Guest dancers, writers, actors and directors arrived on the verdant Rocky Mountain campus June 8 to jump into the developmental new-works program. Over the next 10 days, New Noises — an adult initiative separate from the decades-old camp programs for 8-to-21-year-old aspiring performers — offers invited professionals a place to work on a new play, a new musical and a new dance piece.
Why, among the student activities, was a professional new-works program important for Perry-Mansfield?
"Because it carries on the legacy of Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield, who founded this camp on the idea of the nurturing of new talent and voices in the arts," Perry-Mansfield executive director June Lindenmayer told Playbill.com. "It's about finding a home in the arts — giving [artists] a home to express and create. I think we're all proud of the fact we're carrying on the tradition of these two incredible women."
Presented in partnership with ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and The ASCAP Foundation and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, New Noises continues Perry-Mansfield's founding principles of fostering emerging new talents and encouraging innovation and experimentation.
Under the artistic direction of New York-based director Peter Flynn, the New Noises program will culminate this year in public presentations of three emerging new stage works: a reading of the Hamlet-inspired play Spiced Danish Vodka by Rinne Groff, directed by Andrew Leynse, June 17; a dance presentation choreographed by Jessica Lang, performed by invited guest dancers with selected Perry-Mansfield students and faculty June 18; and a reading of the new musical River's End, with music by Chuck Larkin, book and lyrics by Cheri Coons, directed by Lee Sankowich, June 19. Each year, special guest artists are invited to mentor the musical theatre piece. In 2002, 2003 and 2004, Perry-Mansfield welcomed Academy Award-winning composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz as the musical theatre mentor. This year, two new guest artists will act as mentors — composer Jeanine Tesori, a three-time Tony Award nominee for Caroline, or Change, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Twelfth Night; and Peter Schneider, producer of the Broadway musicals The Lion King and Aida.
Guest artist Michael Kerker, director of musical theatre for ASCAP, will also participate in the musical theatre workshop.
New Noises artistic director Peter Flynn, who recommended the Groff piece for New Noises, is a New York director, actor and writer who has staged and co-created musicals in theatres around the country.
Members of Perry-Mansfield's faculty will be cast in the productions, with the honor of a few specially chosen roles awarded to exemplary students who attend classes at the performing arts camp. Andrew Levine, head of the musical theatre program at Perry-Mansfield, works closely with the New Noises musicals, serving as musical director.
In its current format, offering three works in three disciplines, New Noises has been around four years. The project dawned seven years ago as the brainchild of then faculty member Dick Caram, of the dramatic writing program, offering one playwright a year the chance to develop a work there (Burgess Clark's Southern Cross was the first play developed).
Then, as now, students (including student playwrights) are invited to view rehearsals and interact with the visiting writers, directors, actors and dancers.
"They learn about the whole development process, what it takes to grow new works," Lindenmayer said of the students who have access to New Noises. "The guest artists love working with the students and showing them [how work is developed]. You show them what can be and they spend the next several weeks striving for that [in their own studies]."
The 2003 musical work Blue Flower was seen in fall 2004's New York Musical Theatre Festival; a wide commercial future for it (and other New Noises works of the past) has not yet happened.
Alumni of the main school and camp include the now-famous Dustin Hoffman, Lee Remick, Frances Sternhagen, Joan Van Ark, Agnes de Mille, Stephen Schwartz and many others, and there is hope that New Noises will eventually be one step in a process that leads to greatness for new scripts and dance works. (The young Sundance Theatre program in Utah has helped shepherd future Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winners in its short history).
But Lindenmayer said there is no wish for the New Noises festival to grow bigger or more ambitious.
"We want smart growth [of the program], not growth for growth's sake," she said.
Being secluded in the Rockies, Steamboat Springs is far from the maddening crowd of the commercial world, and the artists like it that way.
"The focus is on the process and the creation, without the pressure of critics," Lindenmayer said. "There is a public presentation of each piece in a space that seats about 200 people."
Set on 76 scenic acres that include a horse farm and rugged country where wildlife is abundant, Perry-Mansfield's Eden-like location is inspirational to students and artists alike, according to those who have attended or worked there. Broadway choreographer Patricia Birch (Grease, Parade) attended the camp some 50 years ago when she was a kid who was passionate about — but lacked direction in — dance. Faculty member Merce Cunningham (himself a onetime student at the camp) encouraged Birch and helped give her a future.
The camp experience was vital to Birch: "It was very important — because of Merce, who took me to the School of American Ballet…"
Birch would later return to Perry-Mansfield as a guest instructor, working with students on "improv choreography" in the dance department, run by Linda Kent of the Juilliard School. Birch even helped out on a student production of Grease there.
Birch said the bucolic, breathtaking setting of the camp awakens artists and their processes. "It's very, very beautiful — very inspiring to wake up to," she said.
