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Five Foot Broadway 2007


 

Five Foot Broadway 2007
"A great fire may follow a tiny spark." - ancient Chinese proverb

Introduction

Five Foot Broadway is the product an incubation program (called Beat-by-Beat) for the creation of new Singapore musicals. The musicals are developed to the level of a no-frills public performance. The first festival of five new musicals was launched in June 2005 as part of the Singapore Festival of Arts fringe.


The Rationale Behind Five Foot Broadway

Musical theater, like opera before, has been in decline in the West. The average age of the audience has increased inexorably, while audience attendance is harder to maintain. During the half century stretching from the 1930s to the 1970s, musical theater has had its heyday. But in the past few decades, it has been losing its appeal.


The decline of musical theater is a combination of factors. The total cost of production has escalated because of the increase in rental costs, the rise in salaries, the high cost of sets, costumes, sound and lighting. The upshot is that ticket prices have skyrocketed out of control, and the young can no longer afford to watch musical theater. The audience has therefore grown progressively older. Look at the rise of musicals like Abba's "Mama Mia", Billy Joel's "Movin' Out", Queen's "We Will Rock You", the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations", and Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up". All these target the Baby Boomers who are now in their 50s. Worse still, sometimes the average age of the Broadway audience is even older. Stephen Sondheim quipped during an interview that he, in his 70s, was probably one of the younger members of the audience.

The second reason why the young no longer watch musical theater, is that the music styles have lagged behind contemporary pop music. Stephen Sondheim has only managed to attract an eclectic intellectual following, and Andrew Lloyd Webber is now considered old hat. His last few musicals have closed after only a few months. Claude Schonberg and Michel Boublil have not managed to replicate their success of Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. In the last couple of decades, both Broadway and the West End have been reviving old musicals, which are safer commercial propositions. This has further widened the generation gap.

The third reason for the decline in musical theater is that live performances cannot match cinema in terms of excitement. The special effects of musical theater cannot come close to matching the pizzazz of blockbuster movies. I often hear my friends say, "I'd rather watch a movie than a musical." Then, as a giveaway, they would add, "For the price of one musical, I can watch ten movies".

Then quite suddenly in 2004, New York suddenly burst into the limelight with its Festival of New Musicals, which featured many new musicals. In 2005 Cardiff hosted its second international festival of new musicals. Chicago's Theatre Building has also been successfully developing new musicals, as have several other cities.

Inspired by this spontaneous grassroots movement of musical theater, we in Singapore decided to embark on a similar project, which we named Five Foot Broadway.

The Aims of Five Foot Broadway

The aims are to create new and original Singapore musicals by matching playwrights and composers. The new musicals are incubated and developed through a series of workshops, where playwrights and composers, have their works critiqued by mentors, directors, and by their own peers. When the musical is considered to be ready, a reading of highlights of the musical is given to an invited audience. A DVD recording of the performance is made, and if appropriate, a CD recording of selected songs is also undertaken. From the readings and review of the DVD recordings, a smaller number of musicals will be given a full-length 90+ minute public staging. The objective is to develop a musical to a level that theater production companies are prepared to consider taking the product and giving it a public performance.

The Beginning

In October 2004, seven playwrights were matched with seven composers. Mentors were assigned to the younger playwrights and musicians. Five musicals were completed within the given deadline. In February 2005, a director was then assigned to each group. In April 2005, performers were auditioned. Each group read their musical to all the groups. Teamwork and cross-fertilization between groups were encouraged. A community of collaborators, producers, directors, and actors, was created. The five musicals created were included as part of the National Arts Council's Singapore Festival of Arts fringe in June 2005, and these were performed at The Arts House. A demonstration CD of selected songs was recorded.

The general public's response was overwhelmingly positive. Not only did we have full houses every night, but we received a heavy demand for tickets, and eventually had a waiting list of 150 members of the public who were unable to get tickets. Theater practitioners came and were enthusiastically impressed. Critical evaluation of the musicals was generally favorable.

Creative Community Singapore

In August 2005, we were supported by Creative Community Singapore. They helped us continue our incubation program, widening its scope and reach, strengthening the workshop structure, formalizing our mentorship program, and placing it on a firmer financial footing. In addition they gave us more public exposure.

The Next Waves of New Musicals

Following the support of Creative Community Singapore, in March 2006 we staged six new musicals at the Arts House. Then in June 2006, six more musicals were performed at The Esplanade Recital Studio, and were included in the Singapore Festival of Arts fringe 2006.

Achievements

To date we have staged 17 new musicals. By pairing writers with composers, putting them through a workshop program with the guidance of mentors, we have created an environment which has successfully incubated original musicals with a wide spectrum of themes and musical styles.

We have discovered new bookwriters, lyricists, composers, directors, musicians, and performers, many of them new to musical theater. This has enabled us to create a lively community of musical theater aficionados.

Public awareness of Five Foot Broadway was generated through write-ups in The New Paper, The Business Times, The Edge, through listings in The Straits Times and Eight Days. Further publicity was generated through the ArtsCommunity and other internet forums and web sites. The Creative Community Singapore gave a further boost by commissioning a television series called "My Big Fat Idea", and our musical incubation program was in the inaugural program.

Production values, given the low-cost, no-frills approach, is not unexpectedly "raw". This has its own attraction and allowed us to focus on the essentials of a musical. However, even in the course of 18 months, our presentation has reached increasingly higher levels.

