Made In China: The Saga Continues

Nicky Weinbach continues his chronicle of bringing his new musical to the stage.

I don’t have much time to write something too in depth this week, but for this entry I would like to talk a little bit about reserving rehearsal space.

I must say that it can be pretty stressful being a producer. One of the most consistently nagging issues to deal with as a producer is having to constantly scout out rehearsal space. It makes me long for the rehearsals when we get into the actual theater space in which we’ll be performing Made in China. Thank goodness that’ll be in the beginning of December. Until then, I only have one more rehearsal for which I still need to book space. This topic must be getting pretty dull by now, so let’s talk about something else.

At our first pit orchestra rehearsal two weeks ago, about 75% of the music went pretty smoothly. The other 25% seemed rough, and I realized that some of the harshness had to do with the actual music I had written. Since that rehearsal two weeks ago, I’ve revised / simplified some of the music, so now it’s easier to listen to and to play. Sometimes, simple is better. I realized that for some of the orchestrations, there was just too much going on, thus taking away from the actual melody that the singer(s) sing(s).The idea of a pit orchestra is to provide support for the singer without overpowering him. A score for such an effect can be a little tricky and requires practice. It sucks to have to revise music this late in the game, but you gotta roll with the punches. If you hear something that sounds off, you gotta change it. We have another orchestra rehearsal tomorrow. Hopefully, things will sound a lot better with the recent revisions.

Actor rehearsals have started off pretty well. Our new director, Nick Dickson, and I seem to see eye-to-eye on an approach for this musical. He seems to understand a lot of the esoteric humor of the play in addition to the more silly, quirky, and slapsticky humor. I think he’s leading the actors in the right direction and realizes what needs to be done to accomplish our shared artistic vision for the show. Next Tuesday will be our first day learning choreography from our talented choreographer Alex Daily. That should be a lot of fun.

Anyway, sorry to have to cut this entry short. I should have a lot more to talk about for the next addition to the Made in China guest blog in two weeks. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

Made In China: The Saga Continues

Nicholas Weinbach continues to chronicle his original musical’s progress towards its first production.

In my last addition to the Made in China guest blog, I talked about arriving at our first read-through with the cast. Well, a lot has changed since then. Due to scheduling conflicts, we’ve replaced our previous director with the very talented Nick Dickson in addition to changing up the cast a little bit. It can be very frustrating to lose multiple members of the team let alone one member, but you have to pick yourself up by the boot straps and push through. That’s definitely the job of a producer. You have to keep searching for talent until you’ve solidified a team that can fully commit to the production. We’ve done that and are excited to move forward.

Tomorrow, the pit orchestra will be having its first rehearsal together, headed by conductor Max Weinbach, my twin brother. Obviously, I’ll need to be at the rehearsal, too. I wrote the music and need to make sure everything sounds the way I intended. However, I’m very confident in brother’s ability to interpret my music appropriately. After all, he did conduct the orchestra for the staged readings / singings of Made in China, and that went very well. We even have more experienced musicians this time around. If I haven’t already mentioned before, the orchestra includes flute, two violins, cello, piano, and percussion. It’s a small ensemble so as not to overpower the relatively small cast, who will perform in a somewhat small space, but still big enough to provide a full and beautiful sound.

Actually, I had originally wrote the score with a harp included, but, when I was trying to find musicians for the staged readings, I had the most trouble finding a harpist who would work for minimal compensation. They’re not very cheap, and there aren’t many of them. In fact, every harpist I asked recommended one another, so I ended up contacting six or seven harpists who all knew each other. It’s a small circle. Lesson learned I suppose: when you’re starting out small, write parts for common instruments. Luckily, I was able to combine the harp and piano parts with moderate ease. Perhaps, a future production of Made in China will include harp. That would be cool and definitely play on the Harvey Schmidt (composer of The Fantasticks) influence.

