Behind the Scenes at Ragtime Rehearsal

The stellar cast of Ragtime, stripped down to an essential 17 members, is currently deep in rehearsal for the production which begins performances next week. Take a peek behind the curtain at these rehearsal shots.

Sounds Good to Me!

Karen Katz has had a remarkable year. Being the Head Sound Engineer at The 5th Avenue Theatre is no small undertaking during any given season, but this year, in particular, Karen took a ride on a technological rollercoaster following The 5th Avenue Theatre’s transition from an analog sound system verging on antique in technological years to a state-of-the-art digital system.

“People come up to me and say ‘Oh, you’re going digital! I bet your job just got easier,’ and it’s like ‘oh, no no no!’” Karen laughs and shakes her distinctive curls. “This job just got 10 fold more complicated than it had ever been before because there are so many more things you can do. And everything has a lot of programming that needs to be done before you can just ‘do’ it.” Continue reading “Sounds Good to Me!”

Spotlight on Our Circles Members

Our Circles Members help make The 5th’s new musical productions possible

A BIG thank you to our Circles Member donors, who through their gifts help support all of the artistic work of The 5th: on stage, in new work development and for our education programs—which served nearly 75,000 young people in our community last year.

For our 2016/17 Season, some of our Circles Members helped make the new productions of The Secret Garden and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion come to life. Our “Secret Garden Keepers” and “Romy and Michele Booster Club members” designated their gifts to support the productions.

The Romy and Michele Booster Club with the cast and creatives from the show at the Producer’s Dinner held at the home of Board Member Pat Kennedy and his wife Melissa Ries.

This has been a wonderful and exciting opportunity for Circles Member donors to help The 5th create new productions, while getting in on the ground floor and experiencing the productions as they evolve. The Secret Garden Keepers and the Romy and Michele Booster Club members were invited to attend a kick-off party with the creative team; to attend hosted rehearsals; to meet and spend time with the writers, composers, creatives and actors; to attend the opening night performance and post-show cast party; and were recognized along with their pictures as Executive Producers or Creators in all show publications. It has been rewarding and fun for everyone to have our Circles Members play an important part in this process!

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If you would like to hear more about becoming a Circles Member and/or helping The 5th bring new works to our audiences by designating your support to a production, please call our Development office at 206-625-1418. You can also find more information at our website.

In Development: New Works at The 5th

Here at The 5th, you may have seen one or two, or even 17 or 18 new musicals explode onto the scene on our 5th Avenue stage – musicals like Hairspray or Memphis (both winners of the Tony Award for Best Musical!) But for every new musical that appears on our stage in a season, I can promise you that we have at least a half dozen more in various stages of development through our New Works Program. Currently we have eight new musicals actively in development.

About the Writers’ Group

For nearly two decades, we have committed to nurturing the artists in our community, which is something you may notice when you see our many local actors starring in our shows. But we also seek to nurture the writers, composers, librettists and lyricists living right here in Puget Sound. Our current Writers Group has met bi-weekly for the past two years. In these meetings, a group of nine writers led by 5th Ave artistic staff members, meet to present new material from their musicals in development, and the work is very promising! These musicals include Anybody Can Do Anything, Industry, The Rumble Within, Prodigal Song and Promised Land. These five musicals, which will be our second cycle of Writers Group presentations, will be presented in 2018 at The 5th Avenue Theatre’s NextFest: A Festival of New Musicals.

Anybody Can Do Anything, with a book by John Longenbaugh and music by Bruce Monroe, is based on Betty MacDonald’s memoir of the same name. Longenbaugh is a novelist and local writer. His publications have been in Seattle Weekly, City Arts and Seattle Magazine. Monroe often works at The 5th Avenue Theatre as an orchestrator and conductor. He attended NYU for composing and has written scores for many musicals.

Industry, with book, music and lyrics by Naomi Morgan, tells the story of sisters Vivian and Lisa, who work at a strip club in Seattle as they each struggle with a demon of their past. A concert version of the musical opened for Warren G in 2016. Morgan has previously been seen on our stage in Oliver! and RENT. She is also a local producer and her productions appear at casinos and senior centers throughout Washington.

