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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!