It is the early 1980s, and a failing economy threatens the future of new musicals.
Twenty-five years earlier, My Fair Lady cost $350,000 to produce--Cats now sports a price tag of $4 million. Commercial producers forsake new material for less risky British imports and star-driven revivals of classic fare. A musical theatre “brain drain” looms as fledgling writers face a dilemma: defect to the potentially more lucrative world of film and television, or starve while waiting for a break that may never come?
Enter the National Music Theater Network (NMTN). Founded by actor Tim Jerome in 1983, NMTN takes an artist-driven, grassroots approach to securing the future of the American musical theatre and mobilizes a cohort of working directors, musical directors and actors to identify promising scripts and talented new writers. The organization brings these projects to life through a successful public reading series, providing their creators with invaluable exposure to producers and theaters around the country over the next two decades.
Flash forward to 2004.
Despite more prosperous times on Broadway, the road for new musicals remain srough, with opportunities for unproven writers still few and far between. The cost of producing a Broadway musical now frequently exceeds $12 million, with the price of a single orchestra ticket climbing to $120 and beyond. Readings -- now endemic to the theatre industry -- can no longer be counted on to attract the notice needed to lift a project to production. Musical theatre, a collaborative and three-dimensional art form, needs to be seen, not just heard.
Once again, NMTN leaps in to revitalize an endangered art form. Taking a cue from the independent film movement, the organization conceives and implements The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), an annual three-week event showcasing new work and musical theatre artists that blends the economy of scale and grassroots mechanisms of other theater festivals with a technical framework geared specifically to musicals. By providing prime theaters, savvy technical support and capable staffing, plus a massive and original marketing platform for all assembled projects, the festival enables independent artists to effectively and professionally present work to potential producers and to a general audience of thousands.
NYMF meets with immediate success, dubbed the theatrical “rookie of the year” by The New York Times and hailed by Time Out NY as “the Sundance for musical theatre.” The festival’s inclusive, diverse array of contemporary programming is attended by an initial audience of more than 18,000 – a remarkably youthful, energized group by Broadway and Off-Broadway’s standards (46% are 35 or younger, with another 20% under the age of 45).
Five out of 31 new musicals go on to commercial Off-Broadway productions before the start of the second season, and NYMF is awarded the prestigious $100,000 Jujamcyn Theaters Prize for its “extraordinary contribution to the development of creative talent in the theater.” Perhaps most tellingly, award-winning actors, designers, and directors line up to donate their time and talent to these exciting new projects, where the presence of established artists working alongside new talents uniquely enriches the creative atmosphere.
Since 2004, NYMF has presented over 300 new musical theatre productions and hundreds of readings, workshops, concerts, parties, special events, seminars and master classes.
Festival audiences have enjoyed premieres of original musicals from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, and across the United States, with scores running the musical gamut from hip hop and freestyle rap to R&B, jazz, emo-pop, rock, punk, ska, country and opera, and in genres ranging from musical comedy to edgy satire to epic drama.
Special Festival projects have included a four-day celebration of new movie musicals at the AMC Empire Theaters in Times Square; a “Musical/Comedy Series” co-curated with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre; intimate salon performances by such artists as Tony and Grammy Award-winning composer Duncan Sheik; innovative commissions, such as the multi-narrative dance musical Platforms; and creative nightlife events such as the Broadway Idol and Battle of the Broadway Bands competitions. NYMF has also partnered with a wide range of New York-based arts organizations, including the 92nd Street Y, Ars Nova, ASCAP, BMI, Comix Comedy Club, Drama Dept., The Paley Center for Media, and P.S. 122.
NYMF has been the launching pad for a remarkable number of successes in New York and around the world. To date, festival productions have led to further life on Broadway, Off-Broadway, regionally (in 44 states) and internationally (in 16 countries) for such shows as Altar Boyz, [title of show], The Big Voice: God or Merman?, Captain Louie, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Gutenberg! The Musical, Meet John Doe, Midlife (the Crisis Musical), Nerds, Rooms, Shout! the Mod Musical, Yank!, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal, among many others.
Throughout the year, NYMF also supports and promotes writers at all levels of experience through its Next Link Project writer service program, its “Born at NYMF” commissions of innovative new musical theatre works, the NYMF Educational Series of seminars and masterclasses. In 2008, NYMF implemented its Student Leadership Program, giving students at local colleges the opportunity to work with NYMF and gain special access to its artists. NYMF also serves as an advocate for hundreds of alumni artists, and has become the go-to liaison for a growing network of regional theaters, producers and service organizations around the world.
Musical theatre is America’s finest native art form, requiring grassroots support and constant innovation in order to remain vibrant, powerful, and relevant. NYMF remains committed to finding new ways of expanding the opportunities available to new artists, leveraging the creative contributions so crucial to developing new work, and ensuring that musical theatre artists are seen, heard, and appreciated for generations to come.