Developing a Musical on a Shoestring Budget

For all your subscribers out there (Robby, Mom) who were concerned about my car, by some miraculous act, I didn't get towed or even get a ticket, despite the fact that I was very illegally parked.  I'll take that as a good omen.

Now, back to the subject of today's blog.  We all know that it takes millions and millions of dollars to get a show up and running on Broadway.  But, let's backtrack to something we can manage, and worry about the millions later--and that is:  developing a musical.  I thought it would be useful to examine how if you use your smarts, skills and savvy, and think outside the box a little, you can develop a great musical on a struggling artist's budget.  As of right now, Robby and I have spent $636 for rehearsal space, actors, a two-year option on the rights, and a full score and script written by great up-and-coming musical theatre writers.  So how did we do it?

First, I happen to be lucky enough to have a great job in the summer (that I simultaneously do while working my full-time job), working in a 20-year old program at the Lucy Moses School/Kaufman Center.  Here teams of writers, composers, directors and choreographers work together to create original musical theatre pieces for groups of "campers" that get fully produced and staged at Merkin Concert Hall.  So, I actually got paid to experiment with the short story in a creative and supportive environment for four weeks, with a cast of smart and highly enthusiastic actors, a fantastic mentor (Sean Hartley, a writer/composer himself and the director of the program), and a brilliantly talented group of colleagues (Clay Zambo, Dan Acquisto, Wendy Baker, Beth Sorrentino, to name a few).  There was no pressure (other than to stick to our 17 minute time stipulation) and lots of support and creativity.

Second, once we all realized how truly great this story was as a musical, I did a lot of thinking and planning and talking to people I trust about it.  When I went to the writer (the fabulous, Wendi Kaufman), I practically had a business plan as to how I wanted to go about adapting the story, developing the musical, marketing it, etc.  I knew her material inside and out and had a passion and enthusiasm for it's development that was infectious.  And guess what?  She happily gave me a 2-year option on the material at an extremely reasonable and fair rate, and has been completely supportive throughout this whole process.

Third, I didn't have to spend the time and money many producers have to spend to find a great writer, lyricist or composer to adapt the story.  I was willing to use my one day off a week and put my nose to the grindstone to knock this baby out.  And, the brilliantly talented Robby Stamper, who I started teaching and writing with 7 years ago, was willing to work as hard and as fast as I was to write the music, because he believed in the project as much as I did.  And by May, we had a book and a score, at no cost (other than lack of sleep).

Four, I've utilized all the other skills I've gained in order to survive as an artist  in New York.  Web design and content writing?  I handled that for my children's theatre for 6 years.   Marketing?  I've taught "The Fine Art of Persuasion:  Television and Advertising" about 500 times here at my day job, The Paley Center for Media.  Networking and casting?  My friends are all smart, creative and generous with their time and talents.  I even made all the script copies for my first reading by using a stack of paper they were recycling at work. 

So, will there be a time when I need all those producers, investors and $$$?  Absolutely.  But, in the mean time, a little self-reliance can take you a long way.