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Welcome to #MusicalsWeek

Protecting, Developing, and Celebrating Your Work

What is the process of developing new musical theatre? How can composers and lyricists better protect their work, while also promoting it? In this series, Samuel French, Inc. asked four professionals in the theatre industry to share their thoughts on this subject. (Please note that the presented opinions are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of Samuel French.) 

a theatrical release poster
Poster for the #MusicalsWeek with HowlRound. Photo by Ashley Moniz and Courtney Kochuba. 

Last year, Samuel French engaged in several much-talked-about battles for artists’ rights. These included the unauthorized changes to the Hands on a Hardbody production at Theatre Under the Stars in Houston, and the unlicensed production of Shenandoah by Delray Square Performing Arts in Florida. Since protecting the work of authors is Samuel French’s foremost priority, actions were taken in both situations. But for us here at Samuel French, a cease and desist letter wasn’t enough. These incidents proved that there was a larger issue at hand. Our industry needed a space to discuss the rights of playwrights, composers, and lyricists and how we can all work together to protect them.

To that end, Samuel French rallied together industry professionals and organizations, including the Dramatists Guild of America, and co-hosted an event in July 2014 with HowlRound: #RightsWeek: Identifying & Sharing Your Intellectual Property, a series of panels about intellectual property and artists' rights in the theatre. Topics focused on owning, sharing, and protecting your work, as well as piracy in the digital age.

During one of the panels, a discussion of online sheet music distribution and its vulnerability took place. The audience’s interest peaked and the panelists’ conversation was sparked with passion. It was at this moment that we knew what our industry needed next: a discussion—and celebration—about the business issues and intellectual property rights of composers and lyricists.

We’re thrilled to announce that the event has come to fruition, once again with HowlRound’s partnership, and will be taking place from September 28 – October 1 of this year. #MusicalsWeek: Protecting, Developing & Celebrating Musical Theatre is a four-day event that will center on panels with industry professionals. We feel that it is our responsibility to provide a space to not only talk about the protection of musical theatre, but also diversity in writing and casting, the development process of a musical, and the brilliant new forms of musical theatre that are rising within the industry.

Similar to last year’s #RightsWeek, #MusicalsWeek will include articles by members of the theatrical community, which will be posted daily on HowlRound, and nightly panels that are open to the public and will be livestreamed on HowlRound as well as live-tweeted by @MrSamuelFrench. We’re also excited to include a special finale to the week, a benefit concert for The Dramatists Guild Fund at 54 Below.

Now, let’s get down to the logistics.

Sean Patrick Flahaven of Warner Chapell Music Publishing will kick off our articles tomorrow, with a piece that is a follow-up to his #RightsWeek article, “Protecting, Distributing and Monetizing Your Work” online. This year, he will be discussing the online world of sharing work, as well as the rights surrounding artistic property in the digital age.

Our second article will be penned by Shakina Nayfack, artistic director of The Musical Theatre Factory and vibrant director, choreographer, producer, and performance artist. Shakina’s passion for developing new work will play well into her piece, which will focus on the development of musical theatre.

Wednesday’s article will be written by composer, lyricist, and blogger Michael R. Jackson. This piece will expound upon his recent blog post, “Diversity in Musical Theatre!” and discuss the state of diversity and equality in today’s industry.

To wrap up the week, Branden Huldeen, the New Works Director and Festival Producing Director for the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, will write a piece on the new forms of musical theatre.

Our first panel, “The Promotion and Protection of Musical Theatre,” will take place on Monday. Moderated by recent Kleban winner and composer/lyricist Sam Willmott, the panel will include Sean Patrick Flahaven (Senior Vice President of Theatre and Catalog Development, Warner/Chappell Music), Bruce Lazarus (Executive Director, Samuel French), composer/lyricist Ryan Scott Oliver (Jasper in Deadland, 35mm: A Musical Exhibition), and composer/lyricist Georgia Stitt (Danger Year, Big Red Sun). Topics will center on distributing sheet music online, the use of YouTube in the musical theatre industry, promoting your work while protecting it, and more.

“Development of a Musical” will be our panel on Tuesday, with panelists Jen Bender (SVP Production and Development, The Araca Group), Kathy Evans (Founder/Executive Director of the Rhinebeck Writers Retreat), composer Chris Miller (Tuck Everlasting, Fugitive Songs), and lyricist Nathan Tysen (Tuck Everlasting, Fugitive Songs). The evening will focus around the process of writing a musical, including readings and workshops, where new musicals are being developed, and the (often long and winding) road to Broadway.

With Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron making history as the first female writing team to win a Tony for a musical score, the upcoming Broadway revival of Spring Awakening produced by Deaf West, and the success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, it is a thrilling time for the musical theatre industry. Unfortunately, it’s not enough. How can we further implement diversity and equality in our industry? That topic will take place during Wednesday’s panel, “Diversity and Equality in Musical Theatre.” Other discussion points will include the LGBT community, advocacy for musicals with disability, female writers in musical theatre, and organizations that improve and enrich lives through musical theatre. Moderating the panel is Sarah Schlesinger (lyricist/librettist; Chair, Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program and Associate Dean of the Institute of Performing Arts, New York University Tisch School of the Performing Arts). She will be joined by panelists Justin Huff, CSA (Telsey + Co. Casting The Color Purple, On Your Feet, Kinky Boots), Robert Lee (lyricist, librettist; Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program Faculty, New York University Tisch School of the Performing Arts), actress Ali Stoker (Deaf West’s Spring Awakening), and composer/lyricist Michael R. Jackson.

