The 2022 New Works Festival Awards

The 2022 New Works Festival Awards

It is quite a feat to produce an Off-Broadway play or musical; it is quite another to produce an entire festival of Off-Broadway showcases – during covid.

Yet that is exactly what we did with the first 2022 CreateTheater New Works Festival, in association with Prism Stage Company.

From April 15th to May 15th at NYC’s prestigious Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street), we showcased seven productions – six new musicals and one new play – from writers across the country who had developed their work in-house through CreateTheater’s resident writer company, The Expert’s Theater Company (ETC). The productions in the festival were Finding Madame Curie by David KurkowskiThe Golden Cage by Deborah Henson-Conant; Fire Island: The Musical by Jarlath Jones; Sewing the Dream by Judith Estrine, music by David Kurkowski; Ocean in a Teacup by Joel Krantz, lyrics by Neil Selden; Rewind: An 80s Pop Musical by Geoffrey and Sam Rose; and the play Retraction by David Z. Gutierrez.

CreateTheater’s mission has from the beginning been to help develop and produce new plays and musicals. Writers trust me with their new scripts and librettos as a dramaturg-producer. That’s a sacred trust. It’s my job to help them craft work that delivers over their intention to the audience, what they need to say in this time, in this space, through this story. Once I feel the script or libretto “works,” then it must be tested out in front of an audience – which is what we just did.

As an Off-Broadway producer I am known for a certain level of quality, which it was important for me to retain even at the festival level. If you look at the photos on the newworksfest.org website, you can see that each of these shows reflected our high production values. Most sophisticated NY audiences were surprised at what they saw onstage, which went far beyond what they’ve come to expect in a “festival” format.

“The New Works Festival on Theater Row, produced by Cate Cammarata, was an exhilarating display of new work by playwrights with new voices,” said Ed Levy, one of the festival adjudicators.  “From the exuberant 80’s rock and roll of Geoffrey and Sam Rose’s Rewind to the deep philosophical reflection of Joel Krantz’s Ocean in a Teacup, from the Golden-Age melodious, lyrical and comic numbers in the period musicals, Finding Madame Curie by David Kurkowski and Sewing the Dream by Estrine and Kurkowski, to the delightfully fanciful and innovative Golden Cage by Deborah Henson-Conant and the lively and beautifully choreographed Fire Island by Jacobs and Solla, the musicals were dramatic and joyful.  The one straight play, Retraction, by David Gutierrez was charged with electricity, incisive and provocative.  Coming after the drought of the shutdown, this festival of wonderful new works is a welcome shower of delights.”

“Cate Cammarata has established a most needed and important organization in the form of ETC,” said Neal Rubenstein, a veteran Broadway producer. “It is here that those aspiring to be part of the theater community, under the auspices of Ms. Cammarata, have been instructed, guided, and in many instances seen their respective projects produced for viewing.”

Rubenstein also found much of the new work promising. “For me, Finding Madame Curie was especially exciting. It was an enlightening story which should be performed in elementary and/or high schools. Kerry Conte & Kyle Yampiro’s voices soared!  The casting brings this musical to vocal heights.  Kudos to David Kurkowski for amazing music & lyrics that carry Marie Curie’s story forward under the deft direction of Stas Kimiec and musical direction of Larry Daggett.”

We had four adjudicators for the 2022 New Works Festival, all experienced theatre-makers. Steve Marsh is a playwright/director, and a member of the nominating committee for the 2014-2015 Drama Desk Awards. Neal Rubenstein is a five-time TONY-nominated Broadway producer and also a producing member of The Experts Theater Company (ETC). Two other writer members of ETC served as adjudicators: Ed Levy, a librettist-lyricist, and Chris Sherman, a playwright.

“CreateTheater’s New Works Festival on Theatre Row in NYC is one of the most hopeful theatrical events in recent years,” says Marsh. “It has given great opportunities for playwrights, composers, and librettists to have their works produced professionally, Off Broadway, in front of a true NYC crowd. This year’s festival was truly inspiring! I can’t wait to see more.”

