By Sarah Rector
Broadway had better keep its eye on the next generation of up-and-coming Yale playwrights.
The Yale Dramatic Association, the second oldest theater organization in the country, is giving the campus a fresh outlook on the musical writing industry this year. The Dramat’s annual musical-writing competition — taking place immediately after winter break — contains everything from The WIzard of Oz’s flying monkeys to the classical Muse.
The Dramat has been a significant contributor to the American theatrical scene since its creation, staging the American premiers of Shakespeare’s Trolius and Cressida and Camus’ Caligula. Yet arguably its most important impact has been its steady production of playwrights and actors.
An area in which the Dramat has been particularly influential has been that of the musical. Cole Porter, the author of such works as Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate, wrote his first musical — Cora — as an undergraduate at Yale in 1913.
Besides giving undergraduates a chance to write their first major works, Dramat’s annual musical-writing competition offers a substantial monetary reward. The winner receives the John Golden Prize, a cash award of $1,500 as well as an additional $1,500 toward the recording and production of the musical. This generous prize lures many ambitious musicians.
“We get a fair number,” Dramat Special Events Coordinator Adam Chanzit ’03 said. “Last year we had about half a dozen. I expect more this year, there seem to be a lot of musical things going on around campus.”
One assured entrant is Jennifer Stock ’03. Her musical, The Undiscovered Country, is a satire about two professors and a former student traveling the back roads of the Midwest looking for antique postcards. They come across various oddities — a Muse and a legend, to name a few — as they make this journey of self-discovery.
The satire is Stock’s first attempt at musical writing. Though she enjoyed the experience, she eventually hopes to write operas.
“I thought a musical would be a better first project than an opera,” Stock said.
She considers the John Golden prize an excellent chance to use her musical to break into the opera industry.
“The extra money would provide a great opportunity to make a recording or help launch my next project,” Stock said.
This next project will be a one-act opera based roughly on Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy. Stock felt that her experience with the musical — the first she wrote — would help enhance her opera.
“I’m really looking forward to working on it and putting it up next year,” Stock said. “I’ve gained a lot of experience putting this musical up and hope to avoid a lot of the mistakes I made the next time around.”
Scott Peterman ’02, another musical playwright, also felt his experience will be an advantage in the future. An aspiring director, Peterman thought writing a theatrical piece would add to his directorial understanding — specifically for the production of Chicago, which he is directing in the spring.
“It made me understand how important structure is,” Peterman said. “It’s not just fluffy entertainment. It’s so hard to make a structure that works.”
Peterman’s piece, The Gods Hate Kansas, is a self-proclaimed absurdity. Peterman wrote the book and lyrics — involving a world in which a Nietzsche-influenced God considers destroying the world — and David Ralston ’02 composed the score.
The musical intends to differentiate itself from other pieces in its genre, mixing flying monkeys with scenes from the Bible.
“It starts off as a typical musical,” Peterman said. “But then it falls apart intentionally.”
Unfortunately for fans of the bizarre, the show will not be put up at Yale due to logistical problems. The playwrights intend to enter it in the Dramat competition anyway.
“It would be great to use the [prize] money to do a cast recording,” Peterman said.
Yalies who want a chance to achieve this kind of success had better start thinking ahead. Peterman wrote the book and lyrics for his musical last year and Stock has worked even longer.
“It’s taken about two years to write the script, do a vocal score, and then orchestrate it,” Stock said.
But considering the number and quality of entries in the competition in years past, it seems likely that many Elis will step up to the challenge.