A new (and cheap) way to try shows out out-of-town.

A lot of folks come into my office with musicals underneath their arm.  Some need rewrites, some need readings, and many need actual productions.  Of course, that’s the hardest and most expensive thing to get.  But there comes a point when every show needs one.  Without a design, without choreography, without an audience, there’s only so much development you can do.

That’s why one of the most common questions I get from those folks, and at my Get Your Show Off The Ground seminar is . . . “How do I get a production?”

My white-boarding answer usually includes festivals, showcases, enhanced regional productions . . . and especially targeting regional theaters and even summer stock theaters that don’t usually do “enhancements” and might be interested in debuting something new, and getting the future revenue stream that goes with it.

And then the other day I thought of another groups of theaters . . . theaters with budgets . . . theaters with talent . . . and theaters that aren’t depending on ticket sales to keep afloat.  Many might not even care about a future royalty!  And get this, there are literally thousands upon thousands of them around the country.

I’m talking about colleges.

We’ve always had a ton of great drama programs at schools around the country, but in the past several years, as Broadway and Musical Theater especially have boomed, more and more colleges and universities have added programs . . . good ones . . . to their list of majors.

And every one of those programs does at least one show a year.  Most more.  A lot more.

And that’s where you come in.

Why sure, they probably have to do some big “stock” show like a Carousel or a Millie or even a Urinetown.  But I’d bet 10:1 that out of the thousands of programs out there, you could find at least 10-20 that would kill to get their hands on a new piece of musical theater . . . so their students could see what it was like to work on an evolving piece and so they could debut something original that might be the next Rent and put their school on the national theatrical map.

Couldn’t that be your show?

Why sure, you’re going to have to use their actors, maybe even their creative team, but for shows early enough in their development process that just need to get on their feet and hear how an audience responds, this may be more than enough.  And it would be a heck of a lot cheaper than a typical enhancement at a major regional theater for sure (those deals can now easily run in excess of $1mm).

I actually know of a few shows that have gone the college-tryout route, including this one by a former employee.

And get this . . . an email just arrived in my inbox the other day from a college that is actually LOOKING for a show!

Northern Kentucky University (which purely coincidentally happens to be my wife’s alma mater) is holding a contest for new plays and musicals . . . and the winner gets $500, and an all expense paid trip to see their production!

You can learn more about this contest here.  And if you have a play or musical, you should enter!  What’s the downside?  You get a production?  Poor baby.  😉

I’d expect other universities to follow NKU’s lead . . . part of the mission statement of higher education institutions is to give the world “the next” whatever.  Your play or musical could be it, and they’d love that to be part of their commercial to attract new full-tuition paying students.

So look for other contests like this one.  Or be ballsy and just contact schools on your own.  Make the pitch that your show is worth the production.  Heck, offer an enhancement if you need to . . . I bet whatever the price was it would be a heck of a lot lower than any other option.

Shows were not meant to be read.  They were meant to be seen.  And this might be a brand new way for you to get that production that you so desperately want need.

(If you want more ideas like this and a ton more to help you get your show to the next level, come to my Get Your Show Off The Ground Seminar this Saturday.  There are just two spots left so register today.)


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  • There are some fantastic high school programs that are doing new works as well. Duncan Sheik’s new musical, “Whisper House” (which started at The Globe Theatre in San Diego) had it’s high school premiere at Pinewood School in Los Altos Hills, CA last year. It was a huge success for the students, school and community at large. Duncan Sheik even came to do a talk-back and performance for the students. That connection was incredible for high school students to have. Obviously, some new works will not have any advantages of being produced at a high school, but there are many high school programs that have the talent, the money and the producer (the school) to fund new works.

    There are several university musical theatre programs that are doing new works. Brigham Young University is producing Wildhorn’s new musical “The Count of Monte Cristo” this upcoming Winter. I know there are others, but I don’t have the titles/school off the top of my head.

    Does anyone know of a page where all of these university type “new works” programs are listed? Ken, maybe you could get a list going?

    I love this idea, and I’m a huge supporter of these type of experiences for students at high school and college-age level. There should be more of them!!!

  • W. Squier says:

    Re: “Even summer stock theaters that don’t usually do “enhancements” and might be interested in debuting something new.” That’s happened to me with two different musicals at two different summer stock theaters the past two summers. And just next week a college is putting up a studio staging of a third show with their student very close to home! One of the big selling points for university theater programs is that it gives their students experience as something they’ll probably be doing a lot when they graduate: quickly putting up new works. That’s probably where they’ll be offered the largest roles early in their careers.

  • Brian says:

    Francis Ford Coppola workshopped “Gidegt” at a high school in 2000.


  • Alex Beech says:

    My composer, Karl Michael Johnson, and I were invited to workshop our musical Class last summer at Hope Summer Rep Theatre which is part of Hope College, and we had a productive, wonderful time.

    Before that, Brandeis Theater Company produced my play, Swipe, Tap and Touch. Working with the designers (one was faculty) was definitely an enhancement of the best kind.

    I can’t recommend colleges and universities enough. You often get surprisingly talented and skillful casts in safe and fruitful working environments…and smart, generous audiences.

  • Norma Kramer says:

    Fantastic idea ! I would put shows I have seen at NYU, Skirball Center up against many off Broadway and Broadway shows any day ! In addition I am very familiar with community theatres in several cities and towns, including NY, and some of them would be more than capable of presenting a superb production of a new show using a reasonable budget and who have a loyal theatre-loving audience !

  • I have 9 finished musical stage-plays with 200 songs; all mainstream. My 30-song/dance 1865 Black and Irish musical with the African percussion and Irish music combining to create the TAP-DANCE WILL KNOCK THEATRE-GOERS OFF THEIR SEATS. Two more are in progress; “ILLUSIONS” and “ACROSS THE BORDER” with half Spanish and half English lyrics. I write the story or adaptation, lyrics, music but am trying to reach composers to collaborate. Ideally I’d like to partner on all aspects. No EGO, no OBLIGATION. Make it the best it can be. I live in West Hills Ca. but can collaborate anywhere. Cell- 714-293-3380 anytime.

  • Ashlyn Smith says:

    Purdue is debuting a new musical next season as well! The trend is definitely there, and at least at Purdue, we’d be excited to do more. The Big 10 theatre programs are also commissioning at least three new works over the next few years starting this season.

    Side note – I’ve seen the southwest premiere of Vote! What happened to it after that because that was back in September 2011?

  • Mark says:

    Carmen Directed by Moisés Kaufman – debuting at University of Miami via the Theater Arts program – November 12th to 23rd 2014 From the website: Book & Lyrics by Moisés Kaufman, Directed by Moisés Kaufman, Music Adaptation by Arturo O’Farrill, Co-production with Tectonic Theatre Project

    Be the first to witness this innovative adaptation of the world famous opera Carmen, written and directed by Tony nominated director Moisés Kaufman. Set in Cuba in 1958, Carmen tells the story of a naïve man who is seduced by a fiery woman and his subsequent downfall in her hands. This co-production with New York’s premier theatre company, Tectonic Theatre Project, will infuse an Afro-Cuban twist into the classic music of Georges Bizet.

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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