This week is the start of one my two most favorite NYC “staycations”: The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF). While this is the 10th anniversary for NYMF, and it has a loyal, enthusiastic cadre of musical theatre nuts that faithfully attend its offerings, I am always surprised at the number of culturally in-touch New Yorkers who are either unaware of, or indifferent to, this truly exciting resource. The Festival occupies three weeks in July during which 30 new musicals are given full productions with fully professional teams of actors, designers, and directors and choreographers. All seats are $25, although true enthusiasts who become members get discount opportunities along with a tax deduction for memberships ranging from $100 to $500.
The main stage productions are chosen through a variety of methods. Ten of the shows are selected through the “Next Link Project,” designed to give new faces in the musical theatre world an opportunity to be seen in the festival. There are literally hundreds of submissions. First, a large team of readers reviewsevery submission, initially from the recordings of the music, a synopsis, and a short section of the script. Shows that get a positive response are then moved on to consideration by the same group, this time with the full script and score. Eventually, these readers meet to argue for the inclusion of their favorites for review by a Grand Jury of leading musical theatre artists and producers. The shows selected by the Grand Jury are then given spots in the Festival, professional mentoring for every aspectproduction, and $5,000 toward their production costs.
The balance of the two dozen full productions come to the Festival through more traditional processes – agents, producers, independent production companies. Those shows are funded by the presenters, either through traditional producing sources or individual fund-raising campaigns. Some shows receive very elaborate productions with full sets and costumes; others are more bare-bones. Each show has five to seven scheduled performances; musicals that sell out early are frequently given additional showings.
But the full productions are only part of the Festival. A series of “special events” featuring a wide variety of musical-theatre related programs are also offered. These presentations includecabarets by established performers, collections of songs from a particular writer, performer, or theme, and unique musical theatre pieces that do not fit into any established category. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Festival are the readings of new works that are not quite ready for prime-time. Many of these are shows identified in the “Next Link” process. Each is given three public readings/singings that have been directed by an established musical theatre director and performed by (mostly) Equity actors. Audience members give the creative team written responses to questions posed by the Festival’s development staff. There are three days between the second and third readings during which the creative team and the performerswork on the show based on the feedback. There are also a number of scheduled “talk-backs” and panel discussions scheduled throughout the three weeks.
In the past, the Festival venues were spread across a variety of theatres in the mid-town theatre district. This year, the beautiful Pershing Square Signature Theatre Center is the hub for the Festival and the other venues are within a block of the Signature complex, giving the Festival more of a sense of community. In addition, Signature’s luxurious café/lobby provides a place where musical theatre addicts can share their “best” and “worst” experiences.
Over the course of the next three weeks, I hope to share my “best” and “worst” experiences at this year’s Festival. These commentaries will not attempt to be full-scale reviews, but instead highlight the experience of seeing new shows that are in the process of evolving. My comments on readings will be very limited since they are, by definition, not presented as fully developed works. Finally, many of these postings will be from my iPad and will not have the benefit of my private editor (myspouse), so please forgive typos and other “offenses incomposition.” So now, on with the shows.
BTW: The other most favorite NYC summer “staycation” is the Fringe Festival in August. Stay tuned.