6 Years Later...

  • October 26th, 2012 - I completed the very first outline for the first version of The King’s Legacy.

  • December 6th, 2012 - There existed a first draft of a script, including a large portion of lyrics.

  • March 14th, 2013 - I had a fully realized first draft with all scenes, music, and lyrics completed.

And so it all began.

It’s been a long long road to the first ever full production of The King’s Legacy, and what a strange, magical, frustrating, and fantastical journey it has been. It’s had its peaks and valleys, but it has brought us to where we are now: Less than one day away from the first rehearsal for the premiere production. (!!!)

So how did it all start? Where did the show come from? And how did it get to where it is today?

As per usual, I’m thrilled you asked!

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The Idea

In August 2012 I was sitting poolside, finishing my then-girlfriend’s copy of The Other Boleyn Girl, when I began thinking - for the second time, concretely, and aloud - that Anne Boleyn’s story is simply too good and would make a wonderful musical.

At that time I had only recently begun my foray into writing musical theatre. In fact, my first ever original musical (PICk Love) was about to go into rehearsals to be performed at the first ever Rochester Fringe Festival in late September.

But this idea continued to haunt me.

It’s a well-known story with scads of books, movies, TV shows, research, and documentaries on the subject, but still no well-known musical. I thought perhaps - just perhaps - I might be the person to write this show. But I would need opportunity, time, and motivation, which I certainly did not have at that moment.

However, a couple months later, that perfect storm came together. And I began to write.

 

The First Draft

  • May 19th, 2013 - I held the first ever closed reading of The King’s Legacy, coincidentally on the 477th anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s death.

  • July 28th 2013 - The Random Access Theater presented The King’s Legacy through their RAWR series in its first open workshop reading at Shetler Studios in Manhattan.

This first version of this musical was a little bit of a hot mess, in all honesty.

It had great potential and some fantastic material, but 90% of the show would eventually find its way to the cutting room floor over the next several years.

Even in this initial version of the show, the narrative was not quite linear. The inciting incident was still a jousting accident for Henry, making him realize he needed to secure his line (read: have a son) before it was too late. But approximately halfway through the show - and with basically zero warning - the narrative split into both a main storyline with Anne and Henry, as well as a faster-moving future storyline with the remainder of Henry’s queens and all three of his children.

Elizabeth was not yet being uplifted as the ultimate heir and the great irony of the story, and Anne was being cast too much as both a seductive villain and a pawn of her male relatives. Henry was not at all likable (though I was not going for that at the time) and there was a partial narration by a singular best friend character, Charles Brandon.

I will say that the piece actually moved quite well and - though the dialogue was a touch too dramatic - every scene contained a sizable amount of theatricality and intrigue.

The score was riddled with structure-less songs and meandering lyrics (I had not yet learned this art form properly), though much of the music was quite good. In fact, 4 songs from this initial version - albeit all a tad altered - still exist in the show today.

The experience of these first two readings were fantastic, and taught me a great deal about the possibilities this story contained as a piece of musical theatre.

I was stoked to continue writing.

 

Big Version #2

  • March 30th, 2014 - The King’s Legacy is performed at the Emerging Artists Theatre Festival at the TADA! Theater in Manhattan, this time with a new narrative structure and an almost entirely new score.

After the excitement of that first summer, I didn’t have a chance to revisit the musical too much during the following fall and winter. I made a few of the major adjustments I was interested in making to the overall narrative structure, but I didn’t fill in much of the new dialogue nor write any of the new music that went along with this version.

Well, that is until…

I had been applying with the show to developmental programs and festivals, and was suddenly contacted by the Emerging Artists Theater Festival that I had gotten a performance slot for the end of the festival on March 30th…which was only 7 weeks away. Yikes.

Luckily, I had been auditing the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Writing Workshop since the fall, and had picked up some excellent new skills in writing efficiency.

I set up a deadline calendar of 2 weeks for script edits and 3 weeks for composing new music, before the 2 weeks of rehearsals. The result was a much cleaner version of the show, with new scenes, a more likable Henry (too likable), a protagonist-like Anne (though too innocent now), and with 1/3 of the score being entirely new (but at least well-structured now).