Our final panel, “The New Form of Musial Theatre” will be held at the Dramatists Guild Fund Music Hall on Thursday. Samuel French is proud to have some of the most unique and cutting-edge musicals, including The Wiz, Chicago, The Rocky Horror Show, and Nine. Looking towards the future, it is thrilling that people are now responding to shows like Fun Home and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. Where are these new works being developed? How can we, as an industry, better support the creators of new forms musical storytelling? Serving as our moderator, Kent Nicholson (Director of Musical Theatre, Playwrights Horizons) will be joined by panelists composer/lyricist Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), director Jackson Gay (These Paper Bullets), Branden Huldeen (New Works Director and Festival Producing Director, National Alliance for Musical Theatre), and Shakina Nayfack (Founding Artistic Director, Musical Theatre Factory).

Of course, no event about musical theatre is complete without a performance. Sing and Tell: A Benefit Concert for the Dramatists Guild Fund will wrap up the week at 54 Below by celebrating the work of musical theatre writers and performers. The evening will feature a brief, but intimate chat with each composer/lyricist that will lead into one of their songs from the Samuel French catalog.

Hosted by Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody), we will go behind the music with composers/lyricists: Charles Strouse (Golden Boy), Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody), Marsha Norman (Secret Garden), Sam Willmott (Yo, Vikings), Bill Russell (Side Show), Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond (Judge Jackie Justice), Brad Alexander and Adam Mathias (See Rock City and Other Destinations), Joe Iconis (The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks), Ryan Scott Oliver (35mm), Nathan Tysen (Fugitive Songs), Chris Miller (Fugitive Songs), Michael Mitnick (Fly By Night), and more. The night will also include performances by: Kathleen Monteleone and Jim Newman (Hands on a Hardbody), Lauren Zakrin (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), Emily Skeggs (Fun Home), Javier Ignacio (Side Show), Sally Wilfert, Tatiana Lofton, and more.

Ticket sales will benefit The Dramatists Guild Fund, the public charity arm of The Dramatists Guild of America. We’re thrilled to be collaborating with an organization that has been providing resources to dramatists and nonprofit theatres nationwide for over fifty years. Each year, DGF awards grants to nonprofit theatrical organizations across the country that produce works by American writers, provides emergency aid to writers facing illness or other unforeseen circumstances, and supports numerous educational programs and writing development opportunities for dramatists. Andrew Lippa, President of the Dramatists Guild Fund commented, “We are excited to host New Forms of Musical Theatre in The Music Hall at The Dramatists Guild Fund for #MusicalsWeek. We are very grateful for Samuel French's support of DGF's programs and services for writers across the country.”

Whether you’re an aspiring lyricist/composer or a veteran of the industry, #MusicalsWeek is a time for all of us to join together, educate ourselves, and discuss how we can continue to protect and support our artists. We certainly hope that you can join us.

Below are the particulars of the panels and 54 Below concert, as well as livestream and live-tweet information. For further education, we encourage you to check out Owning Their Words: Understanding the Playwright, Protecting Their Work & How You Can Help.

#MusicalsWeek: Protecting, Developing & Celebrating Musical Theatre

Promotion and Protection of Musicals
Monday, September 28 at 6:30 p.m.
Samuel French Offices (235 Park Avenue South, 5th Floor, NYC)

Development of a Musical
Tuesday, September 29 at 6:30 p.m.
Samuel French Offices (235 Park Avenue South, 5th Floor, NYC)

Diversity and Equality in Musical Theatre
Wednesday, September 30 at 6:30 p.m.
Samuel French Offices (235 Park Avenue South, 5th Floor, NYC)

New Forms of Musical Theatre
Thursday, October 1 at 6:30 p.m.
Dramatists Guild Fund (356 West 40th St, 2nd Floor, NYC)

Following Thursday’s panel, Samuel French will present Sing and Tell: A Benefit Concert for the Dramatists Guild Fund at 54 Below (254 West 54th St, Cellar, NYC) at 9:30pm. To purchase tickets, visit their website.

All #MusicalsWeek panels are free admission and open to the public. Reservations are encouraged, but not required. Email [email protected] to reserve your spot. Panels will be livestreamed on HowlRound. Follow @MrSamuelFrench and #MusicalsWeek for live-tweeting.

*Please note that panelists, moderators, composers/lyricists, and performers are subject to change. For a current list of participants, please click here.

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Thoughts from the curators

What is the process of developing new musical theatre? How can composers and lyricists better protect their work, while also promoting it? In this series, Samuel French, Inc. asked four professionals in the theatre industry to share their thoughts on this subject. (Please note that the presented opinions are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent those of Samuel French.) 



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