Things I’ve Learned About Producing A Musical
If you follow me on any form of social media, then you probably know about the musical I co-wrote with Patrick J. Reilly, Great Frontier: A Poorly Researched Musical About Lewis And Clark.
It’s literally the only thing I’ve been talking about for the last two years, and you may have seen it mentioned on BroadwayWorld.com!
Anyways, we are premiering this show at the New York Theatre Festival’s Summerfest on July 24th, 28th, and 30th. Tickets are now available, and we just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds to produce this show. You can donate a couple dollars, or more if you can spare, or you can donate a hundred bucks to help us get all the way there! (That was a reference to the show. It’ll all make sense when you see it in July.)
So we are now about a month away from the performances, and we have been rehearsing for about 2 months at this point. This has been an amazingly rewarding and stressful experience and I have learned a lot in the process. I knew that this was going to be a ton of work, but I didn’t expect to find out certain things. Let’s discuss these things in a list-like formation.
- Scheduling is a nightmare.
I am not an organized person. My life is basically kept in order by scraps of paper, calendar alerts, and google docs. That’s my method and it works for me, but it’s not very effective when you’re managing a rehearsal schedule for 8 cast members, a director, and a pianist. Back in April I asked everybody for the dates they can and cannot make it to a rehearsal so that I could put a schedule together that worked for everyone. Guess what? Everyone’s lives are different and the schedule was all over the place. It’s also summer so people are taking vacations, or have work events, weddings, and other commitments that come up. I’m not a very easy going person, so it’s been hard to learn how to go with the flow when scheduling snafus come up.
- Rehearsals are exhausting, repetitive, expensive, and necessary.
We all have lives outside of this show. That’s just a fact. We all have day jobs, significant others, families, or what have you and those things take up time and energy every day. Most of the cast are coming to rehearsal after working 8 hours, so the last fumes of energy are being spent on this show. Most of our rehearsals thus far have been digging into specific scenes. Over and over again. It’s the kind of repetition that can make you go crazy, but it’s absolutely necessary. This repetition helps hammer the lines into your brain and allows you to get off book faster so you can focus on the character you’re playing without worrying about the lines. Fortunately the cast was able to commit to 3 months of rehearsals so we’re all pretty much off book at this point. Unfortunately, rehearsal spaces are not cheap in New York City, so the expenses are adding up fast. Did I mention that we have a Kickstarter you can donate to?
- It’s hard to both act in a thing you wrote and take direction from a third party for a thing you wrote.
Patrick and I wrote this over the course of most of 2016, with some serious rewrites earlier this year when we were getting ready to submit to festivals. The first time we performed this show in public, we did it as a live reading. The cast was on book, but in costume. We had maybe 12 rehearsals to prepare and Patrick and I both directed and starred in the show. This time around we have Joe Harris, our amazing director, to take over that part of the show production. Joe has a great eye and gives great notes, but when you feel like you “know this show” because you wrote it, it can be hard to have some other dude tell you how to do it. I always want to play the character the way I wrote it, but Joe usually picks up on some minor detail and changes the way the character responds in a certain situation.
- It’s amazing to not have to direct when you’re already acting in something you wrote.
Here’s the thing. Joe’s almost always right. When you’re acting in a thing you wrote, you have blinders on. You can’t always see the other choices that can be made because you’re so fixed in the way you think you wrote it. Having a third party direct your show has been invaluable to us! Not only does it free us up to just focus on acting, it also gives us a pair of fresh eyes to find opportunities with the show. Yes, it can be hard to trust people initially, but that fades away quickly when you have a great team. I co-wrote this script, and have learned to trust the actors with the lines. I wrote all of the music, and learned to trust our amazing piano player. Most importantly, I have learned to trust Director Joe more than myself because he can see the whole show from his vantage point. I can only see what’s right in front of me which means at best I am only seeing half of what’s happening on stage.
- It’s very hard to keep people interested in a long term project.
As a comedian, most of your life is spent on short projects. You’re writing 3–5 minute sketches, short jokes, tweeting, etc. These are things that you can say, “Hey! I have an idea for a thing…and now it’s a real thing! Cool!” This musical began in November 2015 and now it’s officially going up in a real theater in July 2017. That’s like an eternity in comedy years. Last year when we started this, a lot of comedian friends were really excited and interested in it. This year people are like, “Oh? You’re still doing that?” I get it. It’s been almost 2 years. We’ve had two different presidents in the time we’ve spent on this musical. A lot of stuff is going on. It’s like when a teaser trailer comes out for a movie and you get really excited, but then you find out it’s not coming out until next Christmas (I’m looking at you, Last Jedi). That goes on the back burner of your brain. Well hopefully my incessant posting about Great Frontier will continue to remind you that this musical is real, and it’s happening, and you should go. It’s a lot of work, and yes I’ve been talking about it for 2 years, but that’s because I think it’s worth my time and energy. More importantly, I really believe that you will enjoy this show. This has been the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on, and I wouldn’t be able to go to rehearsals every day if I didn’t think I was creating something awesome.
Kevin Froleiks is a New York based comedian. Follow him on twitter or check out his website to find out where he’s performing next. His comedy album, Jokes I Don’t Really Do Anymore, is available for free on his website as well. You can also check out his podcast, We Wrote A Musical, on iTunes, and see his new musical comedy, Great Frontier: A Poorly Researched Musical About Lewis And Clark, at the 2017 NY Theatre Festival’s Summerfest.