The Rumble Within, with book by Andrew Russell and music by Richard Andriessen, follows the true story of Linda Hazzard, a Washington doctor in the early 20th century, who famously helped patients starve themselves (sometimes to death) to cure illnesses. Russell is the Artistic Director of Intiman Theatre. You may have seen his last project The Fourth Estate, which was also the product of our Writers Group, during our 2016 NextFest. Andriessen (also known as Major Scales) is the co-creator and co-star of The Vaudevillians, which he created with Jinkx Monsoon, and has appeared previously at Seattle Rep.

Prodigal Song, with a book by Keri Healey and music by Anne Eisendrath, is an original story about a convicted felon, released from prison, who finds hope through music. Healey has previously won the M. Elizabeth Osborn Best Emerging Playwright award recognizing her play Torso which had its premiere in Seattle in 2012. Eisendrath has appeared on our stage in productions of Pirates of Penzance, Carousel and The Sound of Music.

The Promised Land, with book, music and lyrics by Orlando Morales, tells the story of Joseph, a young Buffalo soldier who is sent to the Philippines in 1898 and the Filipino villagers who rescue and shelter him, unaware that he has been ordered to subdue their fight for independence. The score takes on a Golden Age-style and the script includes three different languages to depict this war story. Morales’ most recent writing endeavor was with the gospel musical Psalm which he continues to develop. He is also the Director of Education and Outreach at The 5th Avenue Theatre and a skilled pianist.

New Works on New Stages

Part of our New Works program is recognizing the importance of development over destination, meaning that we aim to feed and foster the growth of new musicals even if they ultimately premiere at other theaters. In that vein, we are very excited that the musical version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which was written in our first Writers Group, will have its first production at Taproot this summer. Persuasion has a book by Harold Taw and music and lyrics by Chris Jeffries.

Beatsville, a musical by Wendy Wilf and Glenn Slater, has been in development with our program for the last two years. It started in our inaugural NextFest with a 29-hour reading. A 29-hour reading allows the writers to teach the material to a group of actors and have it presented without sets, lights or costumes. In the 29 hours they have allotted, they are able to hear the material read and sung out loud, which allows them to more clearly see necessary edits to their work. Since that initial reading, the team has met many times in Seattle and New York to continue diving into the material. This process resulted in a co-production with Asolo Repertory Theatre where a full production was mounted with our very own Bill Berry at the helm as the director. The production was received very well and work continues to be done on the show before it is mounted again.

And of course, we are very proud that a project that made a development stop at The 5th Avenue Theatre in 2014, Come From Away, is appearing on Broadway this season. Come From Away received 7 Tony Award nominations and won the award for Best Direction of a Musical for Chris Ashley, who you may remember from his work on Memphis here at The 5th. During Come From Away’s time here, Chris Ashley, Kelly Devine and Ian Eisendrath put the show on its feet in our rehearsal room during a 3-week developmental production. It then went on to be seen at Seattle Rep, La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. and the Mirvish Theatre in Toronto before making its Broadway debut.

New Things Still to Come

INTERMISSION! is the exciting new work from the brilliant mind of Jerry Zucker with music and lyrics by Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary, who we were fortunate enough to work with on First Date and Second Hand Lions. The musical will be directed by Zucker and Broadway sensation Chris Gattelli, who will also choreograph. Gattelli is a two-time Tony Award-winning choreographer and is in high demand in New York. Gattelli is committed to a number of new projects, one of which very unexpectedly received the opportunity to open on Broadway during the time when INTERMISSION! was scheduled to be in rehearsals, and in the interest of having the best creative team possible for this exciting new musical, we made the difficult choice to delay the show until our 2018/19 season. However, the team is currently hard at work with a developmental production in New York City at this very minute. This step allows the team to put the musical on its feet in a rehearsal studio to explore staging and choreography for the production. INTERMISSION! has had two 29-hour readings in the last year and we look forward to seeing it on stage!

