From Page To Stage

Drew Lane answers a reader’s question about bringing musicals from Page to Stage.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my first column, Sift Through The Rubbish To Find The Gold. As a response to that first post, Tineallan88 asked:

“I’ve written a musical which I’ve been trying to get people involved in for years but no matter what I do, I can never get anyone. all I’ve got is 12 actors when I really need someone involved in the behind the scenes stuff as well? What do I do?”

It’s a great question, and I’ll have a go at answering it! First a little background…

Sometimes I think it was sheer luck that first saw my musicals make it to the stage. But really, it’s about being involved. Being involved in musical theatre companies and working with theatre performers and production crews has afforded me the opportunities to stage my works. Often, I’ve had to convince theatre companies that 1) the musical was worth producing, and 2) that I wouldn’t lose them any money – that is, I’d get enough bums on seats to cover the budget. If the budget was small (which it often was), I would beg/borrow/steal/second whatever I needed, think creatively about how to advertise the show, and always call in any friends and relatives who could help me out. If there was no budget, but the venue and support system was on offer, then I still took up the offer and worked even harder to raise the capital needed. There are a lot of lessons that I’ve learned along the way. I’ve made a ton of mistakes, but each time I get a little better at making the most of the chances I’m given.

So, back to Tineallan88’s question.  What do you do to get your show on stage?

Firstly, for you specifically: the good news. You already have twelve actors. There’s your cast taken care of.  No need for auditions!  Depending on the size of the show, they can also be part of your stage crew as well. For an independent production, actors can find costumes and props, and they can also manage what they need on stage too. Chances are that those twelve actors also know other people they can ask to get involved in your show. There’s also you. You are a key element to the show. If you wrote it, then you know the score. Bingo, you’re the MD. You could also be the Director too, or you could enlist the help of someone you trust to bring your vision to life.

Anyways, if you have people in your corner, then you’re already half way there.  So, below are a few things to consider as you move forward.

1) Is the show any good?

Make sure you have a read-through of the show before it goes anywhere near the stage.  Listen to what people say about it.  Take note.  If more than one person brings up an issue, then it’s an issue for you.  The more people who read it, the better.  What are the things in the show that you completely missed or forgot about?  The drafting process always eliminates things and invariably there’s a reference in the script that you’ve completely forgotten about that doesn’t make sense any more.  What’s wrong with the show? Be tough on yourself and your writing.  If something doesn’t work for you – the writer – then it probably doesn’t work for anybody else.

2) Budget Carefully!  

Even though every friend you know will say they’ll come and see your show, they won’t. Life is busy for everyone and not everyone is going to make it to your show, no matter how good their intentions. Plus, because it’s a show that no one has heard of before, you can’t guarantee a fan-based audience. But you can stage a show on next to nothing if you have the right venue and you are frugal with every element of your production. Like I said before, beg/borrow/procure everything. Everybody knows somebody who can help. Call in favours, offer bribes, whatever it takes to get people to help out, pick up a paint brush, swing a hammer, etc. Finally, never never never invest your own money into your own show. If other people are not willing to do so, then there is something seriously wrong. The theatre world is full of stories of people who have sunk thousands of their dollars into their own show, only to fall flat on their face with nothing left but empty pockets and bills to pay. Offer sponsorship deals to local businesses to raise finance. Offer advertising in your program or on the posters.

3) Take Baby Steps

You don’t have to stage it big. Stage small. Workshop-perform it like the Magnormos Triptych. Do it without a set. Do it without an orchestra. Have twelve chairs, a few mics and a piano. Downsize it. Offer people the chance to comment on the show after they’ve seen it. Let people know they’re seeing something new – a work in progress. Even though you might think you’ve finished your musical, it’s still got a way to go. Musicals are not so much written but rewritten. You don’t need to “Cameron Mackintosh” it.  If the work is strong, it’ll stand up without a set and without a band and without lavish lighting or special effects. They’re the icing on the cake. If the cake is baked well, it’ll still taste good without the “extras”. When I staged Marking Life, we did it on a very modest budget, most of which went into advertising. The set was white with a few props and a platform set upstage. That was pretty much it. It came down the to strength of the show and the performances.

