New Musicals Australia Workshops

New Musicals Australia Workshops

Sydney based New Musicals Australia has announced its inaugural program of events, and Director Kris Stewart speaks to Stage Whispers about the initiative.

The New Musicals Australia program includes the Workshop Presentations of three new musicals; the Writers’ Weekend of The Musical Snapshot, which presents a twenty to forty minute extract of the musical in concert alongside other new musicals; andThe Developmental Reading, whichsees a new work rehearsed and performed in concert.

Casting for the workshops and events commence this week. 

As part of New Musicals Australia’s commitment to developing and unveiling new Australian work, many of the workshop sessions are open to the public.

a.void by David Peake will receive a two week rehearsal period with a professional cast and production team, followed by a presentation of the work in early March.

The two promising new musicals that have been awarded Developmental Workshops are Carnival Joe and A Little Touch of Chaos. Green Room award winner and composer Mark Jones has teamed up with Pratt Prize recipient, Anthony Crowley to write CarnivalJoe, an exuberant and tragically comical tale about the spring racing carnival of 1933.

A Little Touch of Chaos, the third musical from talented duo James Millar and Peter Rutherford, promises to build on the success of The Hatpin and Lovebites through the telling of a touching story about family ties and parallel lives. Each show will receive a Developmental Reading of the text involving a week of rehearsal and a staged reading of the piece.

As part of the Musical Snapshots initiative, a twenty to forty minute portion of four different works will be presented in concert to an industry panel and general audience. Those selected for a Musical Snapshot opportunity are; Houdini- The Man From Beyond, a historical adventure in musical from esteemed academics Russell Bauer and Dr Bruce Dawe about the last fifteen years of Harry Houdini; Kells,celebrated writer Nick Musgrove and composer Stephen Cassomenos bring us an original symphonic musical about the killer whales of Eden; La Creole from Award-winning musicians Julia Plummer and Nicholas Gentile have joined up with Cheryl Sawyer to adapt her 1755 revenge tale into a musical epic; and Showtrain, an eclectic tale about a travelling circus from world and folk music specialist Zvonko Jovicic and experienced composer and musical director Andrew Worboys.

Director of New Musicals Australia, Kris Stewart, speaks to Stage Whispers.

Stage Whispers: To what extent is New Musicals Australia modelled on your experience with the New York Musical Theatre Festival?

Kris Stewart: I think the need for development and the challenges writers face in launching a new work is something universal.  It’s no different in NYC to here.  But what you do see in NYC is a range of opportunities for writers to hear their work and to have it read and workshopped.  There has never really been that in Australia; an environment where writers can have their shows workshopped by professional artists in a supportive, resourced environment.

SW: Several musicals from that Festival went on to play Off-Broadway – are we a bit short on options in this country for a work to make that next step?

KS: Hmmm – well, it depends on your ambitions.  Musicals are often developed outside of New York and brought there – whether you’re developing it in London or San Diego or Sydney doesn’t really matter.  But it’s like the film industry; eventually, you have to take your work to the largest market if you want to maximise its ability to be seen.

SW: What qualities are you looking for in the musicals selected?

KS: Something original, that doesn’t feel like it’s been seen before.  A writer with a really interesting, unique voice.  Songs that catch your ear from the first listening.  Stories structured so they have momentum and surprise and an audience wants to know what is going to happen.

SW: In considering all the applications, were there any similarities or trends (a kind of 'Australian-ness') that sets the works being created here apart from other countries?

KS: Funnily enough – no, not really.  I think the expectations you probably have of what would be submitted – knock-offs of recent hits or lots of stories set in the outback or whatever – really weren’t the things that we saw.  There was a really wide range of subjects that people were writing on.  I’m not sure we saw a pattern across the range of submission.

SW: Were there works which missed out which you found it difficult to leave out?

KS: Sure, there always is.  Often, it is a work where the writer clearly has talent but the core idea just doesn’t quite seem strong enough to sustain a whole show.  Or a composer writing some great tunes, but with listless lyrics or in an overlong show. 

SW: What do you see as the benefits this process provides to the selected writers?

KS: You don’t really know what kind of show you have until you can see it performed.  Musical theatre is a collaborative artform, and the chance to bring in professional artists to work on a piece is to only way to truly advance it and to know what potential it really has.

SW: How will this initiative help the creators take their work to the next stage?

KS: Hard to say.  Obviously, there will be folks from commercial and non-profit companies attending the workshops and we hope to match the show with the right kind of next stage opportunity.  But ultimately it is not about being a backer’s audition; we want to develop the shows and make sure they get the most out of the workshop as possible, so the show continues to improve.

SW: Lacking a great tradition of musical theatre writing in Australia and producing local works, the lack of an established culture and experienced, successful mentors seems to be one of the larger gaps, as opposed to the American experience. How can we overcome that?

KS: I think you could remove the words “musical theatre writing” and replace it with almost any other artform.  There is lack of mentoring across the cultural industries as a whole.  People find it so hard to make a living that finding extra time to mentor someone else feel like a real imposition.  There is also the challenge of recognising the right emerging artists for whom mentoring would be of benefit.  Hopefully, adding NMA as a layer that is recognising and developing artists means that folks will get more opportunities to be discovered.

At the end of the day, you can’t solve everything overnight.  You need to pick your battles.  We need to work at the ground floor, with the writers first.  From there, we can build from the ground up, but until we assist the creation of new work, we don’t have a battle to fight.

Public presentations are at Sidetrack Theatre, Marrickville and are running from March 17 to April 2.

A.void Presentations - Thurs, 17 March at 6:30pm and Sat, 19 March at 3pm.

A Touch of Chaos- Presentations - Fri, 25 March at 7pm and Sat, 26March at 7pm.

Carnival Joe-Developmental - Fri, 1April at 7pm and Sat, 2April at 7pm.

NMA Writers Weekend

Fri, 18 to Sun, 20 March

(various times please see

  • Opening Night Concert
  • La Creole–Musical Snapshot
  • Houdini–Musical Snapshot
  • Showtrain-Musical Snapshot
  • Kells-Musical Snapshot
  • Open Mic Night

For more information on New Musicals Australia

February 7, 2011.

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