More playwrights trying The Pitch

05:00 AM, Jul 28, 2013

Joseph Medeiros and Danny Gardner star as a guy and his neurosis in Neurosis at Auburn Public Playhouse. The production is part of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival and runs through Aug. 18. (DOUGLAS LLOYD//Provided photo)/


Written By Debbie Waltzer

More festival news

George Wendt, best known as Norm on Cheers, signed on last week to play Pap in Hank Williams: Lost Highway, which runs Sept. 18 to Oct. 5 at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. Wendt has an extensive theater résumé, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Art, Hairspray and Elf on Broadway.
Taylor Dayne already announced she will be in the festival’s production of Cats, from Aug. 21 to Sept. 11.
For tickets to Neurosis, at the Auburn Public Playhouse, and other plays, go to FingerLakesMTF.com or call (315) 255-1785.

Irene Sankoff and her husband, David Hein, are due to become parents of a baby girl on Aug. 14.

This is their first child — sort of. As playwrights, songwriters and lyricists, the Toronto couple, both 37, previously conceived and delivered a baby of another type: the hit musical, My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish
Wiccan Wedding, which was named outstanding new musical at the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival, and has been seen by 75,000 audience members throughout North America.

And on June 13, 2013, Sankoff and Hein — who met and fell in love on their first day of college at York University in 1996 — debuted yet another creation at The Pitch, a two-year-old incubator for new musicals sponsored by the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival in Auburn.

This offspring is named Mitzvah, and its dramatization of the struggles experienced by a Jewish mother determined to help her autistic son be bar mitzvahed moved audience members that night to tears and laughter, and earned a standing ovation by evening’s end.

Giving voice to new creations is the idea behind The Pitch, says Ed Sayles, producing director of the theater festival and the force behind it, Merry-Go-Round Theatre.

It is so difficult and so expensive to get new musicals started, and as a result, there is a dearth of titles and roles out there,” he says. “I wanted to do my part to help get more shows off the ground.”

Word in the theater industry has gotten out. Last year’s event attracted 40 applicant teams for 20 slots; this year, roughly 60 creative teams vied for just 10 slots.

Each show selected is presented in a renovated carriage house to an audience of 90 over the course of three nights. The festival provides free housing to the team during their weeklong stay, as well as rehearsal space and other production resources.

The shows clearly are works in development, and audience feedback is encouraged throughout the performance.

Only Act One of Mitzvah has been nailed down; Sankoff and Hein proposed different story endings to the crowd and elicited feedback.

The salty language in Matchmaker, Matchmaker: I’m Willing to Settle — The Pitch’s third offering this summer, chronicling the joys and pitfalls of Internet dating — was toned down after the first night, based on audience feedback.

Neurosis: A New Musical debuted last summer during The Pitch and received the ultimate feedback and treatment — selection for a world premiere run during this summer’s festival. Opening night on July 18 drew a full house of 199 people at the festival’s Auburn Public Theater venue.

The story — a comedy about two best friends, a man and his neurosis, and what happens when one of them meets the woman of his dreams — is semi-autobiographical, says playwright Allan Rice, who has written for television shows such as The New Adventures of Old Christine, I Hate My Teenage Daughter and Wendell & Vinnie.

I wrote the script in 2007 when I was having trouble meeting girls,” says Rice, 30, who holds a clinical psychology degree from Tufts University, is now married and was recently hired as a writer for Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence’s as-yet-unnamed new comedy show on the FX Network.

Rice, based in Los Angeles, thought that the plot of Neurosis might make an interesting musical. A mutual friend introduced him by phone to Ben Green, a Boston-based software architect by day/composer by night. Green, in turn, contacted Yale grad and buddy Greg Edwards — a New York City-based lyricist who makes a living as an IT specialist — and the trio commenced a long-distance working relationship to create Neurosis.

The threesome met for the first time at last year’s staged reading at The Pitch, and the rest, as they say, is history.

This summer, the creative team, along with Sayles, show director Walter Ryon and eight cast members, spent three weeks together to give Neurosis its first full staging.

It has been a ball,” Rice says. “It’s a lot like summer camp. We have a definite schedule that we follow, and we get to sing a lot of songs.”

Thanks to brisk ticket sales, the show’s run has been extended by one week to Aug. 18.

But the real question is, what happens to Neurosis after that date?

We’ll probably do a reading in New York City, submit the script to more festivals, then start looking in earnest for producers who can finance a full production of the show,” Rice says.

Shepherding such a dream is a multi-year process, Sayles says. In the meantime, The Pitch is committed to doing its part to help foster the dream.

The remaining shows on this summer’s roster include Beautiful Dreamer: The Stephen Foster Musical (Aug. 8 to 10) and Love on Ice (Aug. 15 to 17).

Playwrights like Hein and Sankoff — a former insurance salesman and autism specialist, respectively — could not be more grateful for the chance to pursue their passion with chances like they got in Auburn.

We believe that theater can change the world,” says Hein, minutes after Mitzvah’s successful debut. “Moments like this keep us going.”