The acreage campus is "largely untouched by the outside world," Lindenmayer said. "When you drive onto this campus, you forget everything that's out there. It's a neutral space where you focus on your work. There's something about the peacefulness — of being surrounded by nature — that lets that whole creative energy flow. Nothing is editing your creativity, nothing is telling you 'you can't.' There's no television, not a lot of technological interruption. As much as I love New York, there's not a lot to distract you out here…"
She added, "One of my favorite things is, every single summer, at least 4-6 alumni show up on campus with relatives or friends in tow, because they had to show them the place that changed their lives. Many of these people aren't famous, but they were kids here and they recognize it as a pure and important place."
Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield founded Perry-Mansfield in 1913 as an intensive training program for performing artists. The mission has always been "to provide young people superior arts training in body, heart and mind, and to promote creativity, a sense of the close brotherhood of the arts, and the values of a way of life close to nature," according to mission information. The campus includes four dance studios, two theatres, two art studios, rehearsal spaces, two dramatic writing studios, a music composition lab, an infirmary, dining hall, scene shop, cantina, camp store, stables, barn and riding arenas.
The operation has a seasonal staff of 85 (including a faculty of 57 with master's degrees under their belts). Annual student enrollment is 400, with ages ranging "eight to college-age."
Portia Mansfield was a dancer, teacher, horsewoman, author and explorer, in addition to a pioneer in documentary filmmaking. Charlotte Perry, one of America's great directors and drama coaches, was an early advocate of the Stanislavsky method.
The camp was founded at Lake Eldora, CO, by Smith College graduates Perry and Mansfield.
The camp was owned and operated by Stephens College (Columbia, MO) from 1965-1991 and then purchased by Friends of Perry-Mansfield, a group of concerned visionaries in Steamboat Springs, in 1991 "to avoid sale of property to developers."
New Voices 2005 guest playwright Rinne Groff's plays include Jimmy Carter Was a Democrat, Inky, The Five Hysterical Girls Theorem, Orange Lemon Egg Canary and The Ruby Sunrise.
Groff's piece, Spiced Danish Vodka, in collaboration with Off-Broadway's Primary Stages, "takes a contemporary look at the themes from Hamlet." Director Leynse is artistic director at Primary Stages. Cast members will include actress Mary Bacon, a Perry-Mansfield alumna, and Judy Chen, Glenn Fleshler and Jesse Hooker.
Choreographer Jessica Lang is a graduate of The Juilliard School and a former member of Twyla Tharp's company THARP! Her choreography has been performed around the US and internationally. She recently premiered The Lang Project, her first full evening concert. Dancers working on her New Voices piece include Jyunichi Fukuda, Jennifer Golonka, Amanda Miller, Katherine Horrigan and Ashley Williams.
The musical River's End is based on the true story of newlyweds Glen and Bessie Hyde, who vanished on their honeymoon in the Grand Canyon in 1928. River's End was selected for both the 2004 Chicago ASCAP/Disney Musical Workshop and the 2004 Musical Theatre Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, CT. Composer Chuck Larkin has written songs, scores and incidental music for a variety of cabaret performers and musical theatre productions. Cheri Coons has co-written 10 musicals that have received professional productions, including At Wit's End, Phantom of the Country Opera and Rodeo, which was the New Noises musical theatre workshop piece in 2002.
Actors in River's End include Kevin Gudahl, Lucinda Hitchcock Cone, Erik Nelson, Dominic Roberts and Dani Marcus.
In addition to the 2005 New Noises workshop process, Perry-Mansfield is, for the first time, launching a related professional training workshop for 5-7 musical theatre songwriters.
The Composers Stage Project for Musical Theatre is an eight-day program (Aug. 13-20) taught by composer-lyricist Craig Carnelia (Sweet Smell of Success, Is There Life After High School?, Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief), a major contributor to ASCAP's Musical Theater Development Workshops and the leader of the Chicago edition of ASCAP's program. In the new initiative, for which writers audition, Carnelia mentors emerging musical theatre composers and lyricists who bring in works that are in-process.
For additional information about Perry-Mansfield and New Noises, please visit the website at www.perry-mansfield.org or call (800) 430-ARTS.
Alumni of Perry-Mansfield include Robert Battle, Sammy Bayes, Jessica Biel, Ruthanna Boris, Wally Cordona, John Cage, Martha Clarke, Merce Cunningham, Harriette Ann Gray, Julie Harris, Dustin Hoffman, Hanya Holm, Lee Horsley, Doris Humphrey, Jack Lee, José Limon, Mako, Agnes de Mille, Daniel Nagrin, Peter Pucci, Jason Raize, Lee Remick, Stephen Schwartz, Ton Simons, Frances Sternhagen, Helen Tamiris, Joan Van Ark and Charles Weidman, among countless others who remained in the arts beyond childhood.