I always say the best thing about having friends in the industry is the ability to go to private readings and workshops. I love seeing shows in development. Across the country there is an ability for everyone to experience the joy of an in-progress work thanks to various non-profit festivals.
Last weekend I went up to the Powerhouse Theater, an annual work-in-progress festival organized by New York Stage and Film at Vassar College. I have been many times before; this time it was to see a new adaptation of The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd. It's been a pretty big year for New York Stage and Film -- the 2016 Tony Awards really showcased the new work festival, as Hamilton, The Humans and Bright Star were all first presented there. Basically this is place where people can buy tickets to see plays and musicals that are still very much in development. The creatives love it because it is known to be a nurturing home, where they get what they ask for and they are generally left alone. It also offers the teams a chance to hear audience reaction. A big problem with readings and workshops is often the audience is filled with "yes" men or women or simply people too political to tell the creatives the truth. After all, the theater community is small. Every producer in an audience, whether or not they know the creatives of the particular show ahead of time, expect they may need to work with those creatives in the future. When you have a paying audience it is different. You can gauge real, honest reaction. Sadly New York Stage and Film does nurture some shows that the public can't see, which this year included the Go-Go's musical Head Over Heels, but almost all of the shows there are presented to a paying audience. (They are not however open for review; critics are not invited.) Tickets aren't expensive. What you see is far from a fully realized production, but you get the idea. If it's a musical, you hear the full score as it stands. This offers a tremendous opportunity for artists and audiences.
New York Stage and Film is far from alone in the country. Last year when Fun Home won the Best Musical Tony many stories mentioned the Sundance Institute Theatre Program, where many well-known shows have developed, but shows there generally can't be seen by plebeians. For that you need to look elsewhere. In the tristate area, in addition to addition to New York Stage and Film, the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center has long been a place where the public can go to see in-development works. Outside of the area there are others, such as the Perry-Mansfield New Works Festival in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Much of these festivals thrive during the summer months. So look around. Try to go to see shows as they are developing. The audience contributes a lot to these works. You get the benefit and joy of seeing a show and of knowing that you helped shape it as well.
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