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Ryan Piurek
IU Media Relations

John Kinzer
IU Department of Theatre and Drama

Last modified: Monday, May 22, 2006

For new musicals, help is on the way

May 22, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As a certain con artist from Gary, Ind., might say, new musical theatre is in "trouble, with a capital T."

In recent years, writers and composers seeking to develop new musicals have faced growing production costs, a dwindling number of venues, and skeptical producers unwilling to invest money unless they're guaranteed a sure-fire, Broadway-ready hit. And while there are a few festivals and projects in cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles willing to help launch new works, they have proven to be highly selective and sometimes a bit rough on those shows not quite ready for the big time.

George 1

IU theatre professor and Tony nominee George Pinney, shown here directing students in a production of "A Chorus Line," will lead the New Musical Development Workshop. Pinney said the workshop will be an incubator for new works, and he finds the idea of nurturing a new musical somewhere else than a major city "refreshing."

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The future of new musical theatre might be found many miles from the bright lights of Broadway, in places such as Indiana University Bloomington. This summer, the university will seek to help raise the fortunes of one such aspiring musical as it launches a New Musical Development Workshop. The program, which was conceived in the IU Department of Theatre and Drama, will kick off with the musical Slow Dance with a Hot Pickup, featuring music and lyrics by Matthew Selman and a book by John Pielmeier, author of the award-winning play Agnes of God.

The four-week project, which will culminate with three performances Aug. 10-12, will be led by IU's George Pinney, a professor of stage movement and musical theatre who was nominated for a 2001 Tony Award for his choreography of Blast!

"The development of new musicals in the theatre profession is incredibly difficult, to say the least," Pinney said. "You just have to look at the economics of getting a space, actors, musicians, directors and stage managers, and then giving a performance that might entail a large theatre. Here at IU, we have excellent facilities, students, faculty and support staff. What we also have here is really a nurturing environment, and just the fact that the show will be performed somewhere else than a major city is refreshing."

Department chair Jonathan Michaelsen sees the New Musical Development Workshop as part of the department's commitment to new and thought-provoking ideas. Those productions chosen for the workshop will focus on multicultural issues and themes and require diverse casts. "Universities should be actively engaged in the pursuit of new material. It's important for us to be a part of that," Michaelsen said.

Pinney said the workshop will serve as an "incubator" for new works, allowing playwrights and composers to strengthen their product before they approach a producer. "We're an interim step," he said. "We're giving the composer and playwright an opportunity to work and put a musical on its feet in four weeks, which is a wonderful amount of time."

He is confident the project will benefit everyone involved, especially the students who will act in the performance. Slow Dance with a Hot Pickup, which Pinney describes as a "slice of a reality show … with depth," will combine the talents of four IU students, three professional actors from New York and James E. Mumford, director of the IU African American Choral Ensemble. Additionally, both writers will be in attendance for two weeks of the rehearsal period, giving the actors a rare opportunity to receive guidance and insight from those who created their characters.

John Armstrong, a master of fine arts acting candidate in the Department of Theatre and Drama and IU musical theatre graduate, is one of the four student actors who will participate in the workshop. "I'm just thrilled to create a role that no one's ever done and be able to do so with a playwright who can tell me just what he meant, not just a director's interpretation of what the playwright meant. This is a great opportunity for us to make connections with people in the professional world," Armstrong said.

Having spent the last two years in New York and as part of the national tour of Seussical: The Musical, Armstrong got a firsthand look at the challenges facing new musicals. "It's been harder for everyone, the actors, playwrights and directors. I've done a number of readings for musicals that haven't made it," he said.

"There are musicals all over the place that people want to get done," Armstrong added. "The fact that IU will be doing some of these now is great. In my mind, it puts IU on a completely different tier."

Michaelsen and Pinney envision the workshop as an annual event. Playwrights seeking a safe but constructive environment for their new works, as well as students craving learning experiences that will prepare them for life as professional actors, will almost certainly welcome this news.

"It's our hope that this project will successfully bridge the gap between the university and the professional arena," Pinney said. "It's a win-win situation for everyone."

To speak to George Pinney, contact Ryan Piurek, IU Media Relations, at 812-855-5393 or

For more information about the Department of Theatre and Drama, visit the department's Web site at