“CreateTheatre, under the skillful and loving eye of Cate Cammarata, has produced a new festival that showcases a wide variety of top-notch plays and musicals,” added adjudicator-playwright Chris Sherman. “Calling it a festival does not do it justice.  I’ve never seen such professional and polished production values in any other festival, complete with full sets, period costumes, and scenic projections.   Future productions are sure to be on every producer’s must-see list.  A true Off-Broadway experience!”

It is always my producing goal to give writers something tangible to take away from a production, something that  captures the ephemeral moment of theater once it’s over. Awards are important “proofs” of excellence, preserving the momentous work of so many theatremakers that collaborate to make a production unique. Although I cannot begin to recognize all of the amazing talents and hard work that went into this project, I am proud to present these  2022 CreateTheater NWF Awards.

The 2022 CreateTheater New Works Festival Award winners are:

 

Best Actor in a Play or Musical – (tie)

  • REWIND (Jason Denton)
  • GOLDEN CAGE (Chris Isolano)

 

Best Actress in a Play or Musical

  • SEWING THE DREAM (Aubrey Matalon)

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Play or Musical

  • REWIND (Nick Bernardi)

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Play or Musical

  • SEWING THE DREAM (Catherine Ariale)

 

Best Set Design & Projections

  • REWIND (Richard Oullette, David Forsee)

 

Best Lighting Design – (tie)

  • REWIND  (Zach Pizza)
  • FINDING MADAME CURIE (Michael Cole)

 

Best Costume Design

  • SEWING THE DREAM (Debbi Hobson)

 

Best Director in a Play or Musical

  • RETRACTION (Jen Wineman)

 

Best Book of a Musical

  • REWIND (Sam Rose & Geoffrey Rose)

 

Best Musical Score- (tie)

  • REWIND (Sam Rose & Geoffrey Rose)
  • GOLDEN CAGE (Deborah Henson-Conant)

 

Best Choreography

  • REWIND (Whitney G-Bowley)

 

Best Musical – (tie)

  • REWIND (Book, Music, Lyrics by Sam Rose & Geoffrey Rose)
  • SEWING THE DREAM (Book & Lyrics by Judith Estrine, Music by David Kurkowski)

 

Best Play

  • RETRACTION (David Gutierrez)

 

Most Innovative Production

  • GOLDEN CAGE (Deborah Henson-Conant)

 

To see photos of this work and for more information, go to the Festival’s homepage at www.newworksfest.org

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The Place for Festivals in NPD

The Place for Festivals in NPD

Should I Submit to a Festival?

 

I’m coaching with a client this week, and we’re discussing the importance of submitting your work on a regular basis to theaters, festivals and other opportunities that are found on places such as playsubmissionshelper.com, the Dramatist’s Guild website, and on the createtheater.com newsletter.

When we sat down together to create a “best practice” routine, she balked at submitting her play to one of the festivals that I recommended.

“Oh, no,” she said. “One of my friends said to never submit to a festival until you’ve tried absolutely everything else first.”

Okay….

Well, I get it. Why should a writer self-produce a festival show when maybe someone else could produce it for you? The problem is that finding funding, especially at the beginning of your writing journey, is getting harder all the time.

Welcome to the 21st century American theater.

 

But I Don’t Want to Self-Produce!

 

“But I’m a writer, not a producer!” is the common refrain I hear. “It’s hard enough to write the play, much less learn how to produce it. I want to be the writer and let someone else be the producer.”

The reality is that unless you’re already a writer with a proven track record of produced work, no one is going to be lining up, checkbooks in hand, to help you get your work onstage. Sorry, sometimes it’s better to face the truth.

You’re going to have to be the one to jumpstart the process.

