Beware of Being the Belle of the (Musical) Ball

Don't miss an opportunity to fill up your musical theater dance card if your show's the belle of the ball.

I just wrapped up a wonderful weekend of discovering new musicals and reconnecting with musical theater colleagues from around the country at the National Alliance of Musical Theatre (NAMT). It’s always a treat to spend a few days celebrating, solving and evolving the field of musical theater with the smartest brains in the biz.

The conference kicked off with a new musical festival where 8 lucky shows were presented to packed houses of industry insiders. In the lobby after each presentation the writers would be barraged by theater companies and producers who had enjoyed the show. It can be a thrilling moment for writers.

However, in situations like this, it’s easy for writing teams and their agents to be blinded by all this fleeting hype and attention, and risk missing out on real opportunities for their show.

After this year’s festival, the NAMT members discussed the fact that too many promising new musicals had fallen victim to this very thing. Here’s how it can happen and how to make sure you don’t fall into the same trap…

You write a show that gets an industry presentation and afterward, you leave with pockets full of business cards with names like Roundabout, Old Globe, Signature, or Center Theatre Group (aka a few of “the biggies”) and maybe even a Broadway producer or two. You’ll also have cards from other theater companies of all shapes and sizes from around the country.

Naturally, you are thrilled to be the belle of the ball and you head home waiting for the phone to ring and the offers to pour in. You (or your agent, if you have one) get a call or two from theaters in Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida… You politely listen to their request to do a workshop or production of your show knowing full well that you won’t need them when you get the call from one of “the biggies.” You and your agent look at each other smugly and say, “why waste time on these places when we’re taking this show straight to the top.”

Then you wait some more. You call a few of “the biggies” and they say yes, it’s true, we loved your show.

And then you wait some more. No deal. Weeks go by. Pretty soon that small production in the midwest starts looking better and better. You swallow your pride and call them back, asking if they’d still consider your show. Only by now, that theater has been to other festivals and has found another show that was more eager to jump on the offer.

You have, in fact, missed your window of opportunity and it’s not an easy window to re-open.

Compare this to another scenario…

You get a bunch of offers and instead of turning them down, you give a tentative yes. You say, I’d love to work on my show with you and you and you. Be upfront – say I’m looking at some other offers as well but perhaps there’s an opportunity to create a development path. Leveraging a string of small productions to stay on the radar of “the biggies” can be very effective. Not to mention, doing something with your musical is always better than letting your show sit silently on your desk.

Musical theater companies around the country play well together and these days spending time at some smaller theaters as you hone your piece on the way to a “biggie” makes for an all around win.

So next time you’re the belle of the ball – enjoy the attention, store up the praise for a rainy day, but don’t let it go to your head. Be humble, be smart, and remember that every opportunity you are given to hone your show, see it on its feet in a production, and expose it to audiences – wherever they may be – might just get you to your fairy tale ending.

3 Responses to Beware of Being the Belle of the (Musical) Ball

  1. Looking forward to this some day. In my imaginings, I’ve wondered if it would be useful to suggest joint productions. I’m seeing a lot of them in the Bay Area.

  2. James says:

    Very interesting post, and something that I recognize and will take to heart. On a side note, as a NAMT alumni and someone who tries to attend every festival, did it strike you (as it did me) that there were a disproportionate number of shows that started as college projects? Why do you suppose that would be? Given that I thought the best show of the festival was also a college project, I’m not prejudiced against them, but it does seem strange that there was so many. Is it second show syndrome, or something else?

  3. Robert Ozn says:

    Very wise advice, indeed. I made this exact mistake back in the day as a recording artist, when one of my big US records was offered a spot on a British compilation. I turned it down waiting for a bigger deal, which wound up materializing a full year later. Meanwhile, the record lost its heat in the clubs. I think it’s always better to keep momentum going while simultaneously structuring the deal(s) so that they can lead to one’s end goal.
    Good luck to all!

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