Expanding Musical Theatre Development Pt 1

We’ve got a pipeline problem in musical theatre. It’s a web of linked issues, so I’ll take this argument in a series of posts:

1. The Value of Unknown Writers

2. The New Musical Process

3. Why Broadway isn’t the Solution

4. The Soul of Musical Theatre

5. Regional Theatres

6. Streaming

1. The Value of Unknown Writers

New musicals by unknown writers are essential to expanding the artistic and financial power of musical theatre. When we do not invest in writers early in their career, we lose their best work.

When I pitched the ideas in this blog series to a Broadway strategist, one of his first questions was, “Do you think there are a lot of musicals that should be on Broadway but aren’t?” After sitting in amazing readings and concerts at Musical Theatre Factory, the PIT, NYU Tisch, Green Room 42, Joe’s Pub, 54 Below, etc., my answer is a definite “Yes.” Yes, and some of the more intimate projects need a way to make great money in a space that doesn’t seat 1,000+ people.

And it’s not just those projects we’re not seeing. It’s all of the other projects these awesome writers could be writing, if they weren’t also hustling crazy side jobs in New York City. It’s all of the projects from writers who do not live in New York, but have no way to develop them. It’s all of the writers from diverse backgrounds who want to write for communities that aren’t yet connected to our theatres, without watering it down just to cater to the masses.

As an illustration, I want you to imagine a world in which Lin-Manuel Miranda never met Hudes, Kail, Blankenbuehler, Lacamoire, or McCollum. Where he wasn’t married to Vanessa, with all of her support. In the Heights might not have made it to Broadway. And with no In the Heights, no Hamilton. With Lin’s grit, he’d still be trying but with any delays, we’d lose the timely impact of the work, and all the work he’s doing now. And musical theatre would lose a lot of money.

And we’d have far fewer Latinos employed, interested in, and represented in theatre. You cannot have diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts without unknown writers. As this is central to our ethics, and expanding our reach, this is going to come up a number of times.

Another example. Imagine a world in which Howard Ashman didn’t dedicate ungodly amounts of time and energy running the WPA Theatre, self-producing God Bless You Mr. Rosewater and Little Shop of Horrors, after meeting Menken at the BMI Workshop. Or if no one had transferred Little Shop off-Broadway, leading to the film. If that process had been delayed only a few years, with Ashman’s death, there’d be no Disney Renaissance. That was honestly his doing. Talk about great art and obscene money.

I could go on about how these projects affect each other—Here's Bobby Lopez: Avenue Q → Book of Mormon → Frozen → Coco → WandaVision. Little project, big project, massive projects. Makes you wonder what Anais Mitchell would have written in between Hadestown’s first workshop in 2006 and its off-Broadway run in 2016 if someone had gone full-steam development on it earlier.

In a world with unlimited resources and connection, we wouldn’t have to worry about great writers falling through the cracks. But the pipeline is very constricted (Pt 3 of this series) and it would be foolish to assume we’re getting all the best artistic and financial benefit from talented writers possible. It would be even more foolish not to identify the constrictions and open them up.

Our best producers are trying to get people into Broadway, off-Broadway, and regional seats. They’re trying to partner with film producers and streaming companies to champion the genre at a new level. But our most valuable resources—the sources of the material itself—aren't getting the attention they deserve.

Next: Part 2

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Next: Part 2