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.
The 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.
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