To Germany, Cairo, and…Zombieland?

One of the most exciting parts of being an Artistic Director Assistant at The O’Neill is that I get to work on three different types of theater works. For the past month, I have been in rehearsals for the National Music Theater Conference (NMTC). Three new musicals have been read, re-written, and re-written again during that time: Slaughterhouse Five by Jed Feuer and Adele Ahronheim, We Live in Cairo by Daneil and Patrick Lazour, and ZM (Zombie Musical) by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis.

21988_10153580120124879_2762399042020474046_nThe pieces, although wildly different from one another, completely changed how I think about the structure of musicals. While I used to view many musical theater conventions as convenient, tired traditions, I have come to realize their importance. For example, something that came up throughout the conference was the use of musical buttons on the end of songs. A button is the musical phrase that marks a definitive ending to the song. This is the moment where the actors freeze and the audience claps. Before coming to The O’Neill, this moment felt self-indulgent to me, but I now realize just how important it is. It tells the audience that the moment is over, that the plot is advancing, and gives them a moment to digest everything they just heard and saw before moving on. If this momentary break doesn’t happen, the audience grows restless.

While working with artistic director Paulette Haupt, I have also learned about the administrative side of theater and the process of choosing, funding, and building new works. I had the opportunity to listen in on confidential mentor meetings where professionals gave writers their thoughts and advice on their musical. I began to understand how musicals get on their feet and where they go after The O’Neill. I learned about how artistic staffs work together to create new material. Although I have had many hands-on opportunities to act, write, direct, etc. at Brandeis, the development process was unfamiliar to me. Working with a team of professionals on a new play is a balancing act and a lot of hard work. Working on staged readings is a huge job opportunity for young theater artists, and this experience certainly gives me the preparation I need to work collaboratively in a professional environment.

Smile! A picture of me, Artistic Director Paulette Haupt, and my co-intern Maia Nelles-Sagar.
Smile! Artistic Director Paulette Haupt, my co-intern Maia Nelles-Sagar, and me after the final event of NMTC.

Over these four weeks I have met and worked with new and established artists alike. I have been able to speak with and observe some of the most accomplished music theater artists in the country. Luckily, I feel incredibly welcomed not only by The O’Neill, but the theater community at large. The environment here is giving me a good sense of how to network and thrive in “The Real World.” I’ve learned new tactics and techniques for making theater that I will carry with me through my final year at Brandeis and beyond. During my last month at The O’Neill, I will be reading stage directions for one of the National Playwrights Conference pieces, Nomad Motel by Carla Ching, and working with Artistic Director John McDaniel on the Cabaret Conference.

– Rachel Liff ’16