feel like more than the sum of its parts. We were able to make connections with lots of theaters that might be interested in doing the show down the line as well as develop a few new relationships with champions of the piece.

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Last week, Variety took a look at Apples and Oranges Arts‘ new works program, THEatre ACCELERATOR to dig into the unique way that this NAMT member is looking at new musical development. The Accelerator uses Silicon Valley entrepreneurial techniques to speed up the new musical development process. Variety spoke with Tim Kashani, Apples and Oranges’ co-founder, to get some further insight into the program’s creation and its goals.

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New Work in Progress: Goddess

Every year Theater Latté Da’s NEXT Festival introduces their audiences to new musicals. We reached out to Peter Rothstein, Theater Latté Da’s artistic director, to learn more about a show featured in this year’s Festival, Goddess, written by Saheem Ali, Jocelyn Bioh, Mkhululi Z. Mabija and Michael Thurber. The show was recently selected to receive a Writers Residency Grant from NAMT’s NFNM.


Can you tell us a little about the history of Theater Latté Da’s NEXT Festival and what your goals are for the program? How does the program tie into Latté Da’s mission?

NEXT is Theater Latté Da’s new work festival showcasing three works that stretch the boundaries of musical storytelling. It officially began in the spring of 2013. Each show receives two or three public readings with time for the writers to implement changes between each presentation. Following each performance is an in-depth conversation between the audience, playwrights, composers, lyricists and directors, facilitated by a dramaturg.
Latté Da’s mission is to create new connections between story, music, artist, and audience by exploring and expanding the art of musical theater. As our world changes, so does our need to produce work that reflects that evolution. NEXT is a significant part of Latté Da’s investment in the bold future for American Musical Theater.

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Festival Show Update: Benny & Joon

This month we caught up with the team from 2016 Festival show Benny & Joon: lyricist Mindi Dickstein, composer Nolan Gasser and librettist Kirsten Guenther. This September Benny & Joon will have its world premiere at NAMT member The Old Globe. We talked with the team about what’s been happening with the show since the Festival and how they’re preparing for this next exciting step.

What was the post Festival response to Benny & Joon like? 
The post Festival response to Benny & Joon was wonderful. We could not have been happier or more grateful for the exposure our participation in NAMT’s 28th Festival gave us. There was interest from theaters around the country, which was beyond our wildest expectations. Eric Keen-Louie, Associate Producer at The Old Globe, saw our presentation and loved it, which was a key factor in their offer of a full production to open their 2017-2018 season. We have spent the last few months furiously rewriting in preparation for this very exciting opportunity.

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This month we caught up with Brett Ryback, the writer of Joe Schmoe Saves the World, which was featured in our 2016 Festival. This summer Brett will be workshopping Joe Schmoe… at Indiana University Bloomington. We reached out to find out where the show is now, and what he hopes is next for the show.

What did you discover about the show after presenting it last October, and what work have you done on the piece since then?
What an innocent time it was back in October! I knew the show dealt with important issues, but truth be told there was a part of me—the part that thought Hillary Clinton would be our president—that thought a show about women pushing back against being silenced, and the urgent need for artists to speak out in a political world might feel unnecessary. And then November happened. So the largest discovery has been how timely this piece turned out to be.
From a more technical standpoint, the work I’ve done since then has been to further condense the script. I’ve continued to find places where fat can be trimmed, additional parallels can be made between the two story lines, and scenes can be condensed in order to heighten the dramatic drive of the show.

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New Work in Progress: Trails

At the end of the summer, Broadway Rose Theatre Company is opening Trails, written by Christy Hall, Jeff Thomson and Jordan Mann. We chatted with Dan Murphy, the Managing Director at Broadway Rose, to learn more about the theatre’s history producing new works and how this show is expanding upon that history.
After a dozen years of silence, an unexpected meeting between childhood friends Mike and Seth leads the pair to fulfill a promise made in their youth: to hike the Appalachian Trail together. As they traverse the 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, powerful memories surface, leading the men to confront their past, themselves, and the haunting secret that kept them apart for so long.
What is Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s history of producing new works and how does this production of Trails fit into your theatre’s mission?
From our very first season 26 years ago we have been producing new work. Sharon Maroney, artistic director, wrote an original musical based on a children’s book entitled The 3 Little Pigs & Freud, the telling of the story of the three pigs as told from the wolf’s perspective to his therapist. Over the years we have produced original children’s musicals as well as several jukebox musicals now licensed through Select Entertainment. Some NAMT Festival selections include I Love You Because, Band Geeks!Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Drowsy Chaperone, and in 2011 we produced the world premiere of Ripper with book, music, and lyrics by Duane Nelsen (Festival 2009).

