A pretty remarkable day…


For many years, I have hosted a Choral Festival which Ridge alum Ben Carlin affectionately named Choralpalooza.  (Thanks Ben!) Today was Choralpalooza 2019.  The morning was filled with my three choirs – Chorale (Women’s Choir-grades 9 & 10), Concert Choir (SATB choir-grades 9-12 guys-grades 11-12 girls) and A Cappella Choir Honors (Select SSATB choir) and choirs from Hanover Park, Somerville, New Providence, Warren Hills and Newark Academy.  In the morning, each choir gets a 20-minute time slot – two-song maximum – and an onstage clinic.

This year our clinician was Dr. Brandon Williams from Rutgers University.  Exceptional insightOutstanding rapport with our singers. Top-notch pacingCreative critique and comments for every level of performance.  We shared a bit of background with Brandon prior to his work on stage so he had points of reference upon which to focus as he addressed each group.  Each of us also writes comments for the others.  The sharing comes from a place of deep love, respect and admiration of our respective programs.  We’ve grown up together.  We’ve watched each other’s programs shift in all kinds of ways over the years.  We are so much more than choral colleagues.

As part of the preparation, the Ridge kids are asked to bring 2 dozen cookies OR brownies OR cupcakes to create 48-feet of a dessert bar during lunch.  Goodies are purchased 3/$.25.  Ridge treats the Directors to lunch – Jersey Mike’s this year – only the best for my friends!  Six choirs find places to sit on the floor of the PAC lobby to eat lunch, mingle and socialize.  Thirty minutes later, we reconvene in the PAC.

This year we chose soloists (or a duet) to represent each school as a part of the afternoon activities.  Before those kids sang, two of our Directors sang the duet from Lakme – sending shivers down our spines – pristine blend and balance…heavenly harmonies!  Wow.  What a treat!  The solo representatives from each school sang beautifully and the support they received was reflected in individual standing ovations.  Stellar work.

The day concluded with a Massed Choir sing of Here’s Where I Stand from the movie Camp.   The newest addition to the Ridge Family, accompanist Ed Alstrom, brought in his HAMMOND ORGAN to fill out the piano and percussion accompaniments.  We divided the solos into six parts so each school could be represented.  Brandon rehearsed the 420 singers on stage – “bringing us all to church” with their performance.  What a way to end the day!

There’s a LOT that goes into the planning and preparation of Choralpalooza; parent help to set up desserts at 7am and then more parents to sell desserts at noon; nine sets of choral risers and the Steinway need to be moved from the choir room to the stage and back again; sound and lights have to be set; mics placed; my groups need to rehearse and I need to conduct them; the schedule needs to stay accurate to afford each group equal stage and clinic time; lunch needs to be delivered; the PAC lobby and choir room need to be cleaned immediately following lunch so as not to interfere with the school day…it’s a lot.  I don’t list this for any other reason than stating that the team of parents and section leaders and officers I have from year to year never disappoint.  With a day that begins at 8a with the welcoming of 450+ guests, by 2p it is all returned to its respective place.  I am grateful for everyone who makes the day run so smoothly.

This year, I was struck by the magnitude of watching 420 young singers crowd onto a stage and sing their hearts out.  It’s really remarkable when you stop to think about what it takes to make that happen.  Hours of tedious rehearsal.  Commitment to the greater good.  Patience to help guide them to an understanding of what the choral art is and can be for them.  Patience in dealing with the daily “events” that consume a teenager.  Dedication to the knowledge that if you can get them to buy into the journey, they will have an experience that is usually indescribable.  And the beauty of bringing this all together with people in whom you’ve invested and know and love continues to create a deeper and deeper appreciation of the magic of the choral art.  Six schools.  Six Directors.  A wide variety of repertoire.  Varied conducting styles and interpretations. A depth of commitment that knows no bounds.  The knowledge that we have each other’s backs.  Thick or thin.  Good times and bad.  Man, it really doesn’t get much better than that.

I’m grateful and thankful…and tired…

Thanks, as always for reading.

Happy Thanksgiving.



Super Conference = Super Weekend

SUper confOn Saturday and Sunday, I attended The Producer’s Perspective SUPER CONFERENCE held at the SVA Theatre on 23rd St.  It was a gathering of Broadway’s finest – led by Producer Ken Davenport. Here is his goal.


Here is a run-down of the sessions I chose and some of my cryptic notes.

DAY ONE – Five 45-minute sessions.  I chose:

  • Navigating the Collaborative Process – Creating New Works

Creative Process

The inspiration from this session was the confirmation that Theatre is a collaborative art form by its very nature.  Bart Sher (Mockingbird) believed in the concept of “collective genius” where you recognize that what you are creating is much larger than you and it doesn’t completely belong to you.  The collaboration also “establishes what the world is and what the world isn’t” which I thought was a great topic to use to establish the tone of the school year on day one.  (Here is what choir is and what choir isn’t…)

This panel was particularly impressive; Andrew Lippa=Addams Family, Itamar Moses=The Band’s Visit and Bart Sher=To Kill A Mockingbird.  Not too shabby.

  • Getting Press for your projects and yourself

Getting Press

Where PR is concerned, it’s important to develop a vocabulary about the show being promoted because the public reacts to the show before they see it.  ie-Dear Evan Hansen.  Social media has changed everything because cast members can speak directly to their fans.