I hope to have more news on the rehearsal process over the next few months. It’s definitely exciting, but thoughts about the whole production keep me up at night. I can’t stop thinking about this musical. When you’ve put so much work into something, you want it to do well. You want it to succeed. I hope the coming weeks will make me feel more confident about this production. For now, I’m just happy that everything is in motion. Until next time, I’ll see you at the movies. Nah, just kidding.

Made in China: An Original Musical by Nicholas Weinbach

Nicky Weinbach continues his chronicle of bringing an original musical to the stage for the first time.

In my last entry, I talked about how we were in the process of deciding on a final cast list for Made in China after having held the auditions a few days before. It was a very difficult choice to make because there was a lot of great talent that came to the auditions. We didn’t want to let anyone down. I’m sure that must be one of the harder parts of any director/casting director’s job: having to let someone great know that he or she has not been cast.

On the upside, I think we made a good decision on our cast (listed below this blog entry), and we’re really happy to start rehearsing with our actors. Our first read-through is tomorrow, and I’m very excited about it. The hard part is all the tedious things I needed to do during the past week to prepare for it. I didn’t just have to print out multiple scripts for everyone involved, I had to organize and print out all the music for every actor and musician and the full score for the conductor (my twin brother, Max). It would be too difficult for me to explain the tiresome process of going into Finale (the computer software on which I wrote out and arranged the complete score) and having to extract every part from each song of the score, but let’s just say it’s long and arduous, and I ended up having to print out almost 1700 pages of music and script two days ago. That’s a lot. After that, I had to go back into Finale and merge – here come the technical terms – every vocal part with its accompanying piano part into separate two-part scores of their own, then save those scores as MIDI files, and, finally, burn a CD of the appropriate MIDI music for each cast member in order that he or she easily practice his or her part at home. I know it all sounds complicated. It is.

On another note, a week ago, co-producer Clint Winder and I met up at the theater where we’re putting on this production (Bindlestiff Studio) to discuss and plan out how we’re going to set-up the actual theater space for the performances. This is also a little complicated because you have to think about where to put the pit orchestra. You want them to be out of the way and not overpower the actors’ voices, but you still want your audience to see and hear them because it’s a musical, and it’s comforting and exciting to know that there’s a real orchestra accompanying the show. When you see the orchestra there, the magic is heightened.

Anyway, I think we came to a pretty good understanding of how we’re going to set up the theater and a general idea of how we’ll want the set to look. I locked down a set designer a couple of days ago. He’s actually a friend and former roommate from college. I think he’s going to design something great but something that meets our modest budget.

Overall, I’m a little nervous about the days and weeks to come. I hope it all goes well. I’m losing sleep every night thinking about how much work needs to be done and how much work I’ve already done. With a little luck, my next entry will highlight some of the ups and downs (hopefully, mostly ups) of our first few rehearsals. Until next time.

Made in China Cast List

Max – Nicholas Weinbach
Amber – Marisa Gregory
Gary / Mr. O’Meckles – Henry Kelly
Harry / Date – Jan Gilbert
Larry / Mr. Cousins – William Douglas Lester
Mary – Katy Yost

Made in China, An Original Musical by Nicholas Weinbach

Nicholas Weinbach continues to offer us a glimpse into the world putting together a new indy musical. 

Since my last entry, director Ashley Cowan and I have held auditions for Made in China and are currently in the process of making a decision about a final cast list. Auditions are interesting: they can be long and tedious and enjoyable at once. It’s nice to sit behind the other side of the table and watch actors come in and basically try to impress you. The exciting part is looking forward to what the next actor will bring – if he or she can bring anything – to the table. You hope that that next actor will be right for a part. It sucks when they’re not. You end up tediously going through the motions of reading the same sides with people whom you are not very likely to cast. The fun part comes when the actor does have a spark, and you smile at the idea of possibly including this person in your cast.

