How do you try to get a musical produced?
September 20, 2012 2:15 PM   Subscribe

How do you shop around an original musical?

I've written about 15 songs and have a script developing that connects them into a music theatre piece. When I'm finished writing, how do I present this piece to theatre companies?

This question comprises a few sub-questions:

(1) in what form should the musical be? that is, does it look like a play but with "Play such and such song here" in the proper places?

and in what form should these songs be? Would melody with chords (like a fake book) be appropriate? (given that I am not an arranger/orchestrator and, if produced, I would think there would be a musical director who would make some creative decisions about how the music should work-- not to mention probably budget considerations) or should there be an actual CD of the songs as performed by me with my guitar, or piano?

(I've been working with both Garageband for iPad and Ableton with my PC and could submit recordings, but they are not going to be at professional recording studio level).

(2) Whom would I contact at theatre companies (small ones, but I am in New York City so those are local to me)?

(3) Does anybody ever get paid for their work in this regard? (yes I know that a few people do, but should I ask for money?) Would I first see if there is any interest and then, if somebody wants to produce the work, hire somebody like an agent or something? a lawyer?

Any instructions, experiences, etc. much appreciated.
posted by DMelanogaster to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The short answer is that it varies widely. It used to write a musical and then go around to producers' or backers' homes and play the songs for them at a piano. Now, there is not one simple path.

1). Generally, yes, format it exactly as you would a play. When the songs occur, usually there is a SONG: [TITLE] and then the lyrics are included in all caps, sometimes left justified and sometimes center, with indication as to who is singing.

Then the score is placed behind the book. Melody with chords is alright. It flies these days for sure. An accompanying CD is always helpful. Many pitches will have pretty professional recordings - good quality, arrangements made with synths and such. Not necessary unless you're really going for Bway. But keep in mind - the better quality the recordings and such are, the more impressive your pitch will be. A good recording of a good song will have a lot more appeal to a producer or director than a bad recording of a good song. These are just people. Your pitch has to be intriguing. Still, poor recordings are probably better than no recordings. It is not hard to make a nice home recording. If you are not a singer yourself, get someone who is to sing your demos. Seriously.

2) Again, this depends. You can try just cold sending it out to Artistic Directors of small companies. You might have better luck looking for a small company outside of NYC, honestly. It is a networking game to some extent, so if you can get to know someone involved with theatre companies looking for new work, that's your best bet.

3) Of course composers get paid. But you need to work it out with the company and such. If you are just getting started, there may not be any compensation and you should feel grateful for getting your work produced at all. Small theatre companies are usually labors of love and actors may get small stipends if they are paid at all. But if they have the means, work out some sort of payment situation. You could take a one-time check, a percentage of ticket sales, or a pay-for-performance model. At this stage, I honestly wouldn't worry too much about lawyering up and worrying about the money. Musicals can go through many productions before they are in a place to turn a profit. The average time for a musical from conception to Bway is 7 years. You get your first workshop production, you tweak the show, you get a slightly better recording, you re-pitch it to slightly larger places, and on and on.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:47 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hi, I'm a literary manager, and that makes me the answer to your question number 2. I'll take a stab at the other questions as well.

Before you approach any company - spend some time with the directory put out by The Dramatists Guild. That is a directory of nearly every theater company in the country, with a profile of what types of shows they do, and whether they accept submissions in the first place. They also will give the name of the person to whom you would send it, and their title. The reason you want to study that is to make sure that the company you send it to a) would be interested in the kind of thing you're doing a show about, and b) even does musicals in the first place. You would be STUNNED how many people don't do this simple step - and that looks really, really bad. We say very clearly in our directory profile that we don't do musicals, and that we currently only accept things for our contest; and my name is clearly given in our entry. Yet we still periodically get submissions of musicals addressed to "Dear Artistic Director." Back when we were accepting general submissions, we also had the rule to please only send a few pages and we would let you know if we wanted to read the rest, but a lot of people still sent the full script. It was a strike against them from the start.

As for the layout and formatting - I've also worked evaluating scripts for other things that DID accept musicals, and most typically the format I've seen is just like in a play, with the lyrics to the songs written in just like they were dialogue. The writer usually also included a CD with the script so we could hear the songs as well. They don't need to be fully-orchestrated things, but they also shouldn't sound like scratchy staticky messes either. It can be just you and a piano, as long as it's a clean recording.