The new music was met with much positivity - and some of it still remains today - and the show had successfully corrected too far in the other direction.

If I learned a lot from the first reading, I learned far more from this second version. Elizabeth was now clearly the correct end result of the show, though she wasn’t present enough. Anne was more involved in her story, but Henry was still too central. All of the queens were still included, but the reasoning for it was still too murky and unclear.

That pesky narrative structure was still giving me trouble.

 

Trial By Rewrite

  • Fall 2015/Winter 2016 - The entire structure is rewritten…thrice. Additionally, in tandem with the newest of the structures, over 2/3 of the score is thrown out and rewritten to fit the new narrative.

If you look at the Developmental History of The King’s Legacy, the period of time from the Emerging Artists Theater Festival in March 2014 until the Invited Industry Reading in November 2016 appears to have been a very quiet time for the musical in its development. There’s nothing else listed in between.

In fact, the exact opposite was true.

I came out of my first year at Bristol Valley Theater in the summer of 2014 with writing-guns blazing. I wrote and rewrote like a madman.

I got accepted into the BMI Workshop (for reals this time) as a Lyricist and began writing more and with many different people.

In turn, I then became inspired to write more for The King’s Legacy. I tried several entirely new narrative structures for the show - all based on feedback I had received after the EAT Festival - and threw out the first one right away. Henry was too present and too much in control.

I knew I wanted the women front and center, and Anne Boleyn in particular, but I was having trouble making that happen. So I tried another new version. This one was better, but the time jumps were: still nebulous, not spread throughout the entire show, and far too confusing.

On the third try, I found something that worked and that I liked very much. This had promise, but another summer jaunt to BVT in 2015 meant that I wouldn’t write much again until the fall.

When I returned to the musical in the fall of 2015, I found that I had been right that spring. This new version was beginning to work. The women were both becoming prominent in the storytelling and were more clearly the point of the piece.

Now what it needed was an almost entirely new score to fit the new narrative and characters.

The next 6 months was pure rewrites and composition. It was grueling and exhilarating all at once, and yet no one had heard any of the new material. The show had progressed so far, but no one knew.

But soon they would.

 

The Narrative Structure

  • April 17th, 2016 - The first closed reading of the new version, which would become the basis for the current version of the show.

  • November 20th, 2016 - The first invited industry reading with Broadway talent takes place in Manhattan, solidifying the new form.

I liked it, this new version, oh so very much. So I gave it a test drive and…it worked!

Some minor tweaks were in order to make it work better, of course, but it was now clear that there was little else I could do with this show without it being on its feet in front of other industry professionals.

With a great amount of help from friends and colleagues, I began putting together a plan for an industry reading for the fall. We got some amazing talent, including Wicked’s Libby Servais, and went to work.

Many months and much tweaking later, the reading took place and the response was excellent.

The show was well on its way - landing in many of the precise ways I was hoping, getting the audience to tap their toes and emote, and it gave the musical some excellent forward momentum.

Next, it was time to clean it up, get the word out about its existence, and find a way to have the show produced.

 

Submissions Submissions Everywhere, And Not A…

  • October 16th, 2017 - “The Songs of Michael Radi” takes place at Feinstein’s/54 Below, featuring mostly music from the latest version of The King’s Legacy.

I’ve written extensively about the submission process for musicals, which can be absolutely grinding and heart-breaking. (read that post here)

This period of time was no less difficult.

Submissions were a daily occurrence with little to show beyond a lot of silence from the void, many cookie-cutter rejection emails spouting increased numbers in submissions, a few kind rejections letters, and the occasional message of “we can’t right now, but check in again with us next year.”

So - partly to keep my sanity and partly to find a way to get the music out there - I began planning a concert at Feinstein’s/54 Below. Luckily, they loved the idea of a primetime program of new musical theatre both featuring and highlighting women, so I was in!

The concert had a brilliant cast of all Broadway and Off-Broadway performers (featuring Wicked’s longest-running Elphaba: Jackie Burns) and it went spectacularly. I couldn’t have been more pleased!

