Ambitious NYC Musical Theatre Festival Planned for Fall; Production-Ready Scripts Sought

News   Ambitious NYC Musical Theatre Festival Planned for Fall; Production-Ready Scripts Sought It was only a matter of time for New York City — the birthplace of American musical theatre — to get an international festival of musicals to complement such events as the New York International Fringe Festival and Midtown International Fringe Festival.

A new city-wide festival, The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), is scheduled to play its first season Sept. 13-Oct. 3 "to celebrate the art form and bring together the wide array of artists, writers, producers, theatre companies and audience members who have contributed to the city's thriving musical theatre scene."

The modestly-budgeted not-for-profit NYMF "will be the premiere international festival for contemporary musical theatre," according to the April 7 announcement. "Through the month of September 2004, The New York Musical Theatre Festival will take place all across New York, from the theatre district in midtown Manhattan to the outer boroughs, and it will celebrate the diversity, creativity and future of the musical, and its iconic place within New York City."

The fest was born at a roundtable in 2003, attended by New York's key resident musical theatre companies including Musical Theatre Works, York Theatre Company, the National Alliance for Musical Theater, Amas, Genesius Guild, BMI, ASCAP, National Music Theater Network and more.

Considered central to the Festival will be The Next Link Project, in which writers are invited to submit a "production ready" new musical to NYMF. A jury will select 18 new musicals to be presented in repertory — in full stagings, with modest production values and perhaps a mix of Equity and non-Equity talent — over a three-week period in five venues in the theatre district. The jury will include Gabriel Barre, Robyn Goodman, Kathleen Marshall, Scott Schwartz and others.

"The idea came from trying to build the ideal showcasing environment for new musicals in New York City," said NYMF executive director Kris Stewart. "We're calling it 'The Next Link' because we feel that this can be the next link in the chain from getting the idea for a new musical, to seeing it have its full-scale premiere." Applications to submit to the Next Link Project (deadline is May 3) are available from the Festival website, www.nymf.org. There is a $50 application fee. If the project is selected (by blind submission) there is a $300 participation fee, and then the creative team bears any production cost (which might include simple sets and costumes and actor transportation, but not the major burden of space rental). NYMF provides the space and a tech director and design advisors, and takes half of the box office, allowing the writers to make a good chunk of their money back if enough tickets are sold. Under the Equity showcase code, admission is capped at $15 (similar to the annual New York International Fringe Festival).

The biggest part of the production cost when self-producing a showcase is the venue rental, Stewart pointed out, followed by the publicity/marketing, tech issues and ticketing. The festival takes care of allof that, Stewart said.

"I feel we're making sure that the showcase of their musical is costing $3,000 instead of $15,000, and then giving them the promotional opportunities to bring in enough ticket sales so that they can cover that," Stewart said.

Details are still being worked out with Equity, but it's hoped that 6-8 performances of each show will be seen (in a setup not unlike the New York Fringe).

"We are not producing new musicals," Stewart said. "We're providing opportunities for companies and individual writers..."

More modest staged readings of new or developing works will also be part of the festival, but the point of Next Link is to showcase works that have been developed somewhat and are ready for some kind of production, not "something fresh out of the laptop," Stewart said.

Through the Next Link Project and other events, according to its mission, "NYMF is reaching out to commercial producers and regional theatres, for whom NYMF represents an opportunity to find new works with the greatest potential for future success."

"One of the reasons we're doing it is that it's crazy that it hasn't been done before," Stewart told Playbill On-Line. "It's an interesting and important idea: It's not about transferring a bunch of shows to Broadway, it's about providing opportunity and showcasing talent...contemporary musical theatre talent."

Stewart said that "contemporary" doesn't mean the fest will be full of experiments, pop-music shows and non-linear work. There will be room for traditional material, as well.

Australian native Kris Stewart is also executive director of Manhattan-based National Music Theater Network, which helps develop new works and seeks to see them produced in concert form around the county (with the hope that they graduate to full production).

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There will also be a series of other events through the three weeks of the Festival, including The Movie Musical Screening Series, "which will showcase some of the most exciting musical movies of the independent film scene and will screen films that celebrate the history of the movie musical. In the first event of its kind, NYMF will present up to 30 screenings of award-winning features, shorts, dance movies, and music videos over the week of Sept. 20 in a Times Square-area theatre.

Other events at NYMF will include the sneak preview of a new family musical by Stephen Schwartz (composer of Wicked), New Author New Star, a series of concerts celebrating new artists in musical theatre; The International Concert Series, presenting international works in their original language (such as Russian or Spanish); The ASCAP MAC Songwriter Showcase; the BMI 5horts Series, presenting short musicals written by authors within the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop (whose members have included Avenue Q's Jeff Marx and Bobby Lopez); The Raw Impressions Radio Series, new musicals created specifically for broadcast; the National Music Theater Network's BROADWAY USA! program, which will present a season of new musicals in concert, as selected by guest artistic director John Rando; Inside the Studio, which will be a mix of concert, interview and master classes featuring a series of legendary Broadway authors; The Midtown Cabaret Festival, produced by the Midtown International Theatre Festival; and a series of new musicals that will be showcasing from Great Britain, Canada and Australia.