We also have a very exciting new commission called ’64, which is in collaboration with book writer Cheryl West and composers Douglas Lyons and Ethan Pakchar. Based on a true story of racial discrimination in the fraternity community at Stanford in the ’60’s, this new musical focuses on a battle for integration. The first draft is currently being written with a goal of a 29-hour reading in the next year.

And That’s Just in Active Development…

Over the years, our New Works Program has touched dozens of new musicals, shepherding them from the kernel of an idea to fully-produced productions. While we have many shows in active development, we have even more that we have simmering on the back burner. Maybe we are seeking the right creative partners to help the show along. Maybe we are following writers as they develop concepts into songs, scenes and more.

We continue to be hard at work in our New Works department and hope to continue to bring new musicals to Seattle and beyond. The development of these new pieces is central to our mission here at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Over the past 17 years we have produced 18 new musicals and will continue on with this tradition to bring new musicals into the theater canon.

A Beloved Family Member Retires: Deb Engelbach Departs The 5th After 28 Years

By BRIDGET MORGAN, Senior PR & Communications Manager

Candid shot during the Romy and Michele pre-production photoshoot. PC: Mark and Tracy Photography.

For the last 28 years, any actor who has crossed the stage in a 5th Avenue Theatre production has at some point or other worked closely with Deb Engelbach in our costume shop. Very closely. Deb has a curious specialization in the world of costumes: shoes and underwear. In addition to some more general operational work in the costume shop, Deb is the person who is purchasing and fitting undergarments for performers, purchasing shoes, building and stretching tap shoes, and adjusting shoes for quick changes. In a sense, Deb is responsible for the most basic layer of confidence an actor or actress has when they dance their way onstage.

Continue reading “A Beloved Family Member Retires: Deb Engelbach Departs The 5th After 28 Years”

Things You Learn as a Directing and Artistic Leadership Fellow

By HATTIE CLAIRE ANDRES, 2016/17 Directing and Artistic Leadership Fellow

As I wrap up my year-long fellowship at The 5th Avenue, I look back on my experience assistant directing five shows this season, directing Rising Star Project and shadowing my mentor Bill Berry to gain Artistic Leadership experience and insight.

Planning Is Everything

  • So much of theater administration and leadership is being an expert planner: planning the shows for next season, planning who will work on those shows, planning financial allocation and strategy and planning calendars so that everything that happens in this busy building works in harmony.
  • As a director, you can spend more than a year planning your show before rehearsals even begin: in auditions, deciding how you want to cast the show; in meetings with designers to create the visual life of the story on stage; and in preparation for working with actors to decide how the story will be staged.

Communication Is Key

  • Hattie and Casting Director Kelsey Thorgalsen discuss RSP auditions. PC: Orlando Morales

    Artistic Leaders, such as David and Bill at The 5th, are charged with the job of developing a creative vision for the theater they work for, and communicating that vision to their staff, the artists, the board and the audience. This communication happens in many different ways but one of the most important outcomes it achieves is to have everyone understand the importance of the shows and the stories The 5th is choosing to tell on our stage.

  • As the director of a show, it is essential that you masterfully communicate your vision for the show to everyone working on the production – the choreographer, music director, actors, designers, crew and producers – so that each person feels confident in their ability and inspired to tell a unified story on stage with you. As an assistant director, you are often part of facilitating this process, delivering notes to actors and designers when the director is busy with another aspect of rehearsal.

Relationships Are Crucial

  • “It’s all about who you know” is often said as cliché in the entertainment industry but there is a large element of truth to that statement. Because creating a show together is such a personal experience, highly dependent on the chemistry of everyone in the rehearsal room and their ability to collaborate, it is not only important to be skilled at what you do – be it dancing, designing costumes, or running the sound board – but it is also important that people trust you and find you enjoyable to work with.

    Hattie with Romy and Michele Associate Director MK Lawson (L) and Choreographer Peggy Hickey (R) at opening night party. PC: Duell Fisher
  • As the assistant director, I got to work with five different creative teams this season, most of whom I didn’t know before beginning rehearsal. Each time I started with a new team, I intentionally spent time and energy to get to know each person and build a trusting, working relationship with them. By the end of the season, I had over 20 new collaborators with whom I’d built relationships.

