The New York Musical Theatre Festival enlisted the likes of stage and screen star Justin Guarini and Tony nominee Marc Kudisch to kick off its 2015 press conference at Urbo, at West 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, on July 2. Guarini emceed the event, while Kudisch (who is currently starring in Broadway's Hand to God) stopped by to drive home the importance of NYMF, an organization that presents dozens of new musicals each summer, within the theater industry.
"The great thing about NYMF," Kudisch said, "is that the public gets to partake in the process of the development of musicals. It’s a big business what we do, and there is art and there is commerce, and this is that moment where both of those things come into play with the other…There's nothing more important than the process to a final product, and thanks to NYMF we have a place where we can showcase that."
At the press conference, a showcase of the showcase, so to speak, musical theater newcomer Gil Perez-Abraham got the audience of journalists in the new-musical-theater mood with a rendition of "Contender" from 2015 NYMF show Manuel Versus the Statue of Liberty. The show, a "Latin-infused" musical that follows an undocumented immigrant who takes on the Statue of Liberty in the fight of a lifetime, is in keeping with NYMF's mission to "nurture the creation, production, and public presentation of stylistically, thematically, and culturally diverse new musicals."
Now in its 12th season, NYMF carries out its important work by selecting upwards of 50 new projects each year to present over its three-week summer season. According to executive director and producer Dan Markley, NYMF begins that process in November, when the festival's grand jury selects 10 musicals to produce and also subsidize as part of the Next Link Project. Then, nearly as soon as the full roster of shows has been chosen (in the last week of February or first week of March), each show is invited for a two-day working seminar to provide all the information and contacts that will be necessary in the next five months of creating a staged musical.
"Every show is different and what every writer needs is different," explains Jen Bender, director of programming and artist services. "Sometimes it's about connecting them with people in the New York theater community, [and] sometimes it's just about having check-in phone calls that are more like a therapy session with that writer."
When a production needs professional assistance like a press agent or general manager, NYMF makes use of its considerable connections created over the last decade. Those connections help shows like Deep Love: A Ghostly Rock Opera, created by a trio of musicians including The Voice's Jon Peter Lewis, establish their place among shows staged by theater veterans, taking each production, as Lewis put it, "to the next level."
From the artists' perspectives, NYMF offers much more than just venues and professional connections. With NYMF's help, creators are able to see how their shows play in front of audiences. "I think it's an interesting audience experience because they can see something in this very incipient [stage], and audience response is hugely helpful," said Claudio Quest cocreator Drew Fornarola.
Perhaps even more important, Fornarola went on, is that NYMF gives musical theater producers the opportunity to find shows they can invest in early in the process. Simultaneously, new shows are given an added boost of name recognition: "Over the years, NYMF has built this really wonderful reputation because of a lot of the incredible work that they've incubated here, Next to Normal and [title of show] and Alter Boyz. Just saying that you're doing your development at NYMF offers you some real credibility in the industry."
That's the reason Acappella book writer Vynnie Meli has traveled from Atlanta to put on her second NYMF show (the first was 2009's Plagued — A Love Story) — that and the allure of staging a new musical in the world's greatest theater city. "This is just so much fun," she gushed. "Especially sitting in Tick Tock Diner or something, talking to directors and hearing other people talking about theater…just being in a room at NYMF with all these people that are making musical theater."