Because I’ll be playing the lead character in Made in China, it was important for Ashley to have me read with the other actors, especially those whom we would possibly consider to play the role of Amber, my character’s love interest in the musical. When the chemistry wasn’t there, I was bored. When it was there and there was something intriguing about the actress reading opposite me, anyone could recognize the magic. There were a couple of girls whom Ashley and I both instantly thought, “This girl is it. She’s the one.” It can be very relieving to know that you’ve found someone who can potentially fill the role as if the search can be over at that very moment. But, you have to give a fair shot to everybody else. Subsequently, when another girl comes along who also evokes a similar chemistry, you’re left racking your brain as to who would be the better choice. It’s hard. You feel bad if you don’t cast an actor who is very talented but wasn’t quite right for the part, but when he or she is right for the role but someone else is just a little bit more right, you feel worse not casting that actor.

For a musical, you not only have to audition for acting skills but also singing skills. There are a lot of factors that go into the singing alone. It’s not enough, sometimes, that an actor can sing well the song that he or she chose and prepared for the audition. You have to test the actor’s ability to adapt his or her voice to the music of this particular musical. You have to test how well he or she can pick up the melodies that you are presenting right then and there. If the actor can sing this new material on the first try, you know that you won’t have as hard of a time teaching him or her the music during rehearsals and time can be better spent working on something else.

Another related question concerns the actor’s vocal range This is so important. Even if the actor sang his audition song well, would he or she be able to hit all the notes that your musical’s music demands? Does the actor read music? This is something Ashley and I are currently worried about for a particular actress who seemed to have the magic when reading a side but didn’t seem to adapt as quickly to the musical material. We know that if we cast that particular actor, a lot more work will be needed to mold and strengthen the actor’s singing voice into something as magical as the chemistry she elicited during our reading together.

In order to accomplish a better understanding of each actor’s musical adaptability, during the callbacks, I taught two groups of five or six actors at different times two different songs. I would sing the melody with the piano accompaniment played by our pianist, Jon Gallos. In fact, I would sing line by line and then have the rest of the group repeat what I just sang. We’d repeat lines over and over again until it seemed to me that they should feel comfortable with the melody. After singing the melody (and this is just a little snippet from each song, not the whole thing) a few times as a group, I would call upon each actor to attempt to sing the new melody on his or her own. How well was each actor able to learn the melody within the short span of five to ten minutes? How many mistakes did each actor mistake? If the actor made a mistake, did that necessarily disqualify him or her from the final casting decision? These are all question we had to take into account during the auditions and thereafter.

There’s a lot to consider when casting for a musical. The skills required of an actor in a musical makes the musical audition process more difficult than casting for a normal play. I suppose, by the next time I write a blog entry, we’ll have made our final casting decision and begun prepping for our first rehearsal. Look forward to telling you more in two weeks!

 

Made In China: A Chronicle Of An Original Musical As It Moves Towards Its World Premiere

Nicholas Weinbach, an up and coming Bay Area composer and performer, writes about what it’s like to bring an original musical to the stage.

For those of you who don’t already know me, my name is Nicholas Weinbach, and I’m an actor, musician, and composer currently based in San Francisco. For the next few months, I will be contributing a guest blog every two weeks detailing the process of putting up the full production of an original musical I wrote called Made in China. Here’s a press release I wrote for the staged readings of the play back in April earlier this year which should also serve as a brief synopsis:

“From San Francisco writer/composer Nicholas Weinbach comes an original musical about a child-like up-and-coming postman, Max, who must deliver a mysterious music box to an address that doesn’t exist. In a moment of curiosity, Max shakes the box, and a house magically appears along with the girl of his dreams. Backed by a live 6-piece chamber orchestra, Made in China‘s melody-driven songs and quirky humor will take you on an exciting adventure of what it’s like to think and act like a kid, again.”

I suppose I’ll start from the beginning. A couple of years ago, my twin brother, Max, wrote, directed, produced, and starred in his own original one-act musical called A Match Made in Hell in which the devil plays matchmaker. Max put on this production for his college honors project, and it turned out to be a success. I was so impressed that I had an epiphany: “This is what I should be doing, too. I should be writing musicals. This is a way I can combine both my passions of theater and music.”