Not only did it get people talking about The King’s Legacy and the other music from the evening, it provided me with great video and audio to use while trying to get my music out there. Now, whenever anyone showed an interest, I was able to pull up a high quality sample of the material to back up my passion for the piece.

Rejection - at the very least - can be quite motivating.

 

The Premiere Production

  • November 1st, 2018 - Bristol Valley Theater publicly announces that The King’s Legacy will have its premiere production as part of the 2019 summer season and their New Works Initiative.

  • Fall 2018/Winter 2019 - Preparation for the production begins with phone calls, meetings, edits, rewrites, orchestrations, and copyist work.

  • February 23rd, 2019 - Final closed reading of the newest version of the show, including all rewrites and a finalized score.

  • April 17th, 2019 - The libretto for production is finalized.

When I first - nervously and off-handedly - brought up the idea of doing The King’s Legacy at Bristol Valley Theater to the artistic directors in the summer of 2017, I truly thought there was no way it was going to happen.

The cast was probably too big, the musical was period, it doesn’t have the name recognition required for a big musical performance slot, and the New Works Initiative had never had a musical. It was a lovely little pipe dream that was fun to discuss over drinks.

I was then shocked when I was told - not too long after - that they found the idea intriguing and would be keeping it in the back of their minds for future consideration.

A full year later I found myself in discussion about its potential feasibility and what would be required. Suddenly, this was a real possibility - an actual option for the New Works Initiative. A spark of hope had appeared.

When it was announced that the premiere of The King’s Legacy was to be part of the 2019 Bristol Valley Theater season, I was ecstatic! Who else would I be happier to trust with the first ever production of this piece - one that I’ve worked on so diligently for 6 years - other than the brilliant minds and artists at BVT?

No one.

We’ve got a great team, an excellent cast, a phenomenal theater, and a community like no other.

What else could you want?

 

6 Years Later…

  • August 10th, 2019 - The first rehearsal for the premiere production begins!

And so here we are. After 6 years, it’s about to actually begin.

And all I have left to say is…

Let’s do this thing.

*And* I Have To...What?

We often ask a lot of our performers - and directors, designers, and everyone else of course as well, but this post is performer-focused.

We especially ask a lot of our performers in a summer stock rehearsal setting.

But sometimes we ask for even a little more.

Perhaps you have a special skill that the director would like to include in a show. For example: you play an instrument, you tumble, you’re a gymnast, you can juggle, you can do impersonations…or a thousand other possible talents.

And then there are shows that ask for even more than a little more, and to do it all in 8 days.

And that, my friends, is the zany, fast-paced romp that is Murder For Two at Bristol Valley Theater!

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Love Is Alive And Well On Broadway

This past Monday night I was honored and overjoyed to attend the 4th annual Arts For Autism Broadway benefit concert!

For those of you who have not yet heard about this event, please allow me to tell you about the magic that is late June evening each year.

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Just The Perfect Blendship

One of the absolute best parts of the theater that I feel people don’t talk about enough is the people - the community.

Sure, every June as we all get ready to sit down together in NYC and across the country to watch the Tony Awards, or are preparing for one of the major benefits like Broadway Bares, or even just during Pride Month in general, theatrical and non-theatrical publications will talk briefly about how Broadway is a community. And it is! It’s a fantastic community with the same pros and cons that any community might have.

But only “Broadway” is discussed as being the community itself.

And as soon as you call something the “Broadway” community, there is an innate elitism to that term - whether geographically or in terms of production budget - which gets thrown into everyone’s minds.

But what is this Broadway community? Is it just the thousands of people actively working in NYC’s largest theatrical houses? Just those who contribute to the city’s multi-billion dollar industry?

I don’t think so, no.

I think the Broadway community is far larger than that. Personally, I would consider the Broadway community to include anyone and everyone working in theatre across the entire country. I would even consider the Broadway community to include the multitude of theatre lovers - those who don’t necessarily work in the industry, but participate through other means by supporting those who do, or even just attending all productions they can and keeping tabs on what’s happening in the industry.

In my opinion, it is crucial to consider everyone involved in the theatre everywhere as part of the Broadway community.

“But why?”

Allow me to explain!