I always recommend a proactive approach first: submit, submit, submit. Build your regional portfolio of readings, workshops and residencies as much as possible, since many of these opportunities are funded by a nonprofit theater or theatre company. If your script is good and you submit the suggested 4-8 scripts each week, you’ll start to see some movement forward. But that being said, sometimes it is a long wait, and frustration sets in.

When that happens and I start to hear the frustration of, “but I’m not getting any younger,” then I believe it’s time to start considering self-producing your work in a festival.

With one caveat: to make a festival production count you need to be ready for it – otherwise, without preparation and planning, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, more frustration, and a whole lot of money “wasted.”

 

The 3 Main Tasks of Self-Producing

 

Remember the 3 main tasks of self-producing all start with an “F”:

  1. Finding Your Audience
  2. Funding Your Project
  3. Filling the Seats

 

Finding Your Audience

 

Like any other producer, you have to know your show and who your audience is.

  • Who is your typical audience “avatar”? What is your audience demographic? Who will absolutely love your show?
  • Finish this statement: “People who love _____________ will love [name of your show”].
  • What is your show about, thematically and generally? Have a very brief prepared synopsis of 3-5 sentences and then identify its genre (epic musical, dark comedy, etc.). Talk briefly about the journey the audience will take and what they’ll learn at the end.
  • Do your research: what does your avatar do/believe in/desire? How will your show sync with that or reflect that?
  • Have your bio ready to send, as well as the bio for anyone on your creative team
  • Be prepared to share any production history thus far, with images (if available), 5 demo tracks (for a musical) and a formatted full script pdf.
  • Finally, talk about your WHY:
    • WHY did you write this script?
    • WHY does it need to be produced now?
    • WHY does an audience need to see it now?
  • Have a simple webpage available as your online business card for yourself as an author or for your show. You need it available to say, “Take a look at my website.” Don’t self-produce in the 21st century without it.
  • Make sure to have your “elevator pitch” committed to memory, documents saved on your phone and/or laptop, ready to talk about or present to someone at a moment’s notice.

A little reflection here goes a long way. Document your answers to the above in writing and images, ready to send out to anyone who’s interested.

Doing the work before you submit helps you feel like a professional, and creating professional-looking documents makes you look like a pro to the receivers as well.

 

Funding Your Project

 

This is where the rubber meets the road.

Know this: no one will believe in your show more than you do. You must “raise” your “child” as best you can until someone else will see what you see in your darling (your script). In order for others to see your work, you may just have to fund it yourself at the beginning, maybe with a little help from friends and family. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in theater (or in child raising).

Once you’ve decided to go the festival route, it’s best to submit to every opportunity regardless of the expense. Even though if in the end you can’t raise the required “x” amount of money for a specific festival, it’s better to be able to say that a prestigious festival wanted your show than to have nothing to say at all. Any opportunity validates the fact that your script is well-written and sought out.

You will learn some very useful information about your show, the producing process, and yourself. You may also end up networking with other industry people who may be able to refer someone or something to you later on. Hey, you never know when fate will intervene on your behalf, so allow every path to unfold if given the opportunity.

Record every theater that had something good to say about your play, every person who said, “Sounds interesting, let me know when I can see it onstage.” These people will be your first audience and, hopefully, your first fans that will help you raise money.

 

Filling the Seats

 

This is why you’ve already done the first two tasks. You know who likes your script, and you’re prepared to invite people them to your festival show.

Failure to plan is planning to fail, especially at this point. Hopefully you have a following on social media, or a newsletter for your show. If you don’t you’ll want to establish one now.

Preparing for a festival show is exciting, so let everyone know what you’re up to and broadcast it everywhere: social media, personal emails, flyers, newsletters. You’re working to increase your audience, to allow them to buy tickets and to let industry theatre producers know that something so special is happening that they shouldn’t miss it.

Marketing is such a big part of the festival process (and all theater) it’s a shame to discuss it last. Once you decide to commit to a festival, realize that 75% of your time should be devoted to marketing and only 25% of your time to the production. Once you have a director on board your primary job will be as a producer, not a playwright. You must get people in to see your show.

