The Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals is back

The Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals is back this weekend, March 18-20, at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. It’s a theater-goer’s delight, with staged readings of new musicals in progress, interviews with theater producers and historians, seminars on new trends and “festival cabaret” concerts. late night at the Gelston House restaurant next to the Opera House.

The festival usually takes place in January, but did not take place last year due to the pandemic. When this can happen in January, it usually coincides with another Goodspeed winter event, the Johnny Mercer Grove, where dozens of musical theater creators stay on the theater campus and work on new shows. That wasn’t possible this year – Grove’s retreat ran from January 31 to February 27 – but the popularity of the Festival of New Musicals has grown year on year not just among theater makers but among the General public.

A familiar writer at this year’s festival is Anna Ziegler, who is involved in the festival’s first reading, “A House Without Windows”, on Friday evening. Ziegler’s relationship drama “Actually” was made by TheaterWorks Hartford in 2019, and she also attended acting workshops at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford.

“I’ve never done music reading before,” Ziegler said in a recent phone interview. She has also never been to the Goodspeed, although “of course I know it by reputation”. Ziegler’s collaborator on the show, composer Anna K. Jacobs, “has been there before,” says Ziegler — with the musical “Harmony, Kansas” for the 2012 festival — and “her experience has been invaluable.” It’s a whole new show. This is the first time that everything will be put in place. »

“A House Without Windows,” Ziegler explains, is “based on the real life of Barbara Newhall Follett, who was a child prodigy novelist – published at the age of 12 to critical acclaim. She predicted her own demise in a novel she wrote, writing about how she didn’t feel comfortable in the real world. Then she disappeared. Life imitated her art.

Ziegler and Jacobs, who have been friends for years but have never collaborated on a musical before, were looking for a project where they could explore “fugue states, where life can be lived in completely different ways,” says Ziegler. This kind of experimentation makes it a great project for the festival, where new styles can be tested on a receptive audience.

Ziegler says “A House Without Windows” has a cast of 10 and will have eight days of rehearsal before its one Friday night performance. Many reads only get a repeat or two, so this level of development can be extremely helpful for creators.

The other two readings are:

  • “HoT” by Lynne Shankel and Sara Cooper, directed by Ann Yee, March 19 at 7:30 p.m.

  • “The Gunfighter Meets His Match” by Abby Payne, directed by Estefanía Fadul, March 20 at 1 p.m.

Not only are all of the readings this year being done by female creative teams, but one of the seminars is “The New Majority: Women in Connecticut Theater,” marking the shift in leadership over the past few years that has now women at the head of almost every major theatrical institution in Connecticut. the state

The festival cabarets this year are Timothy Huang and Friends on Fridays at 10 p.m. and Joriah Kwamé & Friends on Saturdays at 10 p.m., at the Gelston House restaurant next to the opera house.

Seminars include:

  • Laiona Michelle discusses her “Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical,” which Goodspeed staged outdoors last summer and just opened on Broadway.

  • Theater technology company Apples and Oranges Arts discusses the latest advancements.

  • A discussion of the Federal Grant for Closed Theater Operators, which has helped theaters nationwide (including the Goodspeed) recover from the devastating financial losses suffered during the pandemic.

  • Jorge Rivera-Herrans talks about his musical “Epic”.

  • Tips for growing theater audiences with data-driven marketing.

  • “The Show Must Go On: Guiding Theater Through a Pandemic”

  • A panel discussion featuring leading women in Connecticut theaters, including Goodspeed’s Donna Lynn Hilton and Hartford Stage’s Melia Bensussen and Cynthia Rider.

  • And “Goodspeed and the Movement for Racial Equity in Theater”.

The festival ends on Sunday with the traditional “Meet the Writers” gathering of the creators of the musicals who received readings.

The entire weekend is devoted to the state of musical theater today: the shows being created, the new ways they are staged and marketed, and the new audiences they hope to reach.

“All of us at Goodspeed are so excited that the festival is back after a year off due to COVID,” says Goodspeed Chief Marketing Officer Dan McMahon. “This is one of the highlights of our year, celebrating everything we all love about musicals.”

The Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals takes place March 18-20 at the Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam (with a few events at nearby buildings.) Tickets are $100 for all three readings, three of the seminars, the Saturday symposium and Sunday session “Meet the Writers”; or $150 for the same plus Saturday festival dinner at Gelston House or La Vita. Tickets for the readings are $25, students $15.

Christopher Arnott can be reached at [email protected].

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