  • Preparing your Pitch – The Art of Pitching Producers

Pitching Producers

Dori produced The Prom.  Hal is producing Fiddler in Yiddish. Aurin is producing Evil and the Good Fight (TV).  They were quite clear about the expectations of a producer; the project needs to be something that moves the Producer.  It needs to be relevant to the times.  It needs to be relatable on some level.  Is it something A Producer would want to see and bring friends AND spend endless hours on? What makes the project unique and special? Is it a story that has to be told? AND, is this the production team that can bring it to life?

  • Budgeting for Every Stage of Development


This was really interesting to me as I had no idea of the real money needed to mount and sustain a show.  Two budgets need to be created – a Capitalization Budget which needs to cover everything up to the first preview (Marketing, Press, Scenes, Costumes, Light/Sound, Salaries for Stagehands, Musicians, Interns, Agents, etc.) and the Weekly Budget which covers everything after the first performance.  When the investors put up their money, they want to know how quickly they will “recoup”.  Many do not recoup 100%.  Most houses budget at 70% weekly capacity.  It took Beautiful one year to recoup for investors. Only 30% of B’way shows recoup their investors’ money.  (Sad face)

Let’s say you have a show (project) and you would like to arrange for a “29-hour reading” now referred to as Tier 1.  You need to have between $35,000 and $50,000 on hand to pay for that single week and that is bare-bones…chairs and stands.  Tier 2 gets you two weeks and actors off-book and Tier 3 gets you 3-8 weeks of staged rehearsal, choreo, actors who are paid $1250 per week and you’ll need to have between $350,000 and $500,000 on hand to pay for it.  That’s real money!

Once the show opens, it needs $800,000 per week in ticket sales to run (one thought).  The theatre gets 7% weekly for labor, stagehands, ticket takers, etc.  4% pays the credit card companies.  Then there is the matter of Royalties-35% of profit goes to the royalty pool.  If the production is adapted from a film, then 42-44% will go to the weekly Royalty Pool.

A Musical can cost anywhere from $575,000-1 million dollars a week to run(a second thought). Orchestra can be $100K a week.  It was good to hear that there are NO RECORDED TRACKS on BWay.  It’s all live musicians!

  • Raising Money for your Show at all Stages of Development

Raising MOney

Tom Kirdahy=Hadestown, Little Shop Revival. Mara = The Inheritance.  Wanna’ invest in theatre?  Accredited investors have 1 million in assets or make $250K a year.  Money Bundling Groups are governed by 1 person getting 5 people to invest 50K.  And, there’s Kickstarter.  I sat near a gentleman at lunch who was an investor and he told me the minimum was usually 25K and that in 5-6 shows, he’s recouped on 1.  You need to know you may never get your full return when investing in a show.


  • Casting Superpowers


Probably the most interesting session for me.  The casting agency is charged with fulfilling the creative vision of the Director.  They try to get as close to the story you want to tell through their casting choices.  These choices need to bring characters to life.  Thoughtful casting takes time – going after the right people.  Directors need to approach their casting agency as if they were “dating”…it’s a relationship that requires honesty and trust between both sides.

Research these agencies.  If you see that they are casting specific roles (Christine in Phantom) and you think you are right for the part, CALL THEM to ask for an audition.

To the Potential Actor:

  • Educate yourself about the Casting Director – the Director wants to find YOU!
  • Reach out to them.  In your email…”I’ve seen some things you’ve cast”…and name them…
  • Explain why you think this Director might be interested in seeing you?
  • State “I like the message of the projects you’re producing and I think I’d be a good fit for your work.”
  • They all said – BE KIND (in auditions) and SHOW UP AT THE TABLE-IT’S TIME!

Attend open calls for agencies for which you’d like to work.

  • Securing Rights

Securing Rights

Secure the rights FIRST!  You need the rights to produce anything!  As a start, find really good source material that others aren’t after to tell your story.  The current jukebox musicals needed major rights clearances.  If you are synchronizing music to an image, you need rights.  Ted Chapin=rights to all things Rogers & Hammerstein and Irving Berlin.

Wanna’ know the background to a song—song meanings?   www.songfacts.com

  • What do critics look for in 2019?

CriticsThis was interesting as the moderator’s first question was – What are you NOT looking for in 2019?  The answers – Bio Musicals, Jukebox Musicals, 2-part 8-hour productions (Harry Potter!) and Premium Pricing! Adam = TimeOut New York.  He sees 6-7 shows a week and reviews the higher profile shows.  Michael=Radio 1710 WOR he used to work for the POST but they no longer run a theatre section – he’s now on the radio.

The closing 45 minutes was a keynote by Stephanie J. Block, who just won the Tony for CHER.  She was the highlight!  Completely unscripted and speaking from the heart.  Some of her pearls of wisdom included…”NO is a complete sentence.”  (loved that!).  “When you say Yes, it’s “Yes, and …”  If you are rejected, you can cry for a minute…The phone may ring tomorrow – ARE YOU READY?  (when the phone rings for the next opportunity).  When you are in an audition/casting situation and you don’t feel right, be truthful with yourself and say “Thank you.  I’m not supposed to be part of this team”.  She really really felt that there was a greater universal power that would reward you for your choices – at least they had for her.


Thanks, as always, for reading.