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!

So Happy Together: The Music of the Swingin’ 60s  at Bristol Valley Theater (Rich Miller)

So Happy Together: The Music of the Swingin’ 60s at Bristol Valley Theater (Rich Miller)

The Other Sport

People always talk about how sports are such a great influence on development, particularly the aspects of teamwork and community. We make books and TV shows and films by the dozen on this subject.

Bu what about theatre?

Doesn’t theatre have the same positive influence on people that sports do? I would answer with a resounding yes. Not only do you learn to work as a team (though we usually use the term “ensemble”) with fellow performers, you also build an entire community with your directors, choreographers, musical directors, stage management, stage crew, designers, run crews, pit members, etc.

And just like sports, theatre pushes the mind and the body to constantly learn and grow - to do more than you previously could.

From an educational standpoint, I cannot count the number of times I have heard the parents of my students say Theatre is our sport or My son has soccer, but my daughter has theatre”. Theatre people understand this concept, but I think that the majority of people who are not directly involved in theatre don’t see it as a community-building venture the way we see sports.

Some of this may be due to the lack of mainstream media and commercial attention in comparison with sports, though I think it’s mostly due to an undervaluing and under-appreciation of the arts in our culture. When you aren’t taught to look up to something, you won’t be highlighting its positive aspects moving forward.

But I cannot emphasize enough how important the ensemble and community nature of theatre is. It permeates every level - from elementary school pageants all the way up through Broadway blockbusters. Theatre folks are a particular subset of good humans who you can learn from, come to know, and to count on, just by their nature as fellow theatrical people.

People often say that theatre is family.

And thus far in my life and career, I’ve only seen mounting evidence to support this.

Theatre people are the best people.

 

So Big, So Small

One of the most confusing things to me about theatre is how - whether you’re talking about a specific show or the entire community at large - you can simultaneously feel like a small droplet in an ocean of people and like you know everyone personally.

For instance, on my current contract at Bristol Valley Theater we have dozens of people in the company working constantly (and often separately) to piece together each production. Most of the time I spend during the days is with the cast, director, and stage management, whom I know intimately at this point. In relative terms to the time I spend here, I rarely see the production or build crew.

However! In those rare moments where we are all eating lunch in the lobby, or on a quick break, or see each other in town after work hours, there’s an immediate connection. We may have all worked in separate areas throughout the day, but it’s all to the same end and in the same place. There’s an innate understanding of the work and the people, and it’s always delightful to spend that time with one another.

The same is true of the theatrical community as a whole.

A common saying in life - but that gets particular play in the theatre - is “it’s a small world.” Never does that feel so true as when meeting someone new in this business. Give it a few minutes, and chances are that you will have figured out ten people and five theaters that you know in common.

Everyone knows everyone, and we are all connected in a million ways. And it’s wonderful.

Why is that wonderful?

Because we have all had that teamwork/ensemble way of life instilled in us throughout our educations and careers. We support each other. We want to work with each other. We want to succeed, yes, but we want others to succeed as well.

Success in one area of the theatre breeds success for everyone at all levels, and we are aware of that.

The only way to continue moving forward is to do so together.

 

There’s No People Like Show People

Seriously. Theatre people are the best.

One of the things I love most about working in theatre is meeting wonderful people and making fantastic new friends.

New friends mean both enrichment for my life, but also enrichment for my chosen field of work. Where else can you - on a consistent basis at least - do your work and further your career, all while having a blast and loving the humans you are surrounded with?

Doing So Happy Together at BVT has given me wonderful new friends that I already cherish more than I consciously know. And their departure after Sunday will be a tearful one. However, I know that we will be seeing one another and working together again. I can almost guarantee it.

And this is the meat and bones of the “Broadway community”: People of all ages across the country, doing theatre in schools, at community houses, non-equity houses, large regional houses, and yes, on Broadway, all learning and growing together to create their art.

There is nothing like it, and it’s truly the best.