This is where all of your previous preparation will show the most.

  • You’ll have a website to share on social media, etc., with a logo and synopsis already prepared.
  • Each day you’ll put out a new piece of content about your show,
  • You’ll ask your network to “share” on their social media, too.

Enlist the help of the actors and entire team now as well, and you should get more traction.

Write up a press release about your show and submit it to the local press. Make sure to capture any publicity on your social feed and on your website.

 

Use Each Step to Prepare for the Next

 

If you use this festival step as an experience to document your show’s first production, in essence you’re already preparing for the next step for a larger production to be produced by someone else. You’re creating a path for yourself instead of waiting passively by for someone else to notice how good your show is, and to step up to the plate to produce it.

Waiting sucks. It feels so empowering to make something happen yourself.

A festival production can be a valuable, empowering experience, or a depressing exercise that “proves” how difficult theater is. It’s all in the preparation and in your dedication to doing the work.

Don’t take this step until you’re ready. But if you’re frustrated where you are and need to take action, just make sure you’re prepared ahead of time in order to make the best use of your time, talent and resources possible.

It’s all up to you. Good luck!

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5 Top Takeaways from the “How to Write a Musical” Workshop

5 Top Takeaways from the “How to Write a Musical” Workshop

The World & The Want

 

Yesterday I taught my favorite workshop, the “How to Write a Musical That Works” Workshop through Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) in NYC. Along with the Executive Director Bob Ost and a stellar panel composed of Dramaturg/Producer Ken Cerniglia (Disney Theatricals, Hadestown), Tony Award winning Director/Lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. (Ain’t Misbehavin’, Fosse, Big, Miss Saigon), Kleban and Larsen Award winning Librettist and Lyricist Cheryl Davis (Barnstormer, Maid’s Door) and former Artistic Coordinator of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, Skip Kennon (Herringbone, Don Juan DeMarco, Time and Again), we hosted seven new musicals as they presented select song-scene presentations from their projects.

 

In this safe incubator environment, the teams came from all over – New England, Atlanta, Upstate NY, Long Island – to participate in our workshop and solicit feedback about their early developmental work. Some of the songs had just been writen the week before; most had never been performed. 

 

This is a three part Workshop, roughly divided into the “beginning,” “middle,” and “ending” of a script. This first Workshop, “The World and The Want,” spoke about the need for clarity in your storytelling in the very beginning of your script and the presentation of the “I Want” song.

 

Everyone had surprises that day. One person learned that her beginning to her musical didn’t work at all – she is headed back to the drawing board with lots of ideas now on how to make the opening number work. Another writer learned that his I Want song communicated something very different to the audience than what he had thought, and is revamping the beginning of the song. Another writer was happy to learn that we were excited by his presentation, but confused by a few points – he now will be editing his opening for greater clarity.

 

Top 5 Takeaways: The World and The Want

 

Here are the top five things that we learned from the Workshop on October 27, 2019:

 

1. Clarity of storytelling must be established from the very beginning of the show

  • Establish WHO these characters are
  • The audience wants to know who we’re going to watch, and what they’re about
  • SHOW don’t TELL. If you describe your lead character as “the Lady Gaga” of that time period, don’t tell us – SHOW US.

 

2. The Opening Number

  • Why is this day different from any other day?
  • Set up your world and tone immediately, and keep it consistent into the next scene (and the next)
  • Can characters we “know” be used in a different way to tell the story?
  • Don’t refer to pronouns like “this” in a song without having established what “this” is.
  • An opening number should immediately get us into the ACTION of the story

 

3. Don’t Betray the audience into creating the expectation of a group I WANT in your opening number by introducing different characters, and then explain that we never see them again.

  • If you introduce specific voices in the opening number, your audience expects to see them again.Your audience wants to learn whose journey we’re on from the very beginning.
  • Don’t set up the expectation of A CHORUS LINE if we will never see these characters again.