Evolution of the Incubation Program
In the first 18 months of the Beat-by-Beat incubation program, we have made the following changes.

a) Allow more time for the incubation: The first batch of musicals took 8 months from concept to stage. This was very rushed. The second batch took 10 months, and the third batch took 12 months. For some musicals, even 12 months was too rushed. Therefore, from this year on, we are assessing the development of each individual musical, and only if it has made satisfactory progress, will we allow a public staging.

b) Script development: While we had mentors available for scriptwriting, lyric writing and music composition, not many writers and composers utilized their services. From this year onwards, each writer/composer will be assigned an individual mentor, whose report must be received before the work can progress to the next step of the program.

d) Steps in the Incubation Process: Initially there was only one reading per musical to the rest of the group prior to its production. For subsequent musicals we will organize more discussions and readings. A private reading of 45-minute highlights of the musical will be given to an invited audience. Out of these, a smaller number, estimated to be about 4 musicals, will be given a full 90-minute no-frills staging to the public.

FIVE FOOT BROADWAY

2005

2006

2007

Time for Incubation

8 months

10 months

>12 months

Mentors

Available

Available

Compulsory

Levels of Development

2

3

4

Level 1 (non-public reading 45 min highlights)

5 musicals

12 musicals

18 musicals

Level 1.5 (public dramatized 90 min performance)

-

-

4 musicals

Level 2 (professional performance)

-

-

1

Level 3 (international level)

-

-

-

Recordings

CD

DVD

DVD

Where Do We Go From Here?

What are our plans for Five Foot Broadway 2007?We plan to continue incubating new musicals. More time will be given to the incubation process, and also for rehearsing the musicals. Similar to this year, we plan to have readings of 45-minute highlights of two musicals per evening. Out of these musicals, we will select a smaller number for a full 90+-minute no-frills public performance. We intend to interest theater production companies to take on one of the musicals for professional staging. Ultimately, we hope to create musicals of an international standard. We intend to foster the community of aficionados of musical theater, and will help promote the talents.

Conclusions

Five Foot Broadway has exceeded our expectations and has been tremendously successful. It has ignited sparks of creativity in musical theater, generated several collaborative groups, and has led to the discovery of many new talents. It is an important landmark in the history of Singapore musical theater.

Appendix:

Musical Staged 2005-2006

No.

TITLE

BOOKWRITER

LYRICIST

COMPOSER

1.

Heartstrings

Jack Tan

Jack Tan

Sean Wong

2.

Don’t Say I Do

Justin Kan

Justin Kan

Kevin Fok/Justin Kan

3.

Dragon Tales

Ng Swee San

Ng Swee San

Bang Wenfu

4.

Boom Baby Boom

Andrew Leong

Andrew Leong

Kenneth Lyen

5.

Lost in Transit

Stella Kon

Stella Kon

Desmond Moey

6.

10 Days of Mourning

Carolyn Camoens

Carolyn Camoens

Nawaz Mirajkar

7.

The Swami, The Cow and the Spaceman

Musa Fazal

Musa Fazal

Sean Wong

8.

Moon People

Arnold Tan

Arnold Tan

Richard Wee

9.

Closer to Your Heart

Mohamad Shaifulbahri

Mohamad Shaifulbahri

Frederick Lin

10.

Roses & Hello

Luke Kwek

Luke Kwek/Esther Yang

Esther Yang

11.

Peter and Pierre

Stella Kon

Stella Kon

Desmond Moey

12.

Vanity Victorious Virtue Vanquished

Dwayne Lau

Dwayne Lau

Kevin Fok & August Lum

13.

City of the Gods

Darius Lim

Darius Lim

Michelle Loh

14.

Love is in the Air

Sim Siying

Sim Siying

August Lum

15.

Blue Willow House

Stella Kon

Stella Kon

Kenneth Lyen

16.

Victorian Days

Stella Kon

Stella Kon

Chester Tan

17.

Swingle

Lionel Chok

Lionel Chok

Iskandar Ismail

 

Musical Currently Incubated for 2007

No.

TITLE

BOOKWRITER

LYRICIST

COMPOSER

1.

Unsung Heroes

Mohamad Shaifulbahri

Mohamad Shaifulbahri

Michael Koh

2.

Esther

Joshua Greene

Stella Kon

Joshua Greene

3.

Sayang

Marcus Lim

Ivan Ho

Kenneth Lyen

4.

The Spermette

Musa Fazal

Musa Fazal

Kenneth Lyen

5.

Superfriends in the Biosphere of Justice

Musa Fazal

Musa Fazal

-

6.

Georgette

Ng Yi-Sheng

Ng Yi-Sheng

-

7.

What the Crystal Ball Doesn’t Say

Marcelly Suhali

Marcelly Suhali

Clement Yang

8.

Seeing is Believing

Philip Sim

Philip Sim/Stella Kon

Desmond Moey

9.

Back Home

Robert Yeo

Robert Yeo

Joe Peters

10.

Tsunami

Mohamad Shaifulbahri

Mohamad Shaifulbahri

Chester Tan

11.

Soap Opera

Gavin Low

Gavin Low

August Lum

12.

Bikini Beach Party

Gavin Low

Gavin Low

Kevin Fok & August Lum

13.

Tuesdays With Joe

Tan, Jack

Jack Tan

Jack Tan

14.

The Education of Avery Forrester

Lee Tse Mei

Lee Tse Mei

Lee Tse Mei

15.

The Rose Garden

Yak Aik-Wee

Yak Aik-Wee

Yak Aik-Wee

16.

Born to Sing

Iris Koh

Iris Koh

Iris Koh

17.

Alex and the Dark Prince

Justin Kan

Justin Kan

Justin Kan

18.

Mayfly

Darius Lim

Darius Lim

Darius Lim