Festival Shows in the News


Behind The Scenes Of 'Circus In Winter' At Goodspeed

“The Circus in Winter” competed in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in 2012, where it won 11 awards. That led to a slot in the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s prestigious Festival of New Musicals, the launching pad for such shows as “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Songs for a New World.”

Read more at The Hartford Courant.

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Festival Shows in the News


The Circus In Winter: A New Musical on a Unique Journey

But the catalogue of American musicals is far broader than the dozen or so holding down residence on Broadway marquees, and often the development of new musicals travels a much more winding path than that from the movie house to the playhouse. Instead, they are created by emerging artists with an excitement for the creative process and the hope for a wider audience.
Every year a handful of these organic musicals arrive in New York at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Annual Festival of New Musicals for a short staged reading and showcase in the hopes of support, funding, and most of all a path down which they may continue the journey of their creative process. One such show at this year’s festival, THE CIRCUS IN WINTER, is on a most unique journey. Its creation began not in a movie theater or as a time-tested show, but in an undergraduate classroom at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana where fourteen students and one theater professor spent a semester together writing a musical.

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A guest blog entry from Ben Clark, composer/lyricist for The Circus in Winter, about getting ready for the Festival. 
In this week of rehearsals, we have seen our production grow up right before our eyes. The Circus in Winter has had nine staged readings in various forms over its three years in existence and one fully staged production, all at Ball State University, where the concept to bring the novel to life on stage was born. 

But this is New York City, and we have the privilege of casting actors for the first time in our show’s young life. Not only age-appropriate, but also Equity members with Broadway credentials. You just can’t argue with a deal like that. 

The Circus in Winter in rehearsal,
photo by Ben Clark for NAMT

For myself personally, it is a new territory in that I have always played the guitar and led most rehearsals for the previous readings and production. Thanks to Music Director Matthew Webb and guitarist Eli Zoller, I won’t be required for those roles at NAMT. It was a fearful, uncomfortable beginning in my head as I approached our rehearsal space on West 18th Street, but I was quickly reassured by Matt’s careful interpretation of my pieces. He, as well as the rest of our production team and the NAMT festival coordinators, all have a presence in rehearsal that suggests a nurturing of new work. They all want your material to be the best it can be, and that pulls practicality and honesty out of these professionals. 

Each added experience tops the rest. Victoria Bussert joined
our team as director after three rehearsals, and used practical blocking to turn a bare stage into something that resembled the midwest of the late 1800’s. And when it was my turn to step away from the guitar, it went more smoothly than I could have imagined. Eli took in the unique style and process of captaining the show on acoustic, and my mind at this point is very much at ease thanks to his commitment.

And the cast. Wow. They take in notes and work so quickly, none of the process with any of them is close to being called a challenge. They have adopted the energy and groove essential to establishing what this show is about, its appeal to the masses, which in my opinion, is good, fun, driving, powerful music. I can indicate only so much through notes written in a score; it takes our whole team to specify exactly how it’s done. And no matter how big the role, whether its two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster making moments come to brilliant life, or her understudy Shannon O’Boyle, who stepped in on her fair share of rehearsals without thinking twice, the quality of work being done is nothing short of tremendous. 

Corey Mach and Steel Burkhardt,
photo by Ben Clark for NAMT

We have men, too. The unquestionable presence of Steel Burkhardt in our leading role paired with Cory Mach and his powerful tenor strength brings vocal range that is always available. Good solid walls of sound come out of this ensemble, making this larger-than-life musical explode into the audience. 

Life beyond music rehearsals is looking good. There’s nothing more satisfying to a writer than feeling like you could open your material to an audience early if you wanted, due to the commitment of your production team. Whether the show has a long life, or this is the beginning of a number of other experiences, I will forever keep with me the things I was a part of here at NAMT. For a musical composer, there is simply no other festival that accommodates new work like these artists do. 

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A post from Beth Turcotte, bookwriter of The Circus in Winter, about where the show came from and its connection to arts education.  

The Circus in Winter is the product of an immersive learning project developed with support from the Virginia Ball Center, Ball State University in the spring of 2010.  The class consisted of fourteen remarkable students from five different disciplines from across the campus.  Over the course of three months, the students adapted the novel, The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day, into a musical.  Now, anyone who has ever directed, produced or taught, knows that some days working with a group of creative folks is like herding cats.  Then comes the day when you figure out which student is Antares, the anchor, and you become Ben Hur taking the curve with all four white horses perfectly lined up.

Image from the Ball State University production

Over the next two years concert performances took place on campus, at the Peru International Circus Hall of Fame and at Drury Lane-Oak Brook, Chicago, Illinois.  This past fall, Circus had a fully realized  production at Ball State University. This production was also an American College Theatre Festival entry.  Circus was selected as a regional participant for ACTF at the University of Illinois in January 2012 and recognized with eight Kennedy Center/ACTF Awards including Outstanding New Work this past May.

Although the students have all graduated and moved on to new adventures, they will forever be linked with this project.  Ben Clark, composer and lyricist, remains with Circus and will anchor it around its next curve.

The Circus in Winter is arts education at its best.

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