The road to musical-theatre success isn't always smooth sailing, but aspiring producers and writers were recently given advice on how to avoid roadblocks and cope with setbacks by professionals who were once in their shoes. Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) partnered with Back Stage Editor in Chief Sherry Eaker and the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) to present the panel discussion "Big, Bouncy & Breakable: How to Raise a Healthy Musical" on Sept. 27 at the Theatre at St. Clement's.
The panel included performers, producers, and writers from a variety of backgrounds: Jennifer Costello, senior vice president and executive director of production for Clear Channel Entertainment; Karen Mack, one-half of the Gashole cabaret duo; Betsy Kelso, a founding member of the Shirley Chickenpants sketch comedy group and a voice on the Fuse network's "Behind the Music That Sucks"; Michael Weitz, a TRU scholarship winner who recently produced "The Flute Player's Song" for the NYMF; Victoria Lang, co-president and founder of PLUS Entertainment and PLUS Media; and John La Rock, associate producer for North Shore Music Theatre.
TRU President Bob Ost, the discussion moderator, encouraged audience members to introduce themselves to each other on several occasions and emphasized to those in attendance, "This is about you."
Ost continued, "Producing is often a lonely business. The wonderful thing about these discussions is that the beginners in the audience find out that the people who they aspire to be faced the same obstacles when they were just starting out."
Ost and his panel touched on a variety of subjects during the two-hour session. Weitz, Lang, Kelso, Mack, La Rock, and Costello offered their input on everything from the steps of development for a musical and the requirements of an Actors' Equity showcase to business negotiations and academic resources.
The entire panel agreed that producers "need to get everything in writing" when it comes to contracts. Costello encouraged audience members to offer their services to theatre companies as volunteers and interns in order to absorb the tricks of the trade. "Don't be afraid to take jobs you might view as beneath you," she said. "Even if you're just fetching coffee, you're still in a position to observe the creative process."
The panel agreed that a musical's success depends on the collaborative relationship among the producer, writer, composer, and other parties involved in the project. As a result, Kelso noted, relying on instinct is important when collaborating with others on musicals. "If you have a doubt about anyone you're working with, listen to your gut and take action," she said. Ost agreed with Kelso and added, "Working on a musical is a lot like a relationship—don't just fall in love with someone's potential."
Weitz told producers not to be discouraged if they cannot stage musicals in New York City. "Exposure is important no matter where a show is performed," he said. "It doesn't matter where you stage it."
Mack recently produced "Believe in Me…A Bigfoot Musical" for the New York International Fringe Festival and advised those who might debut their shows in the fringe theatre scene not to look down on fringe theatre or cut corners in their fringe productions. She noted, "It doesn't matter where your show debuts, because you never know who might be in the audience. You always have to put in a lot of effort."
The panel also recommended educational resources for first-time producers to utilize. Audience members were referred to the book "From Option to Opening: A Guide to Producing Plays Off-Broadway" by Donald C. Farber, the upcoming Broadway University website (www.broadwayuniversity.com), and other information sources.
At the end of the evening, Ost once again manifested his desire to help musical-theatre newcomers advance their careers by allowing audience members to publicly network. People who were seeking directors, choreographers, and other professionals for their shows and those who simply wanted to spread the word about their productions were permitted to stand and address the crowd.