On October 11 & 12, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (a service organization made up of some of the top producers, presenters and theatrical educators in the nation) will present its 24th annual Festival of New Musicals. Eight new works will receive readings for industry professionals in hopes of finding assistance with further development and ultimately productions. In the second of a series of personal blogs, I will take you behind-the-scenes of the festival as my collaborators and I prepare our show Triangle for its presentation.
William Ryall, Robin de Jesus, Sarah Stiles, Damon Daunno, Nancy Opel & Nicolette Hart rehearsing "Bleeding Love". Photo by Jason Schafer.
Writing musicals can be a lonely business. Most of the time it’s just you and a collaborator in a room together. So when I was presented with the chance to talk with a few of my fellow writers presenting shows at NAMT this year, I jumped at the chance. If nothing else, it would be like group therapy. But rhymed.
Just over a week ago, I sat down with two amazing writers: Gaby Alter, composer and co-lyricist of the recent Old Globe hit Nobody Loves You; and Harris Doran, lyricist for the post-apocalyptic fairy tale Bleeding Love. With presentation preparations hitting high gear, we took a brief moment to breathe, talk about our inspirations and discuss the best part of writing versus acting in a musical (hint: booze).
Gaby Alter. Photo by Stephen Mallon.
When did you get the bug to write music theater because…how old are you?
HARRIS: I’m younger.
GABY: Usually people are younger than me.
HARRIS: You look younger.
GABY: Well, thank you.
And I’m the oldest one in the room so shut up.
HARRIS: But you look younger than me.
That’s staying in the final interview.
My point is that when I look back and think about when I was in high school and college, music theater was not popular. There’s a renaissance right now…
HARRIS: Is there? Because of Glee?
When I talk to an 18 year-old or a 22 year-old, within a certain segment, they think music theater is cool.
HARRIS: True. There are musical movies now and Glee and something else…
And Smash. There are certainly now people wanting to get into the field. An excitement. And that wasn’t so much the case when I was that age. So how did you start?
GABY: It was sort of an accidental thing, a convergence of stuff that I did. It was after high school and I had a friend who wrote plays. He was like, “Want to write a musical?” It was over the summer. Neither of us were musical fans. It’s not like I hated musicals, I just knew very little about them except what I knew as kid. I knew the Rogers and Hammerstein stuff. He said, “Do you want to write a rock musical?” And I said, “Yeah, sure.” But I thought it was a ridiculous idea.
GABY: I also didn’t think we were going to do it. Especially when you’re 17 or 18, you say so but…actually he had a whole plan and he was very organized. He came over the next day and had some lyrics.
HARRIS: Oh wow.
GABY: So we ended up doing it over that summer. And it was the high of doing it. “Let’s get our friends who were actors in high school and involve everybody.” And you invite your family and you feel really cool because you’re all of a sudden on stage. I hadn’t had that experience except in a band. But it was easier for me to write stuff in that format. I was writing with him. “You do this and I’ll do that.” There are clear guidelines. Like fun homework. I really responded to collaborating and working as a group… Later I came to appreciate musicals and how difficult writing the really good ones is.
We can all second that.
HARRIS: I had no idea.
GABY: What about you guys?