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From The Ground Up

The term “Devised Theatre” tends to elicit strong reactions from people - whether that be eyes lighting up in excitement, a shudder in remembrance of the ghosts of devised theatre past, or questioning looks from those who aren’t exactly sure what it means.

Essentially, devised theatre is a theatrical piece including any performance elements (dance, music, lights, speech, sound, movement, etc.) that was built from the ground up by an ensemble of people without a physical, linear-plot script.

Often these types of piece are made to be experimental and off-the-beaten-path, and audiences aren’t necessarily expected to feel a sense of familiarity in experiencing the performance.

But then, other times that’s exactly what they are meant to feel. And that’s where it gets super tricky.

Tonight is the official opening night of So Happy Together: The Music of the Swingin’ 60’s at Bristol Valley Theater - for which I am the Musical Director - and that’s precisely what this show was built to be: a devised musical revue show meant to be a delightful, familiar, and joy-sparking experience for the audience.

And folks…I think we did it?!?!

But how?

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Summertime, And The Livin' Is Easy...

Well, folks. For me, summer has now officially arrived!

Hooray!

I am now settled into Naples, NY for a three-show contract that will take most of my summer between June 1st-September 1st! (There will also be a little vacation and a week-long teaching contract thrown in the middle there as well!) And it’s all going to be super fun and not crazy or exhausting at all!

…Right?

Well, not quite. It’s all extremely exciting, but it will be incredibly busy as well!

So let me tell you a little about the exciting parts while I have your attention! :-D

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Stress? Psh! Injury...? Why Would You Even Say That?!

Let’s have a brief conversation - one-sided, of course, since this is a blog post :-) - about stress and physical injury in the theatre.

This is a topic that most artists - performers in particular - avoid, and for a few reasons:

  1. Injury is scary and no one wants to think about it.

  2. Everyone has stress and no one wants to look like the “complainer.”

  3. Injury has become stigmatized as something shameful.

  4. We wear our stress, and ability to handle it, as a badge of honor.

There are others as well, but I generally see these as the biggest reasons this topic is avoided. People don’t want to talk about these things, but if we don’t talk about them they become these big scary monsters that we hope we won’t have to endure.

But we do.

Stress and injury will affect everyone at some point, so let’s just talk about it.

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The Rumor, The Legend, The Mystery

Most people - and writers in particular - are drawn to stories about larger-than-life people, figures, and times. Moments and personalities that disrupted the status quo and changed the course of history. The extraordinary.

These are the stories that live on, passed down through facts and records (contemporary and non), as well as rumor, gossip, and anecdotes that may or may not include a kernel of truth.

The people at the center of these stories are some of the most compelling, and they have attracted the attention of people throughout generations.

And writers love them.

Historians and creative writers alike love to tackle these gigantic stories filled with change and drama, as well as mystery and intrigue, and put their own spins on them. But what they never tell you is just how difficult these people and stories are to write.

I too have fallen victim to this type of alluring narrative and - despite this post’s title - I am not speaking about the great historical mystery of Anastasia as adapted by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.

I’m talking about one of Western history’s most debated women from one of English history’s most infamous time periods:

Anne Boleyn.

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Love The Art, Hate The Artist?

Society - particularly American society - loves to demonize or to “other” art and artists.

We deride people who create:

  • Oh, you’re an artist? You’re one of those.”

  • Oh, you’re a writer? I wish I could sit at home all day.”

  • Oh, you’re an actor? You must love starving.”

These are of course specific examples using common ideas and tropes, but these kinds of reactions are common and probably sound familiar to you.

We tell people who want to go into the arts:

  • Why would you to throw your life away?”

  • But you have so much potential!”

  • But there’s no money in the arts!”

Being a creator is clearly seen as being *less than,* but why? Less than what? Why would we consider becoming an artist or writer or performer or designer a path that is throwing your life away or not using your skills and talents?

Well, Capitalism.

But this type of thinking and behavior not only can be unlearned, but it needs to be unlearned. Art and the products of creation are everywhere, but we’ve been conditioned to have a blind spot for most of it, and what we do see we are told to feel contempt for. Let’s just see how pervasive art is, shall we?

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It's Critical!