That summer I began work on what would come to be known as Made in China. Actually, the title was one of the first things I had down. I began to work ardently on the book and music concurrently. Some of the songs I had already written over the previous four years, but I wasn’t sure when I would use them. The time had come. There was one song in particular called “A Letter Written on the Back of Yesterday”, which I had written during my year studying abroad in France, and I knew I’d use this song for a musical one day, but I didn’t know what that musical was. Now, “A Letter Written…” is one of the most important songs in Made in China, and its melody is a motif that appears throughout the play.

A year after beginning this project, I had the first draft of the book and most of my songs complete with lyrics. Soon, I moved on to orchestrating the music. This was a challenging and tedious experience, but I learned a lot doing it and, ultimately, had a lot of fun creating parts for different instruments. At one point, I had written the score with a harp in mind, but, when it came time to find musicians for the staged readings, I found it too difficult to find a harpist who would play for free, which brings me to the next part of the process: finding musicians.

When you’re initially starting out, it’s hard to get anyone to do anything for you, so you take what you can get. That’s how it happened with my musicians. I posted ads everywhere for musicians from Craigslist to sending mass e-mails to music majors at U.C. Berkeley and S.F State. I finally got some musicians together, and we soon began rehearsing. Right away, there were noticeable mistakes in the musical score. When you actually have real musicians play your music, you can hear where you messed up as a composer. And, so began the first of many revisions of the score. Every time I met with the musicians, which soon became every Saturday, I had revised versions of the music ready for them to play. I’m sure they got a little annoyed at my constant changing of the score, but it was a learning process for all of us.

Meanwhile, I had some actor friends on board to act and sing for the staged readings. They thankfully put up with my many revisions of the script and my many demands to practice even though there wasn’t really anything in it for them. I guess it helps to be connected and have friends who share similar interests. We had a few informal readings before the actual staged readings. As far as practicing the music with the actors goes, a couple of them would come to my house each week, and we’d rehearse on the keyboard in my tiny room. A lot of the time, I would meet up with them in the practice rooms in the music building at U.C. Berkeley. Somehow, my student ID still worked to get me into the practice rooms (they didn’t notice that I had already graduated).

Finally, in April 2012, I put on the staged readings of Made in China. Though the attendance was fairly poor for both matinee performances, I think I impressed the right people, and it was great to hear everything all at once. Most importantly, the orchestra, conducted by my brother, Max, sounded great. The house manager and technical director for the two shows, DL Soares and Clint Winder, respectively, were among those who were very enthusiastic about the show, so much that they offered to co-produce the full production of the musical.

Cut to a few months later: I had held a couple more informal readings and revised the book and music a lot more, and, now, we’re preparing for the upcoming auditions for Made in China, which will be taking place on Monday and Tuesday, October 1st and 2nd from 6-10 PM both nights. We now have another set of eyes on the project with our director Ashley Cowan, and we officially booked the venue back in mid-August. The show will go up in February 2013 at Bindlestiff Studio in SF and play every Friday and Saturday night of the month.

Some of you may ask, “How are you funding this production?” Well, aside from launching a Kickstarter campaign in a couple of months, I’m personally putting aside descent chunks of money each month out of my own pocket for this thing. That’s paycheck money and tip money (I’m a cocktail server at two popular comedy clubs in SF). I’ve been doing this for a year, now. I think that’s what it takes if you really want to produce something and you haven’t, yet, achieved the kind of success where people are throwing money at you to put on a show.

Well, I think that about covers it so far. If you are an actor and singer, I’d love for you to audition for Made in China. You can e-mail me at madeinchinamusical@gmail.com to set up an appointment. I’ll leave you with a musical highlight from the show called “A Song that They Call Love”: http://made-in-china-musical.bandcamp.com/. Hope you enjoy, and I’ll be posting again in two weeks!