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American Theatre has a great report on NAMT member La Jolla Playhouse’s new audience engagement program, initiated in 2015 with a Building Audiences for Sustainability grant from the Wallace Foundation. Since receiving the grant, the Playhouse has used their resources to create and sustain programs that will allow them “to build an audience that is more reflective of San Diego.” Through interviews with staff and board members, increased patron participation and commissioning new works, the Playhouse has been hard at work on making this immersive community engagement effort one that will have a direct and lasting impact on the theatre’s work.

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Last month, Lake Dillon Theatre Company opened both their summer season and a brand new performing arts center. Covered by both the Summit Daily and The Know, the new performance space is the result of a partnership between LDTC and the town of Silverthorne, CO. The partnership began in 2013 when the town realized that the theatre’s need to expand meshed perfectly with the town council’s goal of developing a thriving downtown. Now, the $9 million Silverthorne Performing Arts Center is up and running, featuring three new performance spaces.

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We are thrilled to announce the line-up of new musicals for the 29th Annual Festival of New Musicals, which takes place on Thursday, October 19 and Friday, October 20, 2017 in New York.
Now in its 29th year, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals attracts theatre producers from around the world for this industry-only event to discover eight new musicals presented in 45-minute concert presentations over two days. All production costs are underwritten by NAMT, at no cost to the writing teams.  As a non-profit organization, NAMT funds the Festival entirely through donations, sponsorships and contributions.

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The Portland Press Herald recently wrote a feature about two Maine-based NAMT members, Ogunquit Playhouse and Maine State Music Theatre. The article highlights the extraordinary changes that both Ogunquit and MSMT have made in recently, through expanding their seasons, programming new work, bringing in big-name talent and much more. In response to audience demand, both theatres have focused on creating Broadway-level productions, a focus that has paid off both in ticket sales and in reputation.

Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold of Brunswick, who writes and edits for the online theater website Broadway World, said both theaters have transitioned into the 21st century with their sophistication and technological savvy while retaining some of their mid-20th century appeal. New York has noticed, and that recognition is reflected in both the quality of the creative talent working in Maine as well as the number of premieres both theaters take on.

To read the whole article and learn more about the work Ogunquit and MSMT are doing, visit the Portland Press Herald‘s website.

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New Work in Progress: Deathless

Goodspeed Musicals is in rehearsal for their upcoming world premiere of Deathless, written by Zack Zadek. We chatted with Donna Lynn Hilton, the Line Producer at Goodspeed, to learn more about the musical’s history, current production and hopes for the future.
The Serling family is taking its annual road trip to Niagara Falls, but this time they’re saying goodbye to Mom. Along the way, memories of past trips, old wounds and family secrets are navigated in a not-too-distant future where no one dies of disease. For daughter Hayley, the journey means facing the big questions of life and death.
How did Goodspeed’s relationship with Zack Zadek first begin, and what about Deathless inspired you to produce the show? 
We first became of aware of Zack and his work in the fall of 2015 when Zack was nominated to participate in the 2016 Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed.  The Mercer Colony, created at Goodspeed five years ago with support from the Johnny Mercer Foundation nurtures the work of writers, composers and lyricists of all backgrounds and in all stages of their careers, by providing a safe haven for creative work and collaboration.  Zack applied and was quickly invited to attend the Colony in February of 2016 with his project Deathless.  Each day during their colony residence, writers are given the opportunity to gather for a communal breakfast and again each evening, to share their work and to exchange thoughts and ideas.  Otherwise, they are free to spend each day in the manner that best suits their individual projects and writing styles.  Along the way, we strive to provide each project with individual support that best suits their needs.  On the final day of his residency, Zack requested that several other writers join him in a very casual read through of his completed script of Deathless.  At the last minute, I was invited to sit in on the reading.  My presence that day wasn’t a given. The Colony is very much by, and for, the writers participating and if Zack didn’t want to expose his work, we wouldn’t ask him to.  But in this case, Zack was comfortable and invited me to stop by.  So on a snowy Saturday morning in February, I wrapped up and trundled into town…and I am very glad that I did so.  The reading—while completely cold, with five other writers reading scene and Zack performing the songs—was transformative.  I left that reading and called Michael Gennaro…”You gotta read this piece.”  He did and had a similar reaction to my own…we were off.  

