ANMT Gives Crash Course in Creating, Selling Musicals

The Academy for New Musical Theatre held its latest Biz of the Musical Theatre Biz conference June 27-29 at ANMT's North Hollywood headquarters and June 30 at Burbank's Colony Theatre. This event, presented every other summer, offers wide-ranging advice to composers, librettists, and lyricists hoping to get their musicals produced. ANMT's mission is to nurture the continuing growth of the musical theatre art form and to support the efforts of its craftsmen. It's a West Coast descendant of New York's BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop, founded in 1979.

Approximately 40 registrants participated, receiving feedback on their works in progress and hearing panel discussions featuring distinguished professionals in the musical theatre field. Among the topics offered: the stories behind successful musicals, the logistics of getting paid for your scores, the legalities of musical theatre, getting your music heard in cyberspace, and musical theatre songs in animated entertainment.

Several panelists expressed the view that most new American musicals are now developed regionally and that major hubs of activity like Southern California deserve more respect for their invaluable contributions to the art form. One particularly interesting panel was Los Angeles: The Birthplace of New Musicals?, held June 28, moderated by Terence McFarland, executive director of LA Stage Alliance. It featured artistic directors and/or producers from theatres of various sizes and with diverse artistic philosophies, and it yielded lively and passionate discussions. When Pasadena Playhouse artistic director Sheldon Epps said he was offended because a question mark was included at the end of this session's title, the panelists heartily concurred there is no doubt that L.A. has become a vital breeding ground for new musicals.

This led to several assertions that there are negative aspects of producing musicals in New York. Daniel Henning, artistic director-producer of the Blank Theatre Company, said, "You can develop shows in L.A. free of the rumor mill that's always ready to kill shows in New York. You can work on them here with freedom for exploration." James Blackman III, executive director-producer of Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities, remarked, "In New York, it's so corporate-driven. Here it's more a process of cobbling shows together."

In a June 29 panel titled Getting to the Top of the Pile, which likewise featured producers and artistic directors, McCoy Rigby Entertainment executive producer Tom McCoy didn't pussyfoot with his opinion: "New York is a scary, hideous place. They'll rip you to shreds."

Practical Magic

Lots of nitty-gritty tips came from the Birthplace and Top of the Pile sessions. The panelists advised conference registrants on what to include -- and not to include -- in submission packages; the importance of complete, succinct, and professionally drafted cover letters; the need to send sample songs on a CD rather than as sheet music; and where, when, and to whom materials should be sent. Arnold Margolin, producing director of the Falcon Theatre, cautioned against wasting his time by submitting a show that incorporates textual or musical material for which you have not secured the legal rights. Blackman said that if you are careless enough to get his name wrong, he'll toss your submission into the trash. Michael Michetti, co-artistic director of the Theatre @ Boston Court, added that he will not pay attention to submissions with grammatical or typographical errors. Michael Jackowitz, producer-director of new works at the Rubicon Theatre, emphasized that the music is the first item of interest for busy individuals trying to review an avalanche of submissions. If he can't pop a CD into his car stereo to

determine if the music sounds appealing, he'll spend no additional time reviewing the submission. Independent producer Hilary Genga seconded this sentiment.

In the ANMT Feedback Demo session June 29, three ANMT staff members -- executive director Scott Guy, associate artistic director Elise Dewsberry, and music adviser Ross Ḱ±„lling -- sang, read, and played portions of three musicals in progress written by conference attendees. The team provided astute views on the pieces' strengths and weaknesses. Among their tips: Make sure a song advances the story and that its music fits the tone and dramatic intent of the contextual scene; heighten the drama with musical transitions within a song; be economical in writing; use true rhymes versus forced rhymes, and ensure that the sequence of musical notes doesn't inadvertently work against the intended meaning of the lyrics.

Throughout the sessions, attendees repeatedly expressed their appreciation for the information offered, and several said they felt encouraged to take the steps needed to get their shows on the boards.

For further information on ANMT, visit www.anmt.org.

Les Spindle can be reached at lspindle@backstage.com.