By Manning Harris
Stephen Sondheim’s advice to those who want to create musical theatre is very simple: First, write something; and second, put it on. That’s how you learn what works. He also says the creator must write out of love and passion for what he/she wants, not imitating someone else.
Armed with that wisdom, some Atlanta actors, writers, and directors are embarking on what looks like a wonderful new addition to the Atlanta theatre scene: the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival (theamtf.com).
This is its inaugural year, with four performances on Aug. 1 and 2, at Actor’s Express and Synchronicity Theatre.
Founder and Executive Artistic Director Benjamin Davis attended last year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival as a producer of “The Last Time We Were Here,” written by fellow Atlantans Jessica De Maria and Jeremiah Parker Hobbs.
Mr. Davis was so inspired by the New York festival that he thought, “Why not here?” and the idea of an Atlanta festival was born. With Nikki Thomas as General Manager and Jessica De Maria as Director of Development and Stephen Michael Brown as title sponsor, the festival began to take shape.
The AMTF will be two days and nights of original musical theatre performances by local artists, as well as showcase performances of professional productions and educational groups. The shows are open to the public, and information, prices, and scheduling is now available at the website mentioned.
More than twenty submissions were accepted and four shows have been selected for the inaugural event.
The first is “Underground,” book and lyrics by Akil DuPont, at Synchronicity Theatre, Monday, August 1, 12pm. The play deals with escape from slavery.
The second is “The Yellow Wallpaper,” adapted by Hannah Church, music and lyrics by Julia Goudreault, at Actor’s Express, August 1, 8pm. The play is set in 1891 and deals with a treatment called the “rest cure.”
The third is “The Fine Art of Forgetting,” book by Heidi Cline McKerley, music by S. Renee Clark, lyrics by Jeff McKerley, at Synchronicity Theatre, August 2, 12pm. The audience follows Karen, as she desperately tries to make the right choices, let go of her past, and move forward.
The fourth is “What’s Past,” by Chase Peacock and Jessica De Maria, at Actor’s Express, 8pm. We follow a pair of siblings on a journey through time and memory as they attempt to unravel mysteries in their lives.
The festival’s mission statement is as follows: “The Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival will cultivate the next generation of theatre artists by mentoring talent, propelling new musicals forward, and celebrating the community in a supportive, nurturing, and creative environment.”
In addition, Mr. Davis says he hopes the festival “will eventually be a year-round organization…with developmental readings, workshops, and programs throughout the year…leading to the summer festival.
Director/actor/playwright Heidi Cline McKerley thinks “this festival is of huge importance to the Atlanta theatre scene and for the arts in the South.” She sees the potential of “growing the city into a leader for new musical theatre work.”