WORKSHOPPING MUSICALS - Complications Ensue
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Friday, October 14, 2005

Joshua James of The Daily Dojo writes in:
Someone wrote in to state ... that there are loads a places to workshop a new play and very few places to workshop a musical.

This is untrue, in my experience as a playwright. In fact, the reverse is true. I speak as a New York playwright who's also worked in more than a few theatres and programs as intern, director, anything and everything. There are many awards for the struggling composer (such as the one Jonathan Larson got before Rent) and fellowships and all one needs to do, to check, is get a current copy of The Dramatists Sourcebook, and source my claim. In fact, may of the places the author mentioned (Long Wharf is one) also workshop new musicals.

In short, there are many, many places where one can workshop a musical (the Hal Prince Musical Workshop in nyc is one, where I used to work - Denver Center for Performing is another, a big regional one) and fewer that do straight plays.

Why is this? Economics.

Musicals make more money than plays, easier to tour, and soundtracks make almost as much money as the musicals do. Theatre producers are desperate for hit musicals, just one can make you rich forever (Urinetown put the NYC Fringe Festival on the map and they still make money off of it), get you the house in the Hamptons and get you all the cool invites to high society you would want.

Now it may seem otherwise because there are less new musicals than there are new plays, but the reason for that is that musicals are much harder to write, not only do you have to have a good book, you have to have a good score and good lyricist - it's hard enough to write a good play, now add two more difficult creative disciplines, and may I add that from what I've witnessed, quite a few composers are very difficult to work with, and try to make the whole thing seem like a fun experience worth a hundred bucks a ticket (Hard to do without a really good hook - it's one reason they keep pirating films, hoping to score another Producers) and more expensive to mount - but to state that there are more opportunities to workshop new plays than musicals is, in my experience (and many of those folks who work in that industry) patently untrue. There are many, many opportunities for a commercial musical (if you can come up with it) - much more than a play.

3 Comments:

He's very right: there's tons of places to workshop musicals. In the USA. In fact, last year my show was part of the first New York Musical Festival, and several shows from their tryouts there went on to commercial success, such as Altar Boyz or The Great American Trailer Park Musical.

But in Canada, Alex and Lisa, you're fighting a community that has far less money and that also is completely risk-averse. Producers (there's a problem right there, theatrical producers in this country are few and far between) don't come to Fringe shows, they don't seek out new talent, beyond a few courageous theatre shows, and there is no money for development. What they want is something fully-formed and ready, with less than 6 speaking parts.

..which is why most of the time they import sure things from the USA or Britain.

I happen to think that putting a little money into the Lord of the Rings is not a bad idea at all for the Province of Ontario. Their record in the arts hasn't been too grand up til now, but this is a show that has a potential to run for a year and bring a lot of tourism to Toronto.

Alex, sometimes I feel sorry for you, trying to understand these Canadians and how they do the things they do from Montreal, where they do things differently again. You're not just a Yankee in la Belle Province, you're an Innocent Abroad, my friend.

The Canadians, they are a timid people, with huge hooky bloody fangs that only come out when you...uh....well....it's hard to know what triggers them, really. Except Peacekeeping.

Right. Criticise Canadian peacekeeping. And how much "everyone in the world respects Canada"

Then stand back. Seriously. Fangs.

By Blogger DMc, at 10:22 AM  

It is not timidity- Canadians will invest serious money into things that will keep them out of the wind and snow. Plus, it is not the fangs that you have to watch out for but the talons that rip and tear away at you. Canadians are like beavers- they look all cute, cuddly and industrious from a distance but up close they are all fangs and claws and big flappy tails ;) The French ones speak with an accent and have a cigarette after they rip your guts out. (you get them started by criticizing the language laws or Rene Levesque)

By Blogger Hawise, at 4:59 PM  

I don't know--I checked out Denver Center for Performing Arts, because I had a few connections there, and it sounds as though they ONLY workshop straight plays, and no musicals are accepted. I'm personally having a hard time getting anyone to workshop my musical, so I'd tend to disagree, from the standpoint of one who is only a struggling musical playwright. I feel that, had I written a straight play, that could only have broadened my chances.

By Blogger Andy, at 12:17 PM  

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