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.

 

Injury Is Scary

Yep. Yes it is.

No one wants to think about injury and what that might mean for the disruption of their lives, routine, and career.

However, in avoiding thoughts about injury, there is a tendency to cut back on self-awareness. People often end up adopting an attitude of:

Oh, that doesn’t hurt that much. I can totally keep going full speed.”

…And that’s probably the best way to become injured in the first place.

There’s a fine line to walk between pushing your body further in order to accomplish something and/or grow in a skill set, versus pushing your body further than it is properly prepared to go. But at the end of the day it’s you who knows this difference.

Awareness of yourself and what your body is telling you is incredibly important. Try not to overdue it. Take breaks. Stretch properly. Make use of a day off. Drink water. Breathe.

And if you feel yourself getting increasingly stressed out in your mind, that will likely translate into your body as well. That’s a fantastic indication that it’s time to give your body (and mind) a break.

Be kind to yourself.

 

Everyone Has Stress

Indeed!

But that does not invalidate your personal stress.

It is healthy to speak about what is stressing us out. If it wasn’t, therapy wouldn’t be so common, particularly amongst Millenials and the younger generations. Talking it out can be a fantastic way to relieve what’s on your mind.

And let’s not forget, if it’s on your mind then it will likely manifest as stress in the body as well.

Theatre is a business where everyone is always high energy and high stakes, and therefore stressed the Eff out all the time.

So in those moments when your personal stressors begin to feel overwhelming and you need to get it out, it can feel like you have no right to complain. Thoughts like “I mean, Daniel’s mom just went into surgery for cancer this morning and he’s still here and functioning normally” begin to creep in and we begin to invalidate ourselves.

Nah brah, you gotta talk that out!

*Note: I apologize for “nah brah” - it just felt odd, yet somehow right, in the moment.

Find that person in your life who will not judge you for your need to talk and will lend the type of listening ear that you require - whether that’s just an ear, or someone who will give advice, or someone who will provide active support or reassurances or hugs, etc. This can be a friend, family member, therapist, or unsuspecting stranger on the street…perhaps not the last.

But do what you need to do for you. I guarantee you that everyone else is - or at least should be - as well.

 

Injury and Shame

(My friend and colleague Becky Grace Kalman wrote a great post about this on her blog a few months ago - it’s worth the read.)

This one goes especially for dancers, but I think everyone feels this phenomenon as well.

Most people in our business and culture do not want to admit to themselves that they have limitations. By the same token, people also don’t like admitting that they are aging. Physical injury can be a reminder of both of these things.

And when you’re a performer, everything becomes amplified.

Somehow we have adopted this notion in our business that an injury - once publicly known - defines who we are and how we are seen for the remainder of our careers.

OOF.

That’s a tough idea to have circulating in the back of your mind all the time as you try your best to constantly become better and stronger and acquire more skills, yet remain young and spry and uninjured. This is certainly not a recipe for additional stress and therefore further injury possibilities…nope, no way…

But to an extent, this notion is true. Any injuries we sustain, whether they be vocal or physical, will remain a part of our personal stories. They will not define us, but they will be there as something we have experienced and have - hopefully, with the right care and training - overcome.

And it’s ultimately you who controls this narrative.

People talk, but whatever let them talk. Words that other people exchange have no bearing on your actual story and journey. That’s about the truth of what is happening with you.

Everyone will experience injuries of some sort, minor or major. Everyone will age. Everyone has physical limitations. But humans are adaptable creatures and survivors, and we can always find a way to continue forward even if the path now looks a little different.

But the shame culture must end. It isn’t healthy for anyone. We are all so much more than that.

 

Badge of Honor

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh boy.

To an extent all Americans do this, but it is super enhanced in the world of theatre.