 

4. Every song must have a complete arc – a complete beginning, middle, and end – to it

  • A song must travel and push the plot forward
  • We need to learn something within the song – the ending idea isn’t the same as the beginning idea.
  • By the end of the song, we must be in a very different place than we were at the beginning of the song.

 

5. The style of the song must reflect the action and intention of the character singing it

  • The tone of the song must serve the character in that moment
  • A laid-back, jazzy rhythm doesn’t serve a moment when the character has a driving, insistent intention to her action.
  • Instead of a ¾ time, a driving 4/4 may be more active a choice.Sometimes it helps to read the lyrics of the song as prose to discover the intention behind the action.

 

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Pitching Your Show to Producers: The Elevator Pitch

Pitching Your Show to Producers: The Elevator Pitch

Pitching Your Show to Producers

 

Learning to pitch your show to potential producers is a skill set that can be developed like any other skill set. The secret is in learning to see your show from the producer’s perspective.

Recently I was the pitching coach for eight writers in Theater Resources Unlimited’s (TRU) Pitching Workshop, part of the TRU Writer/Producer Speed Date. The event is an intense experience, where twelve writers pitch to eleven producers within one hour. Like regular speed dating, you’ve got approximately seven seconds to make a great impression and two minutes to perfect your elevator pitch, engage in a quick conversation with a producer, then move on to the next producer and start the process all over again.

Needless to say this demands focus. Both parties are hoping for “instant attraction,” and sometimes that does happen. Options have resulted from our Speed Dates. But more importantly, writers get better and better at pitching their projects to producers and learning to discern what producers are looking for, what is most interesting about their own work and how to sell their ideas.

Your Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a quick introduction to your show to a potential producer or investor, geared toward creating interest in the listener. It is more of a marketing skill than anything else, and like any skill it can be learned and gets better with practice.

An elevator pitch takes approximately two minutes. That’s it. You’ve got a mere two minutes to make the producer lean in, smile and ask for more information.

Many of my writers, in this recent workshop and in others I’ve coached over the years, spend way too much time on their synopsis. Others undersell themselves, leaving major awards from their other work left unspoken, or merely get so flustered under the pressure to persuade someone whom they perceive has the power to make or break their show that they repeat themselves or stumble over their words.

Relax. You’ve got this. It’s all in the preparation ahead of time. 

Just as an actor has to always be ready with a couple of great monologues to perform in an instant to showcase his talent, you as a writer should always be ready with a prepared elevator pitch “just in case” you are introduced to someone with the potential to move your show forward.

It’s a Conversation

Always remember that your pitch is the beginning to a conversation, so make your style conversational. Some writers are such good wordsmiths that they try to memorize their pitch word for word and recite it as a speech, or worse, have the pitch written down and then read it verbatim. They then sound “market-y” and artificial, which is definitely not in their best interest!

I recommend that you write your pitch on index cards using bullet points in the beginning. This keeps my writers on track and focused, yet still maintaining that all-essential eye contact and smile during the conversation.

The Pitch Template

A good organization strategy for your pitch should follow this template, written by TRU founders Bob Ost and Gary Hughes and used in our workshops and in my own personal coaching.

1. The Attention Grabber

The first thing necessary is to grab the producer’s interest in those first seven seconds. You want to give them a reason to remember you and to engage with you in a conversation.

Sometimes this is most effective by asking a question:

  • “What do you do when …”
  • “What happens when …”
  • “Did you ever have an experience where …”

Sometimes you can make a statement to move your listener and get them on the same emotional wavelength:

  • “Imagine yourself …”
  • “How would it feel if …”
  • “What would you do if you were faced with …”

Some writers make a statement that is surprising in some way, or use a quote, a song title, or anything the listener can readily identify with that describes the content of their show. Especially helpful is when you can help the producer make comparisons with something they’re already familiar with, for example, “This show is Once meets Torch Song Trilogy…”

The important thing to remember is that at the beginning you must engage your listener and start a conversation, not talk at them. This is a brief – very brief! – introduction to you and your work, useful for marketing your show to someone. Your goal is to get them to smile, lean in, and want to hear more.