Lately, I’ve noticed that a lot of people - friends and strangers alike - have been saying something very similar to me as a I talk about productions, performances, or people that I’ve recently seen onstage.

As I’m giving my solicited opinion and actively formulating my thoughts, people keep stopping me to say things like:

  • You’re choosing your words very carefully.

  • You can just say what you mean to me.

  • You’re trying to be so [nice/PC/positive].

This got me thinking about how we, as artists and audience alike, deal with the art of criticism/critique/opinion. I’ll also admit that I recently listened to two interviews with high-profile theatre critics - both of which bothered me in very different and specific ways that I won’t go into here - so this topic hasn’t been far from my mind.

And after last week’s blog post, which was a semi-review of Hadestown, I got a lot of comments from people online and in person that basically said “Thank you for focusing on the good.”

But isn’t this how we should be talking about art?

All of those things above that people have said to me made me react the same way:

No no no, I am saying what I mean, which is why I’m choosing my words so carefully.” And as for positivity, I think that is important to bear in mind as we critique - why focus on only the negative?

So, what is the best way to give theatrical criticism?

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"It's An Old Song" Yet Somehow New

Last night I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Hadestown on Broadway, and there is so much I would like to say about the show and the experience.

Now, when I first began this blog I had promised that one of the things I would occasionally write is theatre reviews. However, I am not a reviewer or critic (well, everyone is a critic, aren’t they?) and I personally do not feel that the world needs another small-time reviewer to muddy the opinionated waters.

So what I am going to do is occasionally write about a show or theatrical experience that moved me, and then try to speak to why. What is it about this show? What in particular was enjoyable or exciting? What was new and/or different?

***This does mean there may be mild Hadestown spoilers today - but since I am including no pictures, video, or music, how spoiled could the experience really be? (Another question for another day?) Plus - well - the Orpheus story has also been around for a couple millennia, sooo… ;-)

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Submit To Me!

All professions are riddled with systemic flaws that everyone knows about, and yet very little is done to fix them. For playwrights and musical theatre writers the systemic flaw that I hear complained about the most is the submissions process.

Now, these complaints are completely justified. The problem with the system is…well, there isn’t one.

In the professional theatre world - at least where play and musical submissions are concerned - it’s a total free-for-all. (and not the enjoyable kind, like a lovely game of Super Smash Bros. on the good ole Nintendo 64! …no? just me being a video game dinosaur? oh coo, cool…)

And like most problems, this one gets completely ignored and nothing is really done to change it. Well, I won’t say completely ignored. Writers talk about this all the time - how messy, inconsistent, biased, and often expensive the submission process can be (yes, many come with attached fees). But the people who have the power to do something about it (aka the Theaters and the theatrical community members who receive submissions) either don’t want to change the way they do things, don’t want to engage in the discussion, don’t have the time, or aren’t aware that there is a better way to go about all of this.

And there is a better way, isn’t there?

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Hole-y Plots, Batman!

Over the course of my musical direction this past year I have had the pleasure of working on shows that I know well, as well as a couple that I didn’t. But one thing is for certain - you never truly know a show well until you have worked on it.

And once you have worked on a show, it becomes ingrained in you somehow. A piece of your life. A window into a specific period of time or a specific mindset. Perhaps it changed you somehow. Perhaps it was just a great time. Or perhaps it was a less positive experience. And all of this is wonderful and valid, but it’s also not what I’m going to be focusing on today.

Today I come bearing a question. At the end of the day what is more important: an airtight plot, or to move the audience?

Several of the musicals I have worked on in my life have brought me to ask this question, but I have been thinking about this yet again this year. Of the three shows I MDed this school year, 2 of them had “hole-y plots,” yet both seemed to give some sort of emotional satisfaction to the audience. And the other was absolutely airtight in plot, but was ultimately more entertaining than moving.

So which is more important? And can we have both?

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God I Hope I Get It

Audition (noun) - A necessary, and often grinding, step to acquiring a theatre performance job, which some actors love, many actors hate, and everyone else is relatively indifferent to

*Warning: This post is geared mainly toward the actor-folk and those interested in the audition process!