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This month we chatted with Giovanna Sardelli, the Director of New Works at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. Next month TheatreWorks goes into rehearsals for The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga, written by Min Khang and based on Manga Yonin Shosei by Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama, translated as The Four Immigrants by Frederik L. Schodt. This production is being supported by a Production Grant from the National Fund for New Musicals, and the show has previously been supported by a Writers Residency Grant.
From a tumultuous earthquake to an exhilarating world’s fair, this new musical chronicles the adventures of four endearing Japanese immigrants in a world of possibility and prejudice: turn-of-the-twentieth-century San Francisco. Driven by an infectious vaudeville and ragtime score, the quartet pursues their American Dream despite limited options in the land of opportunity.
TheatreWorks has been developing The Four Immigrants for some time now—tell us a little bit about how the piece first made its way to TheatreWorks.
Leslie Martinson, our Associate Artistic Director and the director of the upcoming production, has a gift for seeing the potential in artists, like Min Kahng, whom she has known for years, and also for seeing the potential in stories. So when Min shared his idea for The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga, Leslie was instantly intrigued by the story and by the unique way Min wanted to tell the story. She brought the show to TheatreWorks as part of our Writers’ Retreat where we were all introduced to the musical and excited by what it could become.

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Festival Alumni in the News

Members in the News

Kirsten Childs Thinks Big

Kirsten Childs, a Festival alumna for The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin (Fest ’98) and Funked Up Fairy Tales (Fest ’12), is well known for her imaginative stories, and her latest musical certainly lives up to that reputation. Supported by a production grant from the National Fund for New Musicals, Childs’ Bella: An American Tall Tale had its world premiere at NAMT member Dallas Theater Center, and the production is now playing in New York at member theatre Playwrights Horizons. American Theatre recently published a feature on Childs, her latest production and her views on the theatre.

“The musical theatre form can lift you to such a wonderful place,” Childs testifies. “And it’s my personal and political goal to be uplifting, without needing to give people rose-colored glasses, without needing to let the truth be swept under the carpet, and without pretending that awful things don’t exist.”

Read the full profile the American Theatre website. Interested in learning more about how the project came to be? Check out our interview with Childs’ from last year.

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New Work in Progress: Onegin

The Musical Stage Company, formerly known as Acting Up Stage Company, is preparing to open a production of the new Canadian musical Onegin, written by Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille. We reached out to find out more about the production and The Musical Stage Company as a whole.
A thrilling, contemporary adaptation of Pushkin’s timeless poem and Tchaikovsky’s renowned opera, Onegin features a high-energy musical score to tell a sweeping tale of unrequited love, infatuation and intrigue.  When the young and innocent Tatyana falls in love with the self-obsessed aristocrat Onegin, he firmly rejects her, arousing passionate love letters, noble duels and second chances.
What is The Musical Stage Company’s history with new works, and how does this new production of Onegin fit into your overall commitment to new works development?
On top of our regular season of programming which features contemporary musicals from around the world, we have commissioned nearly a dozen new Canadian musicals in the last five years, and produced six new Canadian musicals at home and abroad. Additionally, we have pioneered programs to support Canadian writers including training programs, commissioning programs and our new Crescendo Series which brings one writer into residence with our organization for three years alongside a commitment to produce one of their new musicals each year of their residency.
Giving Onegin its second production and bringing it to Toronto audiences for the first time helps advance our goal of sharing new Canadian works with local audiences. Our belief that we can subsequently champion Onegin across Canada and beyond through our production (we have already confirmed a tour to Canada’s National Arts Centre in Ottawa in September) reinforces our priority to shepherd new Canadian musicals around the world.