Ask a theatre artist what they’re up to and they list 15,000,000 things they are, or have been, doing. They say things like “Gotta keep busy

We do a million things because we are artists and no one pays us enough and we need to find a way to make it in this current socio-economic climate (see my earlier post: No Rest For The Wicked). But that doesn’t necessarily mean we should be happy about the stress that all of this work brings!

Don’t get me wrong - we can have periods of time where we are doing a large number of things that are all positive and wonderful and career-building, and we can be super happy and thrilled and #blessed.

BUT. Even the good kind of busy comes with stress.

“I’m busy” doesn’t have to be a happy thing. “I’m busy” might very well equal “I’m stressed AF,” and that’s okay too. We don’t have to kill ourselves with our stress to prove that we’re worthy of something.

You are. You’re worthy. I believe you.

I could talk about this point for hours, but I think I’ll leave it here with the major points.

 

Stress and Injury

They are related, and we should acknowledge that.

We should also talk about this more as a community. When we don’t, stigmas grow and fear begins to creep in.

Stress and injury are not positive things, but they are natural and common. They will occur. But we can be in control of the narrative and how we handle these elements with some awareness, preparation, and thought.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. And don’t forget to breathe.

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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Visual

Let’s begin with the category that most people think of as “art.”

When you say “Visual Art,” the first thing people think of is the type of painting or photography that one might hang on the wall in a home or a place of business. Or perhaps they picture “stodgy old art” that isn’t their taste, like what hangs in museums.

Okay, then let’s start here. Why was this art created? Was it to fulfill the whimsical desires of the artist? Was it an experiment? Or an off-the-cuff creation?

Likely not.

Visual art is meant to have purpose - it’s functional. What is that function? To provide a pleasing visual aesthetic for the person purchasing the art. It’s possible the art was even commissioned originally, meaning that its sole purpose in existing is to be seen and provide visual pleasure for someone. Is this not a worthy function?

And we - as capitalist consumers - hang art everywhere. We buy photographs and prints, paintings and drawings, we frame puzzles, we order canvases, we find indie art shops, we (for better or worse) purchase “Ikea art” - and all for the purpose of enriching the visual elements of our lives.

We adore this art - so why would we deride the people who created what we love?

And Visual Art is not just the things I’ve mentioned above. It’s a gigantic category covering things that we see around us everywhere, all day every day. Here are just a few examples:

  • Advertisements - Posters, online ads, business cards, etc.

  • Logos - For businesses, for individuals, for podcasts, for the app on your phone, etc.

  • Cards/Invitations/Mailings - Wedding invites, birthday cards, charity solicitation mailings, theater season announcements, etc.

  • Design - Book covers, the shape of a Febreeze bottle, the pattern on your tissue box, etc.

  • Theatrical - Set, lighting, costumes, direction, performance, etc.

I could go on and on. Everywhere you look is something that someone has put time, thought, and design into. That is art. And we use this art. So why deride the artist?

 

Auditory

First thing people think of? Songwriters.

Not composers, of course, but songwriters. People whose music we hear on the radio. People who create sound and music for the purpose of money and fame. People we worship, people we hate, people who are publicly visible, people who acquire awards, people who fill our ears through radio and streaming and headphones and coffee shop speakers.

Do some of these people make money? Yes - though not nearly as many of them as you think.

Do we love these musicians and often make idols out of them? Yes - some of them at least.

So that’s not derision, this a a category where we celebrate art!

But all Auditory Art? And all artists?

You may know the singer-songwriter of that song you love, but do you know the name of the person or company that produced it? How about the sound engineer? The person who mixed it? Or who edited it? Or who created the underlying beat track for the radio version?

There are far more creators on any one radio song than we ever think about.

And where else is sound created other than for the radio?

  • Theatre

  • Film

  • Dance

  • Lobby/Reception Areas

  • Elevators

  • Public Spaces

  • Websites

  • Video Games

And what about other types of sound design?

Whether or not you think about it, the lack of sound (or even silence) in a space has been purposefully created for you. Someone said “I don’t want there to be too much sound in this space” and a creator made that happen.

