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History of the Singapore Musical
Is There a Singapore Musical Theatre?
Singapore Musical Theatre
Prescription for Singapore Musicals
Content Development For Musicals
The Singapore Musical
Singapore Musical Theater
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Five Foot Broadway 2007
Musical Theatre Workshop
Musicals in the Raw
Why New Musicals?
Incubating Musicals
Impossible Dream
How to Write a Musical
Writing Musicals
Future of Musical Theatre
Musicals Dead?
Jukebox Musicals
The Story of Chess
Sondheim v Webber
Fred Ebb
Film Musicals List
Break a Leg
Musical Dissonance
Flop Musicals
Are Critics Necessary?
Writer's Block
Five Foot Broadway 2005
Report 5 Ft Broadway
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New Wave 3
Admiral's Odyssey, The
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Lao Jiu (2012)
Lost in Transit
Magic Paintbrush
The Magic Paintbrush: the Musical
Makan Place
Making the Grade
Mortal Sins
Mr Beng
Nanyang the musical
Oi! Sleeping Beauty!
Pagoda Street
Phua Chu Kang
Pursuant
Re:Mix
Roses & Hello
Sayang
School House Rockz
Shanghai Blues
Shanty
Sing to the Dawn
Singapura: the musical
Sleepless Town
Snow Queen, The
Snow Wolf Lake
So You Want to be a Nurse
Temptations
24 Hours
Twist of Fate, A
Viva Lah! Singapura
Women on Canvas
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Report 5 Ft Broadway


 

Report of Five Foot Broadway 2005

"A great fire may follow a tiny spark." - ancient Chinese proverb

 

Introduction

Five Foot Broadway is an incubation program for the creation of new Singapore musicals. These are developed to the level of a no-frills public performance. 
 
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. Two of the musicals were taken up for further development and staging.

 
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 size has dwindled. 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 demise 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 last year, New York suddenly burst into the limelight with its Festival of New Musicals 2004, which featured 31 new musicals. This year Cardiff is hosting its second international festival of new musicals. Chicago's Theatre Building has also been developing new musicals.
 
Inspired by this spontaneous grassroots movement of musical theater, we 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 by interactions of the playwrights and composers with mentors, directors, and actors. The objective was to publicly stage a no-frills production consisting of a playreading with song as part of the Singapore Festival of the Arts fringe 2005. On two nights, 45-minute highlights of two musicals were presented. To help promote the musicals, prospective producers were invited to the performances, and a CD recording of selected songs was made.

 
Achievements

We paired writers with composers, and created five original musicals, which were presented in Five Foot Broadway. The incubation process allows for the creation and development of original works with a wide spectrum of themes and musical styles. 
 
Finding new talents was a major accomplishment of this project. We had discovered bookwriters, composers, directors, and actors, many of them new to musical theater.
 
Public awareness of Five Foot Broadway was generated through write-ups in The New Paper, The Business Times, The Edge, and through listings in The Straits Times and Eight Days. Further publicity was generated through the Artscommunity and other internet forums and websites.
 
Production values, given the low-cost, no-frills approach, was not unexpectedly "raw". This has its own attraction.
 
Funding proved a major handicap because we received no major funding. Considerable attempts were made to solicit donations from corporations and institutions but we were unsuccessful in getting any sponsorship or support. Only a few private individuals gave relatively small sums. The lack of funding proved a major handicap because we had to pay for expenses which included the rental of the Arts House, paying for essential props. Without funding, we were unable to rent individual microphones and the condenser microphones were ineffective. We were also unable to use anything other than the basic house lights in the Play Den. Some costumes and sets would have enhanced the production, but none of these were affordable and therefore omitted. The forty actors, crew, and others requested for compensation for their transport and food. But we had no funding, and this remained a source of complaints.  

 

Recommendations
How Can We Improve the Incubation Process?
The fact that the process was completed and that five brand-new musicals were written and staged is an achievement in itself. The process could be improved in the following ways.

 
a) Allowing more time: We were very rushed this year. The project was not started until October 2004, and although a two-month deadline for the scripts was given, the majority of the scripts were not completed until March 2005. This only allowed for one month to complete the music. Failure to meet the deadline caused a delay in the auditions, which was only held at the end of April 2005. Rehearsals were constrained to the last two months. Hence for next year's Five Foot Broadway we need to start the incubation process earlier.
 
b) Script development: For inexperienced writers, a mentor was assigned, and this worked out very well. For more experienced writers, the scripts were presented to other writers and comments made during an initial playreading. It was felt that for the experienced playwright, a dramaturg should be assigned. This suggestion will be taken up for 2006.
 
c) Music development: For less experienced composers, we assigned a mentor, and this was effective. For more experienced composers, the songs were sung to the other composers. However, opportunities for this was limited. The same will be offered for this coming incubation.
 
d) Steps in the Incubation Process: There was only one playreading per musical to the rest of the group. Subsequent changes to the script and music were made jointly between the director, wordsmith, and composer. While this worked for the majority of the musicals, it was felt that one or two extra steps in the incubation process could enhance it considerably. Hence writing musicals could benefit from iterative critique, revision and confecting of the incubation process.

i) Step 1: Creating the New Musical. Playwrights are invited to write the book of the musical. Composers are then paired with the playwright. A deadline of five months is given for this process. At the end of this period a very raw playreading with singing of the first draft is performed to the other members of the creative team, and to potential directors.

ii) Step 2: Revision. The enlarged team of director, wordsmith and composer revise the first draft until it is ready for a second performance of the second draft. The performance is made to theater practitioners. They will grade the musicals, and select the top 3-6 that have the best chances of public performances.

iii) Step 3. Performance. The 3-6 musicals chosen by theater practitioners will receive dramaturgy and developed further for a staged performance to the public and to potential theater companies, television companies, and corporations who may be interested in taking the performances for full-scale commercial performances.

FIVE FOOT BROADWAY

          2005

2006

Time For Development

6 months

9 months

Mentors

Few

More

Levels of Development

2 levels

3 levels

Level 1 (playreading + song)

5 shows

10 shows

Level 2 (black-box no-frills performance)

5 shows

10 shows

Level 3 (staged public performance with dance)

0

3 shows

CD Recording

Yes

Yes


Where Do We Go From Here?
What are our plans for Five Foot Broadway 2006?
We plan to stage six new musicals as part of the Singapore Arts Festival again. More time will be given to the incubation process, and also for rehearsing the musicals. Similar to this year, we plan to show the 45-minute highlights of two musicals per evening. Each team will be independent, with its own director and actors. We hope to be more successful with our fundraising and sponsorship. Our objective is to achieve better marketing and promotional efforts through a more effective website team, and corporate support. 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.

 

18 July 2005