By MAKAELA POLLOCK
Often when I mention that I work with the Writers’ Group at The 5th, I get the response, “Cool!—So what do you guys actually DO?” The answer is both simple and huge. On the simple level, we write scenes and songs that add up to a whole musical, we give feedback to each other, we discuss what it means to create musical theater, and most importantly, we commit to being in the room with each other every other week in order to make that happen.
Behind this simple practice is a much bigger intention. And here let me take a tangent to explain that I am lucky enough to have been involved with the Writers’ Group since the first cycle began in 2014. At that time I was working with Ian Eisendrath as the New Works Associate for The 5th, and got to be involved in the development of this program, as well as all of the New Works projects (from sending writing teams on retreats which started new shows to being associate director for A Room With A View and every phase in between). From its inception, this group was designed to nuture local artists and hone musical writing talents so that there is a grassroots action of supporting the future of musical theater right here in Seattle. So there is a big umbrella hope that by meeting every week we are creating a legacy for great new shows, advancing the capital-C Craft of this unique American capital-A Art form.
But back to the nuts and bolts. We take all that passion and idealism and focus it towards working with each writing team to create a new show in a little under two years. In the first year there is a lot of discussion of what makes a musical (What makes a good musical? What makes a produceable musical? How do so many go wrong?) and how to get started (A song? A scene? Source material? An inspiring character?). Then there is the frenzy of pitching ideas and making outlines before diving into the writing itself. By the end of year one, we have collectively rejected dozens of ideas and had hundreds of rewrites in service of getting to a first draft of a first act of a new show.
This past October, our four writing teams did unrehearsed table readings of four new shows as part of NextFest. Hearing these fledgling drafts get voiced by actors is one of my favorite parts of the process because so much is revealed in that raw reading. There are surprising interpretations, bold audience responses, and brand new understandings of the piece from the writers themselves. We now are launching forward with wholesale revisions as these teams work to complete the writing process and shape these new shows so that they are ready for a full week of rehearsals and reading by next fall’s NextFest.
Find out more about the Writer’s Group, and other New Works initiatives, at our website, and stay tuned for further updates from each of the writing teams in the Writers’ Group.