There are also publicly available sounds, tracks, and effects that have been created for users of programs and apps like Musical Notation Software, Recording Software, Sleep Therapy Software, etc.

Someone made everything you hear that isn’t a natural sound. And we use these sounds to create an atmosphere - a pleasing environment.

We love Auditory Art. So shouldn’t we love the artists?

 

Functional

People come to New York City and buy pictures and renderings of the skyline.

Why?

‘Cause it’s beautiful. It’s been designed to be beautiful.

Functional Art is a broad category that covers the pleasing artistic aesthetic of things that also serve a functional purpose in our lives - well, other than the function of being artistically pleasing.

Here’s a smattering of what could fit in this category, just from an architectural and mechanical point of view:

  • Building Design

  • Interior Design - This goes for office space, retail space, and residential space.

  • Bridges

  • Roadways

  • Vehicles

  • Airplanes

  • Boats/Ships

  • Piers

  • Island Barriers

  • Canals

  • Farmland

  • Large Machinery

Everything has been designed, whether or not you’ve noticed.

And plenty of other types of everyday objects are also included in this category:

  • Clothing - I’d say this is a pretty big one, especially considering diversity and range.

  • Furniture

  • Household Objects

  • Kitchen Gadgets

  • Perfumes

  • Scent Products - Candles, plug-ins, incense, etc.

  • Small Machinery - Printers, copiers, etc.

Sometimes people argue that - for things such as scent - it is scientists who find these elements and put them together to create pleasing aromas. Or engineers who created the machinery that makes the engine of a car work properly.

Yes. And we wouldn’t dare label these creators as “artists,” would we? The products are far too functional to be given that lowly title, right?

We love Functional Art. We use it. We need it. So we should love the artists as well.

 

Technological

We rely on technology all day every day. We carry small computers in our pockets. We use larger computers for work and for pleasure.

And someone created that. Both the insides and the outsides.

Technology is something that was created for the purpose of being functional, but that the public also demands to be constantly aesthetically pleasing. And everything that has to do with technology was imagined and created by people.

Another list:

  • Phones

  • Computers

  • Tablets

  • Hardware

  • Software

  • Apps

  • Programs

  • Cameras

  • Film

  • Coding

  • Websites

  • CGI

  • Electronic Instruments

  • Medical Equipment

  • Electricity Reliant Objects

  • Lighting -Of all varieties.

And a billion other things. And if you notice, much of this crosses over with Functional Art. These days it’s very difficult to create something useful that doesn’t rely on technology in one way or another.

The people who created all of this are artists. Why deride them?

 

Experiential

Now, more than most times, humans are all about experiences.

We search out activities, places, and recreations that will provide us with pleasant environments and experiences worth remembering or revisiting.

And…you guessed it…artists created it all. Top to bottom, left to right, forward to back, and in a thousand other ways we didn’t even know existed.

Some of these include:

  • Movies

  • TV Shows

  • Theme Parks - Disney anyone?

  • Theatre

  • Concerts

  • Dance

  • News Articles/Papers/Programs

  • Books

  • Sport Stadium Interiors - You can go to a Mets game just for the experiences at CitiField!

  • Gardens

  • Parks

  • Bowling Alleys

  • Rock Climbing Walls

  • Dining Spaces

  • Food

  • Alcohol

  • Travel Excursions

Anything that you go to, or bring to yourself, in order to engage in an experience can be considered Experiential Art.

We fill our lives with this stuff. We discuss it all regularly. We create cultural norms and build conversations around this art. We argue about episodes. We share our favorite meals.

It’s all art. So why deride the artists?

 

It’s Everywhere

Art is not a high concept that can be boxed into a corner. Art is not created in a vacuum. Art is not purely aesthetic. Art is not something only the wealthy experience.

Art has function. Art has meaning. Art enriches lives. Art allows us to live. Art helps us survive.

