Ken Davenport, for those who might not know him, is a Tony Award winning producer in his own right, founder of Davenport Theatrical Enterprises and the quintessential guru and “spirit guide” to would-be and emerging producers. He is a pragmatist and an inspiration to anyone who has the aspiration to identify and nurture straight plays and musical properties, secure investment and take them to the Base Camp of a commercial run, on or off Broadway. He writes prolifically, especially for his blog, the Producer’s Perspective, does great webinars to instruct on the arcane complexities of theatrical production and has a paid membership called Producers Pro, which provides access to a cornucopia of resources for would be producers.
Late last year Ken wrote a very direct and provocative blog post about the mistake most producers make by thinking that they have to invest heavily in a 29 hour reading as a means of getting “angels” and supporters interested, especially when a work is in its earliest stages. Well worth a read.
Ken’s advice in a nutshell: Don’t waste your money on a reading. Just get a group of your peers (in the business) and friends and interested folks together and show them just a little bit of your concept. And get FEEDBACK! And maybe some early passionate believers, as you develop your piece.
But there is a corollary that is highly relevant to composers and lyricists, playwrights and book writers especially for musicals, which ultimately are the most potentially expensive properties to mount.
What if you aren’t ready for the 29 hour reading? Or the Festival submission? Or the 54 Below late night gig (where you have to pay, for real, as do your audience members)? What if you aren’t ready to apply for the Artist in Residency or the non-profit “new works” program? What if your idea is just that: an idea . . . with a tantalizing nugget and some examples of beautiful lyrical songs that might ultimately fill the arc of the story? All of these opportunities to have your work seen, are great, eventually. But they put enormous pressure on fledgling projects that still need air and life and nurturing . . . and WORK! And resources to develop them that cost lots of money.
Davenport’s post spoke directly to the heart of why I am so passionate about The Musical Theatre Factory. His admonition sounds suspiciously like one of the steps in our Assembly Line . . . our Writers Workshops, our Salons or even our 4x15s!
There may be other paths for creators of musical theatre to find a community of support that is free of the pressures of critical or potential commercial viability. There may be other ways of networking and finding collaborators (directors, musicians, stage managers, performers) when your works are in the early days of development or you composers have graduated from a program like BMI and are looking around saying: “Holy Christmas . . . now what?” Honestly? I haven’t found them.
Musical Theatre Factory is in our third year, as artists services organization, with a growing body of members, some of whom are now making Broadway debuts, winning awards and taking their work to next levels.
Seriously, if you are a creator of musical theatre, check out what it takes to be a member! It takes some sweat equity, as a volunteer, but for sure it is an investment in your future. We have incubated 103 works of musical theater at various stages of development that we have brought further into the light WITH NO COSTS TO THE CREATIVES. We boast a universe of thousands audience members who have seen the work of our artisans that would be the envy of any small theatre company.
I know exquisitely talented composers and playwrights who are sober about what an Everest or a moonshot it is to get a musical to a commercial run. Nobody serious in this business approaches this goal without grit, tenacity and a bit of madness. But there are new Sondheims, and Hammersteins and Larsons and Pasek/Paul/Levensons out there yet to be discovered.
If you are one of them: Join the Factory.
If you are a theater lover and want to know about the next musical geniuses: Come to one of our performances and consider becoming a Sponsor/Patron/Supporter.
We’re Working On It and we’d love you with us.
— Susan Casserly Griffin, MTF Board Member