The name National Alliance for Musical Theatre is as old as I am. In 1989, the first annual NAMT Festival of New Musicals was held in NYC. The festival was created to solve two of the most notorious problems in showbiz: the lack of new musicals being produced, and the rocketing cost of putting a show together. And that's what the NAMT Festival continues to do to this day.
With 150 theatre company members, NAMT enjoys an abundance of festival submissions. "We have a blind evaluation process," Branden Huldeen, the director and producer of the festival, told me. "The committee selects the best shows without identifying the creators. I'm the only one who communicates with the writers from the beginning."
After the initial selection, the committee then narrows the finalists down to 8. "We have to make sure to cover all the categories," Huldeen said. Each year, the NAMT festival includes something grand, like a musical with a historical context, as well as something small and low-key. They also look to include works that have had previous production histories and are looking for the next venue, in addition to works that are fresh off the pages and would be sung for the very first time.
"Different shows have different goals and we have producers of a spectrum of scales looking for the next project," Huldeen explained. "Sometimes a show would be on its way to Broadway and sometimes it's just looking for a lab or a developmental production."
It's the process of making dreams come true: a bare stage, a few music stands, and a small cast who have probably only had a few hours to get familiar with the score.
But this is not the only characteristic of NAMT that sets it apart from other new-work festivals. First of all, NAMT does not sell tickets to the festival. Huldeen described NAMT as a platform, a network mutually beneficial for artists and industry people that does not reap profits from the connections it facilitates.
The backgrounds of the audience also contributes to NAMT's uniqueness. "Around seventy-five percent of the audience is tri-state area theatre workers, twenty percent from all over the country as well as Canada, and five percent or so are international members," Huldeen said.
I was fortunate to see 6 of the 8 shows of NAMT 2012: The Circus in Winter, Sleeping Beauty Wakes, Triangle, and Bonfire Night, among others. I had a personal history with Sleeping Beauty Wakes, as I saw its second production at McCarter Theatre. The idea of updating a classic household tale and communicating its relevance to a 21st century audience intrigues me. In the next few weeks I'll expand on this topic, focusing on some of the NAMT shows as well as my discoveries elsewhere.