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This month we chatted with Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser, the writers of 2013 Festival Show The Boy Who Danced on Air. The show is about to have its New York premiere with Abingdon Theatre Company.
Winner of The 2016 San Diego Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Original Score, The Boy Who Danced on Air is a modern-day love story set in rural Afghanistan. Paiman and Feda have spent their young lives as dancers in the world of bacha bazi, where wealthy men take in boys from poor families, train them to dance at parties, and often abuse them. The two boys’ chance meeting changes the course of their lives and sets them on a journey to find their independence in this musical fable about love, tradition, morality and the strength of the human spirit.
The last time we checked in with you both, you were preparing for your world premiere at Diversionary Theatre in San Diego—what was the response to the show in California?
Charlie: It went well!  It’s a terrifying thing to put something you’ve been working on for years in front of a paying audience for the first time—particularly for us, given the sensitivity of the subject matter in our show.  So it was really wonderful that both audiences and critics responded well to it and seemed to get what we were doing.  And the show received the San Diego Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Original Score, which was a wonderful bonus.

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We are thrilled to announce 16 awards granted from their National Fund for New Musicals, a major funding program to support NAMT member not-for-profit theatres in their collaborations with writers to create, develop and produce new musicals. Now in its ninth year, the Fund will provide grants totaling $53,000 to organizations across the country.
NAMT Executive Director Betsy King Militello stated: “We are honored and excited to support our member theatres as they work with this inspiring group of writers to develop these innovative and provocative new musicals.  With these grants, we have now awarded 104 grants totaling $411,500. These projects will join a growing list of important new musicals added to the canon with support from our National Fund for New Musicals.”

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New Work in Progress: Fredericia Teater

Søren Møller, the creative producer at Fredericia Teater in Denmark, has been bringing NAMT Festival shows to Europe for innovative productions. This month, we reached out to him to learn more about the theatre’s history, and his process working with new musicals.
Fredericia has a long history of producing new musicals; how does this relate to the theatre’s mission, and what have been some of your favorite shows to produce?
Our mission is to produce new musicals only. All works are either developed here, co-developed or have never played Denmark before.

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Fest Show Update: The Trouble With Doug

This month we chatted with Will Aronson and Daniel Maté, the writers of 2010 Festival Show The Trouble with Doug. Will and Daniel are now preparing for the show’s European Premiere with NAMT member Fredericia Teater in Denmark.
The last time we checked in with you both, you were getting ready for a 2014 Florida production of The Trouble with Doug. What work have you been doing on the show since that production?
In late 2015 we got a call from Victoria Clark, saying her schedule had an opening and would we like to reconvene and do some further work on the show together? Now, when Vicki Clark throws up the Bat-signal (Slug-signal?), you jump at the chance: we’d had such a great experience with her as our NAMT director and the timing felt right to revisit the project. Since then we’ve had a pair of readings with Vicki at the helm (a quickie and then a full 29-hour reading), with our main focus on refining the first twenty minutes of the show, and on really nailing the intended tone. 

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Broadway Stars Urge You To Help Protect The NEA

Go to Playbill.com to watch a video featuring Broadway stars (and past Festival of New Musicals and Songwriter Showcase alumni writers and performers) Sheldon Harnick (That Pig of a Molette, Festival ’89), Drew Gasparini (Songwriters Showcase 2009) Alex Brightman, Ann Harada, Kara Lindsay, and more speaking passionately about the need to support the arts and the NEA.

In the wake of the Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal, which calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and additional domestic programs, several Broadway stars and luminaries have joined forces with Playbill to express their concern and to say “no” to these cuts.

See all of Playbill’s NEA news at playbill.com/nea, and get a script for calling your representatives to tell them you support the arts here.

