The Musical Theatre Factory is Working On It
As a writer, I’m always on the lookout for development opportunities for my projects. A reading. A workshop. A residency. These are invaluable to writers at any stage of their careers. But for emerging artists, the competition to even get in the door is stiff. So when I hear about an organization making a commitment to getting to know emerging writers and their musicals, my ears perk up.
Enter Musical Theatre Factory.
This is a great company you should get to know. Let’s start with their mission. “The Musical Theatre Factory is dedicated to helping musical theatre artists develop and present new work in a collaborative atmosphere free from the pressures of critical or financial success.”
Sounds too good to be true? It’s not. I’ve had a chance to chat with the passionate folks behind the Factory (and the artists they’ve helped out), and they really are as great as they sound.
Just talk to Managing Director Danny Abosch. “I think so many emerging (for lack of a better word) musical theatre writers are focusing on standalone songs as a way to get their work out there quickly, since there are so many opportunities to have standalone songs heard in concerts and on YouTube, and there are few organizations willing to invest time and resources in developing an actual musical. The Factory as an organization is much more interested in telling a whole story, and we want to give voice to new musicals that might otherwise struggle to be heard. We want to support writers in the very challenging endeavor of writing a whole piece.”
The Factory is young for sure. They only officially launched on May 31st! But in that time, they’ve accomplished an impressive amount, with 20 shows receiving developmental work in only three months. Of course there are readings and workshops. But there’s more. They’ve committed to a 9-month writers group for seven music theater writing teams. They have a 4X15 series, which gives four writing teams the chance to stage a 15-minute excerpt from a show they’re working on – just to work out the kinks. And – my personal favorite – they have a monthly Factory Salon, where emerging writers can just show up and perform some of their work (or singers can perform some new musical theatre material that they’re particularly excited about).
“Having just come from a workshop, I can safely say that having my work at the Factory has been invaluable,” says Ben Bonnema, whose show Boys Who Tricked Me just received a staged reading in July. “Under [Factory Artistic Director] Shakina’s direction and the Factory’s support, my piece took giant leaps forward. I got to see it in front of an audience for the first time – we even had a super-helpful talkback. The whole experience was artistically enriching and a whole lot of fun.”
NMT Writer Zoe Sarnak also recently benefited from a workshop of her show The Years Between.
“I had an idea of the shape for The Years Between on the page but was still figuring out where it existed in the world of ‘musical,’ ‘song cycle,’ ‘theatrical piece,’ etc.,” says Zoe. “Having the time to get it on its feet, see how people followed each storyline without a dialogue, playing with movement as a storytelling device… [were] all incredibly helpful in finding the shape of the show.”
“Developing new musicals is not a one-size-fits-all process, though often in the industry it seems like it is,” says Danny. “The Musical Theatre Factory is providing some of those other ‘sizes’ that no one else is providing – meeting each piece where it’s at and giving it the specific thing it needs to get to the next level.”
One of the things that impressed me is that the Factory really has their act together. They don’t stop at merely having passion for developing musicals. They’ve really looked at what’s necessary to sustain themselves as an organization. Their non-profit status is nearly finalized. They have an advisory board filled with theater professionals I respect from NMT writer Joe Iconis to producer/musical theatre historian Jennifer Ashley Tepper. And they’ve got a mission-driven and enthusiastic leader in Founding Artistic Director Shakina Nayfack.
“Shakina Nayfack is one of the great connectors of the musical theatre community,” says Jennifer Ashley Tepper. “We first met during The Black Suits at Barrington Stage Company, and ever since that time, I’ve loved cheering her on as an artist and as a human as she has shaped new theatre pieces. When she began the Musical Theatre Factory, I was excited to cheer that on too, and help support the worthy work planned for the company.”
“We have the goal of being constantly in production and continuing our incredible momentum of providing opportunities for emerging writers on a consistent basis,” says Shakina. (By the way, if you’re ever facing a creative block, just find a way to talk to Shakina. Just a short conversation with her makes you want to sit down and create something. She’s that passionate about the theater.)
Another unique aspect of the Factory is their volunteer model. If you volunteer for four hours (front of house, bartending, administration, etc.) and attend an event, you become a member. Then, you’re part of the family – going to first-look events and (most importantly) getting the chance to participate in Factory planning meetings that shape the future of the organization.
“Unlike other spaces that have been around awhile, this is a place that we’re making as we go,” says Ben. “Like their tagline says, ‘We’re working on it.’ We get to create what it becomes, and that’s incredibly exciting.”
So I’ll stop blathering. But here’s what you need to know. The Factory is 250 West 40th Street. Their website is musicaltheatrefactory.org. And they’re producing all the time. So sign up for their email list. If you’re a writer, go to their next Salon. And sign up to volunteer on their website and help shape an organization that’s shaping musical theatre. I did. You can, too.