2. A Brief Synopsis

As a writer you’ve spent months, perhaps years, writing and rewriting your plot to get the structure right. It’s natural that you would want to share the entire story with someone, since it’s so doggone interesting and engaging.

It probably is, but this is a two minute pitch so time is of the essence. You want to choose your words carefully and leave out anything that doesn’t absolutely need to be said.

Often a concept synopsis is more helpful than a true plot synopsis. A producer wants to hear the essence of your show, not a play-by-play retelling of each detail in every act! And don’t tell them what they’ll feel in the show; instead, evoke the feeling itself through the careful choice of your words in the pitch.

What can be included in this brief synopsis?

  • The 5 W’s (who, what, where, when and why)
  • The 6th W (want), which is the main characters’ wants and why they can’t get it (the obstacle)
  • The major conflict
  • The universal theme
  • What the audience will see when the curtain goes up (the world)
  • An overview of the dramatic arc of the show, or the emotional high point (climax)
  • Don’t forget to tell the genre of the show and the sound of the music (if it’s a musical), or if it’s a dance-heavy production, the style of dance.

Remember, less is always more and time is crucial here. You don’t have to address each of the above bullet points, but know which ones are most pertinent to communicate the idea of your show. Know your basic dramaturgy and be prepared to answer the above questions if they come up.

Also, you may not be the best editor of your own synopsis. Try it out on a few friends and listen to what they find engaging or unnecessary.

Both steps 1 and 2 should take approximately one minute or so of your time, in order for you to really sell your show during the last minute.

3. Benefits

Don’t tell ‘em, sell ‘em! Show why your show has significant advantages and why they should produce it:

  • Timely and relevant – this show must be produced now! There is a recognized audience for this material
  • Premise – illustrate how your premise is unique or special in some way that will make it stand out
  • The show is based on a pre-existing property or well-known source material, which has recognized branding
  • Stars associated with the project (directors, actors, composers, etc.)
  • Previous production history (share photos, reviews, audience quotes)
  • Give other benefits that producers find attractive:
    • Cast size (if it’s on the small end – otherwise don’t mention it)
    • Unit set, minimal set requirements
    • Developmental steps or awards
    • If there’s money behind your project, please mention it during the pitch (no need to be specific yet)
  • Always give your brief bio, especially if you’ve won awards or have other work that’s been produced.

Sometimes it’s helpful to remember the acronym SAFE (Stars, Audience, Financials, Environment) as a way to think of possible benefits your show may have.

4. Concept Recap

At this point you are almost out of time (I hope you’re still relaxed, smiling, and not out of breath! ) and you need to summarize your pitch.

Briefly recap your original concept with only one or two sentences. Remember, you’ve got a really great show here that you’re presenting to someone!

Ending Your Pitch 

After your two minutes are up, thank the person for listening and offer to follow up with them by sending them an invitation to a reading, sending them the script or music files, forwarding them to your website, or leaving behind a packet of information for them to read later.

Then BE QUIET and LISTEN.

Have a Conversation

Now it’s the producer’s turn to ask you questions. Hopefully there are a few, as that shows your pitch has successfully engaged his/her attention and interest.

Answer any questions they present honestly, and again offer to follow up with more information and then do so. Speak with passion and confidence, and always leave them wanting to hear more.

Your job is to create both a favorable impression about yourself and your work to a new contact that may be interested in your show. Get them to want to read your script, to come to a reading, to advise, to recommend to a friend – or even to produce or invest in the show personally. It happens all the time.

Don’t be caught off-guard. Be ready with your practiced pitch.

Need some help with YOUR pitch?

