3 Reasons Why All Universities Should Produce New Musicals.
There are 5,000 colleges and universities out there. And a whole lot of them have theater degrees. More now than ever before, actually.
In fact, while speaking to a group of soon-to-be-graduating seniors recently, I was asked if there was a growth sector in our industry, and what type of non-performing skill might be needed in the next ten years.
I answered in a heartbeat.
More people are studying theater. And more people are studying it a lot earlier than before. High school kids, elementary school kids, and even earlier. Broadway is booming, and more kids want to get into the game. And smart parents are starting them earlier on that path (like parents of great athletes started to do about two decades ago).
I was thinking about all those theater schools out there and how we could build a better bridge between them and Broadway that might be good for both parties. And I came up with three reasons why all college and university theater programs should be producing new musicals, instead of the usual fare (we did On the Town during my stint at Tisch).
And they are . . .
1. You learn to work on your feet . . . fast.
Every time I’ve worked on a brand new musical, the rookie actors are never totally prepared for the last minute changes that come in previews, the idea of rehearsing one version of the show during the day, and performing a different one in the evening, etc. It’s a whirlwind that they just weren’t prepped for, because they’ve never done it before. And this is the most crucial time for the development of a new musical. Giving college-aged actors training on the process of creating something new would give them a major head start when the stakes are much higher (I won’t tell you the many stories I know of actors that were let go during the early weeks of a new show because they couldn’t keep up).
2. Broadway Producers will be your new best friend.
With the cost of enhancing a new musical at a regional theater getting to be as much as producing a new musical on Broadway was a decade or so ago, and the cost of a reading escalating as well, Broadway Producers are looking for new ways to try out their material. Colleges have space, actors, designers, shops, etc. Sure, the talent is still “in training,” but if I had a show in early development, I’d be happy to have a production anywhere, especially if it wasn’t costing me anything. And obviously, the benefits of a school having a relationship with a working Broadway Producer are obvious (imagine that in a college catalog – “Our students have worked directly with INSERT NAME OF TONY AWARD-WINNING PRODUCER HERE.”)
3. You never know where one might lead.
One of the primary purposes of universities is research . . . research and development. New thought, new medicine, new art. Should the theater departments be doing the same? After all, you never know what may happen. Focusing on the next new thing would seem to make so much more sense than focusing on the last old thing. While sure, I understand doing the classics (including On the Town), the departments should evenly divide their production calendar and production budget to include new musicals (especially if they have a writing dept.). And maybe, just maybe, one might hit it . . . and they might even be able to get a little piece of the show going forward as an endowment.
Colleges and universities could be an incredible asset to the development of new American musicals (and plays, for that matter), and I have a feeling they’d love to do it.
We’d just have to let them.
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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.