Pittsburgh CLO looks to the next generation
Music festival aims to develop new works
Pittsburgh CLO held a sneak peek of a new music festival that will bloom in Pittsburgh next spring, with the emphasis on small-scale shows and nurturing the next generation of writers.
The festival is part of a $10 million capital campaign that is 95 percent complete, with 35 percent coming from board members. The campaign includes $5 million for new works development, with $3 million specifically for the festival. More than 100 local and national artists will converge here March 26-April 8, 2018, providing an attraction for the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, which will hold its 2018 spring conference April 4-6 in Pittsburgh.
“We don’t have a name, but we know what it is,” said Mark Fleischer, the Pittsburgh CLO producing director who is overseeing the selection process and the particulars of producing the festival. “It’s definitely focused on new small musicals for the cabaret and spaces like it; we will have nine or 10 shows, and it’s going to have education and community components.”
CLO Cabaret, which presents shows in the Cabaret at Theater Square year-round, has produced new smaller works before, including “Judge Jackie Justice” in 2014. Another PCLO musical, “S’Wonderful,” and the comedy “You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up!” have had successful tours.
The search for new material to fit the relatively small space of 260 seats and PCLO’s desire for an ongoing development process were among the catalysts for the festival.
The Next Generation New Small Musical Weekend, held Friday through Sunday with a showcase of songs and readings for Pittsburgh CLO supporters and invited
guests, introduced or advanced the production of four shows. The goal is that one may get a world premiere next year.
“We’ve done every show that has a boy, a nun or a plaid in the title — Where’s the next generation? Who’s the next Danny Goggin [‘Nunsense’]? And it feeds into a mission we have of nurturing homegrown and new talents, that in some ways we are turning the focus on writers in the same way we have nurtured performers in the summer season,” Mr. Fleischer said.
A mandate of the smallvenue show is that it has five actors or fewer, so more often than not, there are multicharacter roles, such as in recent CLO Cabaret shows “The Toxic Avenger” and “The 39 Steps.”
The weeklong lead-up that ended Sunday includes 50 actors from the Pittsburgh area and New York, many with local ties who returned for the event. Mr. Fleischer said the gathering resembled a reunion of actors who have performed for CLO Cabaret, in the summer season and “A Musical Christmas Carol.”
“A bonus is that writers from out of town have been wowed by the versatility of actors such as Quinn Patrick Shannon, Luke Halferty, Connor McCanlus, Lisa Ann Goldsmith and Christine Laitta,” some of the local actors in the casts put together by Mr. Fleischer and his staff.
The week of workshops, rewrites and rehearsals led up to a Friday showcase of songs from the four shows, followed by readings Saturday and Sunday. There were no crossover casts, so that everyone could see each other’s work.
The open submission process of scripts is ongoing, with details at pittsburghclo.org, but there are several ways a show can be chosen. The four Next Generation shows represented what the expanded festival might look like.
The interactive musical “Just Between the All of Us” by Kellen Blair, Sarah Ziegler-Blair and Dave Christensen was a commission that resulted from a conversation with Mr. Fleisher when Mr. Blair was at the CLO Cabaret for “Murder for Two.”
“Pool Boy” by Nikos Tsakalakos and Janet Allard sold out its world premiere at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, Mass., but original director Danielle Topol, a Carnegie Mellon University alum, came to Mr. Fleischer with the idea that it would work better re-envisioned for a cabaret space.
“Up and Away” was a straightforward submission by writers Kevin Hammonds and Kristin Bair, and it just turned out that Ms. Bair is a native Pittsburgher, now living in Philadelphia.
“Xanadu” was a Tonynominated musical that had a splashy Broadway production. Mr. Fleischer approached the licensee about reworking the show in the spirit of “First Date,” which was downsized and reintroduced by CLO Cabaret last year.
“New isn’t necessarily purely new,” Mr. Fleischer explained, adding, “One of the ideas of this week was to start a pipeline for musicals that we are working on that could go in the cabaret and then keep moving them forward.” He likened the efforts to nurture a new work to the research-and-development process of scientists in a lab. “The goal is, of course, a full production,” he said, “but for now, it’s to keep moving the shows forward toward that goal.”