Art is all around us and we use it every day. And we love it - we don’t put it down or tell it to go away. We don’t call the art around us a waste of time, or life, or potential.

So why deride the artist?

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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"Snow Day (A Day Off)"

As a high school student, I had a fairly constant refrain:

We need a snow day. Give us a snow day. Please.”

Now, this was not me praying or placing a sock under my pillow or attempting to bewitch the skies to make storms appear, this was me on days when school should have been cancelled due to inclement weather even though it had not been.

Some context:

I grew up in Binghamton, NY where most of our snow came from major storms across the interior or from large Nor’easters. So when we had a big storm - even though we knew how to move snow well (it’s upstate NY after all) - we had a snow day.

In high school I moved to Rochester, NY, which sees more snow each year than Binghamton does, mostly due to constant lake effect snow. Because of this, Rochester (for some reason) prides itself on moving snow so well that there’s no reason to ever have a snow day.

Um. What?

Let’s even put aside the obvious fact that big snow storms or large amounts of black ice are dangerous and potentially life-threatening, especially when you have students driving themselves and their friends to school. There’s another big reason that Snow Days are crucial: Mental Health.

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You've Got To Be Carefully Taught

One of the most eye-opening tips I’ve ever casually received in my career thus far came while doing a show called My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding. It’s an absolutely delightful, folksy, and heartfelt autobiographical musical written by the Canadian husband-wife writing team (and the kindest people) David Hein and Irene Sankoff - yes, the same people behind the international smash hit: Come From Away.

It was October of 2010 and we had been rehearsing the show at JCC Centerstage in Rochester, NY in a setting where the show was being workshopped with David and Irene as we went through the script. For a new writer like me, this was an incredible experience. The show’s director and a wonderful mentor of mine - Ralph Meranto - told David and Irene after one rehearsal that I was an aspiring musical theatre writer. They immediately showed interest and asked questions. As I said, kindest people ever.

At the end of the conversation, Irene asked, “Do you follow Ken Davenport’s blog? If you don’t, you definitely should. There’s a lot of great information. We read it religiously!”

This one suggestion set me onto a path over the next few years of attempting to acquire and consume every bit of knowledge that I could about writing musical theatre. And that is why this tip was so important.

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Why Is *THAT* A Musical?

If I had a nickel for every time I was asked this question, or even asked this question myself, I would have a very large number of relatively heavy and annoying coins.

But I do wonder - How often do people hear about a new musical or see a marquee and think this question to themselves? I mean, what makes a story ripe for adaptation into a musical? Why do some musicals seem like no-brainers, while others make us scratch our heads and think, “Huh. Really? That one?”

The Lehman Engel BMI Musical Theatre Writing Workshop answer to the question of what type of stories should be adapted into musicals is a relatively simple and subjective one: If you think there’s more within the story that should be told, and that music will enhance that storytelling, then it is likely adaptable into a musical. But if the story feels complete in its current form, and it doesn’t seem like music will enhance the piece and its purpose, it should probably be left alone.

Despite the subjective nature of this statement, I do think there’s truth to it. If you look at the types of stories that have been most successfully adapted into musicals (and most musicals are adaptations), the use of music in the storytelling has heightened the plots and characters, and filled in some invisible hole that helps the audience interact with the material.

This is the reason, I think, that certain stories see multiple attempts at musical adaptation. For a couple of examples, we have 2 adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera, 2 musicals of The Wild Party, and countless musical versions of Shakespeare’s plays (most of which have not worked well). Some stories feel as though they could be told well, or better, in musical theatre form and therefore multiple adaptations appear. Some are good, and some aren’t. Some use the original author’s intents, and some leave them behind.

Successful adaptation is a tricky process - and I know this from adapting one of the most-adapted stories in musical theatre, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow. Approximately 5-6 musical versions of this story exist, but none of them has had great mainstream or commercial success. Yet. But why? What goes into this process?

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