For someone who's just starting out - what I would suggest, instead of going to a company outright, is to find a music director first, who will help you "workshop" your musical. I cannot begin to stress how important the workshop process is for a play's development - even more so for a musical. What a workshop is, is - you get a bunch of actors/singers and a director, they get a rehearsal or two, and then you do a super-basic bare-bones staging of it for a small audience so you can get people's feedback. You can even just do a staged reading, where the cast stands at podiums and reads or sings from the script and there's a guy on a piano doing the accompaniment and the director reads the stage direction. This will give you ENORMOUS insight - you will notice things about the script that you hadn't ever noticed before, you will see things you want to fix when you hear other people do it rather than hearing it in your own head, and you will also learn things when you see other people reacting to it. This is INVALUABLE information. You will also get a lot of notes from the music director too; and if you and the music director have a good rapport, then hey, you have someone you can contact again when you've done a new draft, and they can help you figure out how to do another reading or a workshop because they are now part of your creative team. Doing two or three or even four workshops for a show, and making changes each time, is absolutely normal, and I'd even recommend more for shows that are really complicated. But the other thing that workshops do is, they put you in touch with more people that are in the biz, who know of companies where you could take your project. The Dramatist Guild not only has names of theater companies, they also have lists of contests, many of which would work specifically with musicals - including many expressly targeted for new playwrights, where the prize is a workshop they will do for you.

They also indicate if a particular company works expressly with people who are of your gender/race/creed/political outlook/etc., which can also be a good way to find your niche (I know of three companies off the top of my head that foster new women playwrights, two that work with Asian playwrights, one that only does REVIVALS of Asian plays, one that only does plays set in the 1930's, etc.)

As for pay - yes, playwrights do get paid, but not for a LONG long time. The development process for your work could take YEARS, and does not pay in the very beginning stages. If you're actually full-on produced, you may get a stipend if your play hasn't been formally published; but that's entirely up to whatever contract you get (and it may not be much of one). You may not be paid for a very long time, and not very much at that.

This IS possible, but you are at the very, very beginning stage of a process where there will be more drafts and a lot more people joining in with you. But seriously, it is one FUCK of a rush, frankly, so go for it.

Again, I don't do musicals, but I may be able to answer other questions if you want to memail me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:47 PM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have an acquaintance who's been shopping around a musical (based on an existing indie movie) for YEARS now. It premiered in New York in 2005 or so and he is just now getting a tryout with a producer of some sort. And that's after years of workshopping.

You can start, very basically, by thinking about it like you would any other freelance piece of work -- a magazine article, for example. You're better off if you know certain people, both to validate the quality of your work and to have them speak up for you on your behalf. You always, ALWAYS want to do your research, for the reasons EmpressCallipygos specifies.

Another thing that you don't mention is a relationship with performers. I am a singer, and even experienced conductors who aren't singers themselves (tuba players, for example) can have a terrible concept of what a singer can or can't do, or what is comfortable. Another friend of mine just premiered an English-language one-act opera, and he seemed to think that just having a "good" trained singer who has been known to sing certain notes at one time or another will mean that she can do it. The short answer: NO. What's the pacing like? What's the voice leading -- do the melodies and harmonies flow in a way that makes sense? Will it be tiring to sing the second act after a busy first act? Can you sing it while dancing? They can also tell you to tidy up the score so it is professional and easy to understand. You need, need, need quality performers to tell you if you're on the mark.

Having a stable of good performers will give you a huge leg up in shopping your musical around, whether you're going to your friend's experimental theater company or the Fringe Festival. A good recording will help, but the right performers can both sell the show (in every sense of the word) and refine it to be its best.
posted by Madamina at 8:19 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just popping in to agree with what's been posted so far and to wish you good luck! I'm currently developing a musical as well (just had our second staged reading, got lots of good feedback) and planning to submit it to this years New York Musical Theatre Festival's Next Link Project. Memail me if you want to chat about writing musicals or if you're having an event in the city and want some feedback!
posted by Zephyrial at 10:13 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

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