4) Ask Everyone You Know – And Even Those You Don’t

People know people. And if you’re interested in musical theatre, then you might have been involved in musical theatre societies at some point. Everybody you meet when doing a show is a potential partnership just waiting to happen. Get in touch with the actors, directors, musicians, and crew that you worked with. Ask the local theatre companies, the local council, the local schools. There is no harm in asking. People can only say “no”, and there is a good chance that people may say “yes”. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a theatre company who is willing to take a chance on you and your show. They’re out there. I was lucky to find one in the Mornington CEF Players – and they staged three of my productions over a course of three years. That sort of support is GOLD!  If it’s crew you’re looking for, again ask. Your actors will know people who want to be involved. (And don’t forget that many an actor also has talents in other areas)!

5) Tell Everyone You Know – And Even Those You Don’t

Ultimately, it is about people walking through the door. You need people to know about it. Call your local newspapers, community radio stations, perform randomly in public, hand out complimentary tickets, invite people far and wide, Facebook it, Twitter it, Myspace it, aussietheatre.com.au it! Use every avenue you can think of to get the word out. I’ve found social media very powerful, but nothing beats the old photograph in the newspaper – particularly the ones that operate solely in the area the performance is taking place. Advertise where other companies don’t. What is it about your musical that makes it special? If you get your show on stage, make sure you video it – every single night. Make a cast recording of it so you always have a reference of it.

6) Submit To Competitions

Australia is beginning to offer excellent opportunities for new works to be developed and workshopped.
Ozmade Musicals (http://www.australianmusicals.com) is an excellent endeavor and happens every year.
New Musicals Australia (http:www//newmusicals.com.au) offers submission opportunities three times a year.
The University of Tasmania has the Festival of Broadway in 2010 which asked for new musicals.
Carnegie 18 (http://www.theartscentre.com.au/about-us/new-music-theatre.aspx) is an program offered by the Arts Centre in Melbourne which also develops new musical theatre works.
Further, there are hundreds of competitions in the US and the UK that specifically look for new musical theatre works. Jump on Google and start searching.

7) Go Forward With Caution And Confidence

If you’ve managed to overcome all the above thoughts, then go forward. Jason Robert Brown once told me that the most important thing about getting a musical on stage, is getting it on stage. It doesn’t matter how or where. Every time you stage your show, you’ll see something new, learn something you didn’t know before, and see things in a new light. Then go back and rewrite. And be confident in what you’ve created. Be proud too. After all, you wrote a bloody musical! 🙂

Anyways, I hope this has been helpful to you Tineallan88, and to anyone else who is looking to stage their own works. We are a unique breed, and I salute all of you who give it a go!

Until next time,

Drew

Drew Lane

Andrew “Drew” Lane was born in Melbourne, and began playing piano at the age of four. At age 15, he began to write his own material, and was also introduced to musical theatre via shows such as Starlight Express, Les Miserables and Time. From that moment on, Drew was actively involved in musical theatre at a rehearsal pianist, musical director, or on stage performer. In 1992, Drew composed his first musical for high school, Back Streets, and in 1994, Drew was accepted into the Ballarat Academy of Performing Arts, where he honed his skills, not only as a composer, but also as a performer. Gaining valuable experience on stage and behind the scenes helped him to realise his next musical, Atlantis. A workshop production was staged for the Ballarat Opera Festival in 1996 and gained rave reviews. In the following years, Drew took up teaching but was also able to regularly composer and stage his own productions including Eva’s Wish (1997, Anacortes, WA, USA), Revelations (1998, Touring, Victoria, Australia), and Toys (1999, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia). In 2010, Drew's musical Marking Life was chosen to be part of the Festival of Broadway, hosted by the University of Tasmania, and was performed for Steven Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin). A prolific composer, Drew hopes to be able to take his musicals to Off-Broadway or the West End, and believes that his best writing is yet to come. He is presently completing his Master’s degree in Performing Arts, and has several new musicals presently in development. Drew is proud to be a regular contributor to AussieTheatre.com and looks forward to hearing from all of his readers!

Drew Lane

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