Last week I found myself once again in an audition room - this time behind the table, which was a lovely change! Generally speaking, whether or not I am part of the casting team, I’m hearing/viewing auditions on a weird side angle from the piano. So this was a lovely little treat!

Over my years of taking classes and workshops on “THE AUDITION” I have certainly learned many things about the audition process, and particularly about myself as an auditioner. But there is no better way to learn the ins-and-outs, dos-and-don’ts, and [other-cliched-phrases] of auditions than to sit on the other side of the table and observe with non-actor-oriented eyes/ears.

So, here are some of the things I’ve learned about auditioning.

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Don't Bring Around A Cloud...

…to rain on my paraaaaaaaade! (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

For those of you who read last week’s blog post - welcome to Part 2! For those of you who didn’t, check out the first part of the post here: As We Stumble Along…

Last week’s post focused on the more negative aspects of the risk-taking and the learning processes in this business. The journey is often imperfect and difficult and involves a great deal of trial-and-error, and that’s totally okay. But what I skipped over were all of the positive steps and outcomes that can result from this journey.

Every single success or accomplishment that is presently in my life can be traced back to either a risk I took, or a moment where I enhanced my personal education through non-traditional (aka classroom) means. And I am not unique in this regard.

So, the question becomes - how? Well, there are many routes, but I’ll tell you about some of mine.

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As We Stumble Along...

This week I had the pleasure of being part of the first NYC externship for my Alma Mater’s brand new, and now fully developed, Musical Theater Program. I had the chance to work with some lovely SUNY Geneseo Juniors and Seniors in a new musical theatre workshop - an entirely new experience for all of them - and attended the first ever Senior Showcase. The talent was wonderful, the interactions were lovely, and the entire experience got me thinking…a dangerous pastime, I know.

As a part of the workshop I had to essentially explain to the students who I am, what I do, how that’s relevant to Geneseo, and how I got to where I am. And you know what? That was much more difficult than I expected.

At this moment in my career, these are the titles that I can, and generally do, give myself:

Composer-Lyricist/Librettist (technically 3 titles?)

Performer (Musical and non-Musical Theatre)

Musical Director

Vocal Coach

Accompanist (I do this less often)

Arranger/Orchestrator (though mostly my own material these days)

One of the Geneseo students said “You do so much!” and I guess that’s true. But I think the better question is, how the heck did I learn to do all of these things?

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Medea Must Have Been An Artist

Allow me to explain.

In the art world - and particularly for musical theatre writers - we are often told that we need to be prepared to “kill our babies.” Obviously this is not meant in a literal sense. ‘Cause that would be bad. Very bad.

For non-theatre or non-artist folks, this idea might be a bit confusing. What is meant by this?

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Those Who Can...

It’s an old and cliched phrase at this point, but I do still occasionally hear people say: Those who can’t do, teach.” Which is really a misquote from George Bernard Shaw’s Maxims For Revolutionists:

“He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.”

Now, is there any truth to this? Perhaps for some people. Though I would bet that those who go into teaching purely out of disappointment of falling out of their chosen profession aren’t very good teachers, nor are they likely to be teachers for long.

And yet this idea persists. Why?

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Hey, Old Friend

What is a theatre writer’s best friend and worst enemy?

You might think: Writer’s block? The blank page? Technology? Caffeine? Sleep? Outlines? All good possible answers, but…nope. What applies only to theatre writers and to no other form of writing?

Readings.

DUN DUN DUN! *Insert dramatic zoom here*

But why, Michael? Why are readings both potentially wonderful and oh-so-evil at the same time?

An excellent question.

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There's A Place For Us...

I was at a networking event earlier this week and got into a conversation - one that I’ve had countless times with theatre professionals and audience members alike - where the central questions are:

Should Broadway shows be about the art or the money?”

Is there a place on Broadway for shows that are only light and feel-good? What about dark, depressing shows?”

How do you expect to get new audiences if all shows look, feel, or sound alike?”

Now, I don’t find the mere asking of these questions to be problematic, but I do find the heart of this oft-had conversation to be problematic. Whichever side you fall on - and yes, there do ultimately seem to end up being two sides to this conversation - there is an insinuation that one type of theatre should exist on Broadway and another type should not.

But my big question is: Why?

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