Contact Cate to schedule a practice pitch session or ask about group coaching: cate@createtheater.com

 

 

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The Need for Creative Producers

The Need for Creative Producers

Why I’m a Creative Producer

 

On May 13, 2013, in a speech at the Theater Communications Group (TCG) Gala, Emily Mann, longtime Artistic Director of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, stated that the nonprofit movement was started because the commercial theater was “destroying theater as an art form.”

What??

This was an odd statement for Ms. Mann to make, having just received an honorary Tony award for the McCarter Theatre for its contribution to the vital function in the health of American theater, and having VANYA & SONYA & MASHA & SPIKE – developed at the McCarter – nominated for best play. Many in the commercial theater were offended by her comments, feeling that regional nonprofit theaters should be grateful to Broadway for allowing them to actually make a profit on occasion.

This in essence is the ongoing debate in the American theater.

 

Commercial Producers Help Drive NPD

 

In this era of almost nonexistent support from government and private foundations, sometimes regional nonprofit theaters are financially compelled to form partnerships with commercial producers to create new work – often works of significant value that, once having appeared on Broadway, provide enough necessary monetary success to allow the nonprofit theater a financial cushion it wouldn’t otherwise have.

Yet, while grateful for the funding, nonprofits are ever cautious about accepting money from “the dark side” for fear of loss of control of the artistic product, and for fear of betraying the mission under which the organization must adhere.

Commercial producers are usually driving these partnerships, lured by the opportunity to develop new work away from New York at a reasonable cost. However, as Ms. Mann’s comments show, everyone isn’t always perfectly happy with the arrangement.

That was in 2013. Has anything changed today?

 

Regional Theater and the History of New Play Development

 

During the 1930’s and 1940’s there was a feeling that there were important stories to be told that wouldn’t and couldn’t be produced by the commercial theater, because of the economics of Broadway.

The resulting Regional Theatre Movement during the 1930’s and 1940’s, led by its three founding matriarchs of Margo Jones, Nina Vance and Zelda Fichandler, proposed a new nonprofit model supported by and created for local communities, which would have the artistic mission to create new work and produce new interpretations of the classics, to bring about a “new renaissance” to the American theatre in the twentieth century.

These participants of the Regional Theatre Movement felt that it was their mission to create “art” as opposed to the mission of the commercial theatre, which they often perceived to be merely to generate income.

Somehow, developing “art” made their plays more “noble” than the work that was developed in the commercial sector.

Even today, in the eyes of the nonprofit theatre, Broadway sometimes still is an entity not wholly to be trusted; it is the “other”, a center of crass consumerism.

Founding leader Zelda Fichandler was burned once in an attempt to bring an Arena Stage production of The Great White Hope to Broadway; forever after her response to such partnerships was “Broadway: no.” Some nonprofit artistic directors feel the same to this day.

 

Commercial Producers Can Be Artists, Too

 

Commercial producers take offense at being perceived as merely “money men” (and women) – they consider themselves to be just as creative, smart and “hands-on” as the nonprofits, investing in the life of the play for the long haul.

Here’s the deal: a commercial producer must look beyond a single production to guide the entire life of the play from conception to (hopefully) an enduring life in the regional, educational and community theaters.

A producer’s enthusiasm and belief in a production is the fuel that drives the play forward. Many new plays are driven by a commercial producer who receives permission to produce the play from the playwright, or the playwright’s agent.

The producer then spends years (typically 7-9 years) on the development end for the play, hosting readings and developmental workshops to help each play find its own signature voice. Thousands of dollars are spent gathering a committed team of professionals in preparation for rehearsals to begin.

They do this all without being paid, without drawing a salary on the project for years – all because they believe in the work, just as much as the “art-driven” nonprofits do.

 

Commercial Producers Develop Work

 

Commercial producers with a dramaturgical sensibility can creatively bridge the gap between the nonprofit and commercial theater and encourage partnerships between the two that are beneficial to both.

Producers skilled in dramaturgy can bring to life the voices and images that accurately reflect our American experience at the beginning of the twenty-first century – and secure their future in the American theatrical canon for posterity.