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NAMT member Center Theatre Group’s new production of Zoot Suit was recently featured in a New York Times article. The article highlights the audience reaction to this season’s production; the show was first staged by CTG in the late ’70s and premiered on Broadway in 1979. This year’s production has proved extremely popular, with sold-out houses and three extensions. Audience members are also expressing their excitement about the show in another way–by coming to the theatre dressed in the fashions highlighted onstage. The NY Times spoke with several of these audience members about what seeing the show staged today means to them.

 “My mom was a pachuca, and before I saw the play I would be very embarrassed, I would be ashamed of my own skin. Then she took us to the play, and what stood out to me most was that most of the audience was Anglo and they were shouting and embracing what was going on. I remember feeling kind of proud, finally. I thought, Wow, this is my culture and where we come from.”
-Valerie Munoz

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The Wichita Eagle recently wrote a feature on NAMT Member Music Theatre Wichita, focusing on the caliber of MTW’s work, and how that makes the Kansas theatre a pipeline to Broadway for many young actors. The piece talks with many actors and theatre professionals who credit MTW as the place that kick-started their careers. Producing artistic director Wayne Bryan is also featured in the piece, discussing MTW’s programs and the important role that the theatre plays in shaping Broadway’s talent pool.

“There’s a real passion and a real openness to, I think, a lot of the performers that come out of the MTWichita program, and I think that contrasts with a lot of other young actors I see, where there’s a lot of self-doubt and a lot of sort of competition and a lot of second-guessing themselves,” [Stephen Kopel, Broadway casting director and MTW alum] said. “The folks that work at MTWichita, probably because they’re working at such a professional environment, come out a step ahead in terms of knowing how to present yourself, not second-guessing yourself and not treating everything as a sort of competition. There is an openness and joy to what those performers do, and I think that comes from MTWichita.”

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Defining Success: NAMT's 2017 Survey Results

Every two years, NAMT conducts a survey of our member theatres about what shows they produced, which of those shows they considered risky, and how they performed both at the box office and in audience response. The survey is primarily a tool for our members to see what other theatres are doing and look at factors that might help them plan their own seasons. Here in the office we also like to look at larger trends in what the NAMT membership is working on. While the complete survey results are only made available to members who participate in the survey, we wanted to share some general findings here.

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Members in the News

Know a Theatre: WaterTower Theatre of Addison, Texas

For the second month in a row, a NAMT member was featured in American Theatre‘s monthly “Know a Theatre” feature. This month, American Theatre spoke with Joanie Schultz, the new artistic director at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, TX. They spoke about about the theatre’s history, Schultz’s relationship to the organization and her excitement about theatre’s future.

I’m in the midst of a lot of exciting new developments at WaterTower, as we shift our focus toward creating empathy, building community, and creating dialogue with innovative, engaging theatre that speaks to our contemporary moment. This coming season we will be doing new and contemporary work and using our theatre in ways it’s never been used before. It’s an exciting time to be in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and at WaterTower Theatre in particular.

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Festival Show Update: Come From Away

In honor of Come From Away‘s upcoming Broadway opening, this month we checked in with Irene Sankoff and David Hein to see how the piece has changed since we last spoke to them after the 2013 Festival, and what’s different about preparing for a Broadway opening. We also took a look back at the show’s beginnings in a interview with Michael Rubinoff.
The last time we checked in with you both, you were preparing for Come From Away’s world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse. The show has had a whirlwind journey since then! What have been some of your favorite moments along the way?
David: La Jolla was incredible! It was our first production, our first reviews, and our first time working with most of our team.
Irene: We went from being this unknown show to people lining up for 3 hours in the hopes of getting tickets. I was walking around in a daze. Then at Seattle Rep, the theatre was much bigger and I remember the look on the cast’s faces after the blackout when the audience responded. They said after it was like being hit by a wall of sound.
David: The phone lines crashed there because of people looking for tickets. And they flew the Mayor of Gander, Newfoundland out—they declared it “Gander Day” and gave him a key to the city. Seattle was very good to us.
Irene: Ford’s Theatre in DC was surreal because there were so many politicians in the audience, from both sides of the aisle.  And they reacted the same way to this story of kindness—with laughter and tears. We also had a lot of repeat visitors—some who were survivors of the attack in D.C. and some who had lost loved ones.

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