Second City, First Post
Hello there, fellow lovers (and writers, and producers, and attendees) of musical theatre! Greetings from the City of Broad Shoulders. It is my mission, in blogging for NMT, to bring a little Chicago flavor to the national (international?) discussion of the art form we love.
A brief introduction: I’m the co-founder of a Chicago company that focuses on new musical theatre, and this year we’re inaugurating the first annual Chicago Musical Theatre Festival. Read my bio or stalk me on Google to find out more about that—we’re not going to get into it right now, although at some point I might share more about the process of producing a festival, as opposed to a single production. I’m also a writer/composer and I work collaboratively with three other writers. We have, to date, written and produced two one-act and two full-length musicals, and are working on our third full-length show.
What I’d really like to talk about in this, my first post, is The State of Chicago Musical Theatre.
You in the Big Apple may not realize it, but there’s a rich vein of musical theatre flowing through the Second City. I know what the perception is. Chicago gets seen as the place where New York tries out its shows to work out the kinks. For example, we had Wicked before it went to Broadway. We also started out the tour of Dirty Dancing: The Musical, which sadly did not make it to the Great White Way. Many people see Chicago as a testing ground for work that will eventually “make it” to New York, or alternately, as a place where national touring companies can make a comfortable living.
That’s a common conception. In fact, recently, one of the theatre critics for TimeOut Chicago posted about “an unusual amount of musical theatre going on ‘round here.” To wit, about 20 shows, ranging from the Goodman (Brigadoon) to Chicago Shakespeare (Sondheim’s Road Show) to the more intimate TimeLine (Juno) and Kokandy Productions (Assassins).
That is a pretty healthily-sized list, but out of over 100 theatre companies in the Chicago metropolitan area, I’d argue that it’s by no means what should be considered a particularly unusual percentage. The fact is, musical theatre is on the grow in Chicago.
Our writers, directors, and actors come from all different backgrounds. There is the Musical Improv Conservatory at Second City, which teaches performers not just how to create a song, but how to do it on the spot. There is a grand cabaret tradition, with performers honing their skills at piano bars like Davenport’s and in monthly events at venues such as Theater Wit. Many of our actor-singers spend a good amount of their time outside of musical theatre, honing their dramatic chops. Then there are the autodidacts, the self-driven lunatics, of which I count myself one. Chicago is a place where, with a few like-minded people and a decent amount of effort, you can produce your work, whether in a reading, a concert, or even fully-mounted world premiere.
I’ve never lived in New York; I started out in Boston and then made my way Midwest. What I gather, however, from my colleagues and from what I’ve heard and read about the musical theatre scene in New York, is that Chicago has fewer barriers to entry when it comes to getting your work up and (pardon me) a warmer community. This makes possible a grab bag of opportunities. The musical parody of Fifty Shades of Gray (seriously, look it up) might perform beside award-winning productions of Floyd Collins. For every stunning world-premiere, there might be a handful of shows that could stand more incubating. I, for one, love the chance to take artistic risks and the ever-present possibility of falling in love with something completely new.
(Also, let’s face it, sometimes all you want is to hear someone skewer Snooki through song.)
Over the next few months I’ll take you, Gentle Reader, through the Windy City’s musical theatre scene, with all its attendant joys and horrors. I’ll approach it through the lens of an Executive Director, a singer, a writer, and a festival producer. I’m very grateful to NMT for giving me a platform from which to spread my love of Chicago’s musical theatre community, especially regarding new work. Here’s hoping you discover some new favorites as I do.
And if you’re ever in our great city, look me up. I’m sure I’ll have a great new show for you to see.
(Especially in early June. Seriously. Google the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival.)