Each Day is Unique

  • One of the most exciting aspects of working at a theater is that monotony is non-existent. When looking at Bill’s calendar to find shadowing opportunities, I saw that he had a completely different schedule every day: from meetings with a wide array of people to attending auditions in New York to directing Beatsville in Florida or The Pajama Game here at The 5th.

    Rising Star Project Students. PC: Jeff Carpenter Photography
  • In my own experience, working on five shows throughout the season, I saw first hand how wildly different each show was – from Man of La Mancha as a reimagined classic to The Little Mermaid as a family-favorite contemporary hit to The Pajama Game which embraced its Golden-Era identity to Rising Star Project with its abundant student energy to The Secret Garden revising its script and score for the revival production to Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion developed from the ground up as a brand new, world premiere musical. No show was the same and each day brought a different set of challenges and exciting revelations.

A Reimagined Ragtime Comes to The 5th

By KWAPI VENGESAYI, Community Engagement Specialist

On December 8, 1996, Ragtime, a musical based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, had its world premiere at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Fourteen months later, it would make its Broadway debut. Staged in the newly opened Ford Center for the Performing Arts, January 18, 1998 marked the beginning of what would be a two year run: 27 previews, 834 performances, 13 Tony Award nominations and 4 wins, including Best Book of a Musical and Best Score.

Continue reading “A Reimagined Ragtime Comes to The 5th”

Project Reprise: Searching for New Intersections Between Musical Theater and Dementia

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Education and Outreach and JEN KULIK, Project Reprise Artist Project Manager

UW students after their recent performance of an original music revue created for people with dementia.

How can musical theater play a role in enhancing the quality of life for people with dementia?

This past season, The 5th Avenue Theatre partnered with the University of Washington’s Musical Theater Program and Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine to answer this question. This joint effort came to be known as “Project Reprise” and culminated in a unique opportunity for UW undergraduate students.

Continue reading “Project Reprise: Searching for New Intersections Between Musical Theater and Dementia”

The 5th and the National Endowment for the Arts

Located in Seattle, The 5th Avenue Theatre is one of the nation’s leading musical theater companies with a deep commitment to creating Broadway-caliber productions and developing the nation’s new musical theater. Since 2011, The 5th has premiered 17 new musicals, nine of which have gone on to Broadway including Best Musical Tony Award-winners Hairspray and Memphis. Creating live theater that serves our community is expensive, and like most theaters in the country, cannot be funded through ticket sales alone. We are proud to say that the NEA has been with us, supporting us along the way. Their financial support has been invaluable, allowing us to engage and entertain an audience of over 300,000 each year. Over 11 years, the NEA has provided us with 11 unique grants totaling $435,000 that support our projects. Some of these include our 2011 commission, Rosie the Riveter, which traveled to elementary and middle schools across Washington; our 2016 “revisal” of Paint Your Wagon that featured a brand new book; and our 2017 reimagining of The Secret Garden, currently poised for a Broadway revival.

Continue reading “The 5th and the National Endowment for the Arts”

Fifteen Years, Friendly Giants and Footloose: A Recap of the 2017 5th Avenue Awards

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Education and Outreach

On June 12, The 5th was thrilled to host the 15th annual 5th Avenue Awards: Honoring High School Musical Theater.

The evening was the culmination of months of dedication and passion. Beginning October of last year, a team of evaluators traveled thousands of miles to see productions at schools all over Washington—a record 122 productions performed by 100 schools—as near as Capitol Hill and as far away as Blaine, Vancouver, Spokane and Sequim. From large urban areas, to small rural communities the mission has always been the same: to recognize the work, talent and commitment that students, faculty and parents devote to their school’s musical theater productions. Through these efforts, we hope to emphasize how high school theater programs are invaluable to our communities.

Continue reading “Fifteen Years, Friendly Giants and Footloose: A Recap of the 2017 5th Avenue Awards”