Jill Rafson, then Literary Manager of the Roundabout Theatre in New York City, called for 2013 graduates from The Commercial Theater Institute – an organization that trains new producers – to become “Creative Producers.” She said that “Creative Producing” was the most underdeveloped skill in the industry, and that only through the insight and leadership of Creative Producers would emerging playwrights be challenged to develop more innovative and original work.”

 

Another successful guest lecturer in the program, commercial producer Kevin McCollum, pointed to a dramaturg in the class (me) and told the rest, “You all should know what she knows.”

 

Producers breathe life into a script. Playwrights need producers to mount their plays and to project their voice into the larger culture for them.

Creative Producers, using the skills and knowledge of dramaturgy, are necessary to help develop original new plays and to contribute significant new work into the American theatre canon.

 

Make Friends with a Non-Profit

 

If you’re a writer, make friends with a regional non-profit. Make connections with directors and producers who have contacts at theaters everywhere.

Submit everywhere. In reality, it’s a numbers game.

Learn dramaturgy – it’s an essential skill set.

Are you affiliated with a regional theater, I’d love to hear your side of the debate. Email me at cate@createtheater.com, and I’ll feature you on another blog post.

How do YOU feel about commercial producers working with regional theaters to develop new work? Let me know your thoughts..

 

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The Fine Art of Collaboration

The Fine Art of Collaboration

What are the steps to finding and maintaining a great creative team?

 

Putting together a collaborative creative team is more of an art than most people realize, especially for a musical.

After having experienced both good and not so good collaborations, it all boils down to a commitment to the process and an inherent respect for the other’s contributions.

 

Ask for Referrals

 

First, look for someone who is not only experienced but also capable, knowledgeable and dependable. Many experienced people are so overbooked with projects that they don’t always have as much time and energy to contribute to yours as they would like.

I strongly suggest that you first seek word of mouth recommendations from people you know and trust. (Putting out a request for referrals on Facebook is fine). You can also check out resources from professional associations, do an internet search, or use other available sources like those found on MusicalWriters.com or Theater Resources Unlimited.

 

Do Your Research

 

Before you contact anyone, make sure you do your own research.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Has this person worked on shows similar to mine in the past? Do your own due diligence and find out all you can about their experience. Ask others in the industry about them if possible, or check their contacts on LinkedIn.
  • Does this person have a network that may be interested in and may help my show’s progress? Do they work with key level producing organizations or directors that may be interested in my work? They may be willing to introduce you.
  • Do I believe they have the level of experience that I could trust to help me move my show forward?

 

Schedule an Interview

 

Narrow your possibilities down and start communicating by email, and set up an interview in person or over Skype or Zoom.

Always trust your instincts. Some things to discover:

  • Does this person have passion for your project?
  • Do they listen to your ideas eagerly, or politely?
  • Do they offer what they believe is a “better” idea, or jump on board with your ideas?
  • Are they prepared for the interview, and bring in their visions or ideas to you?

 

Twice when interviewing a potential director, candidates came in with a book of images and other printed material to show us that excited them. This preparation got them the job, and they were terrific.

Finally, remember to make this first step a short “coffee date,” not a LTR. Have the goal to collaborate with them for a specific reading, workshop, etc., not the goal to get to Broadway together. That’s too huge a commitment! Start first with the intention of, “I like you pretty well, let’s see how it goes.”

Take it step by step.

 

Be Part of a Community

 

Theater is all about community and relationships, and authentic friendships sometimes create wonderful collaborations. Keep networking online here at CreateTheater, go to theater conferences and galas, join your regional Dramatist Guild chapter or participate in local theater events near you. Meet people and talk about your work.

In the end, it’s all about the work. Remember the improvisation mantra, “Yes, and…..?” Always respect each other’s creative ideas, get excited about adding in your own and stay focused.

The art of the theatre is all about creative collaboration.