Every future Tony-winning musical begins life the same way — as an idea percolating to life late night in a coffee joint or perhaps a song or two performed for friends after one too many beers. In Atlanta, the musical theatre idea incubator is about to get a whole lot bigger. On August 1 and 2, the works of Atlanta’s next generation of musical composers will be celebrated and showcased during the city’s inaugural Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival with a series of showcases hosted at Actor’s Express downtown.
The festival is the brainchild of founder and executive artistic director Benjamin Davis, a busy Atlanta actor, seen most recently this month in the Actor’s Express production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Starting today, budding Stephen Sondheims and Jonathan Larsons who have completed at least three to four songs for a show (about 10 minutes of music) can upload and submit their work for consideration to be included in this year’s inaugural festival by going to theamtf.com. No completed books, librettos, character outlines or scores are necessary. The deadline for submissions is May 1 and official selections will be announced May 21. Local musical theatre artists will then work with the festival’s artistic advisory team to ready their works for two nights of performances at Actor’s Express on August 1 and 2. Daytime performances at another downtown venue are also being planned, based on the volume of submissions.
AMTF founder Ben Davis was inspired to start a musical theatre festival for his hometown after attending the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2015 as a producer for the Jeremiah Parker Hobbs and Jessica DeMaria musical, “The Last Time We Were Here,” one of the festival’s official selections last summer. But unlike NYMTF which spotlights fully staged, full length completed works, Atlanta’s festival will showcase works in an earlier stage of development.
Last summer in New York, Davis was heartened by the creativity he saw swirling around him and knew all of the emerging theatre creatives in Atlanta deserved a similar platform. At lunch with DeMaria between performances of “The Last Time We Were Here,” he blurted out the idea for AMTF. DeMaria was so supportive Davis promptly enlisted her as AMTF’s director of development. Nikki Thomas will serve as AMTF’s general manager.
“The entire time I kept thinking, ‘Why don’t we have something like this in Atlanta?’” Davis explained in an interview with Eldredge ATL. “We have all these young writers and artists without a platform but we’ve living in a city where so many theaters are cultivating new works by new playwrights. Why aren’t new musicals a part of that conversation?”
As a producer on “The Last Time We Were Here,” Davis observed first-hand as the musical came to life during back room workshops at Manuel’s Tavern and a staged reading at Actor’s Express. But it was the first public performance of the few first songs from the show played for a packed patio filled with friends at Java Monkey in Decatur two years ago that really stayed with Davis as the idea for AMTF germinated in his head.
“It was just Jeremiah and Jessica putting it out there publicly for the first time,” Davis recalls. “It was just them singing the songs and passing out slips of paper asking, ‘What did you like?’ and ‘What could be changed?’ We all instantly fell in love with the songs. But it was more than that. Everyone on that patio went away feeling inspired and uplifted. Atlanta actor Barrett Doyle was sitting at a table sketching. His doodle of a guy with a guitar that night ended up being used as the artwork for the show. That’s what I really want to capture with the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival.”
Thanks to a fiscal sponsorship with C4 Atlanta, AMTF will begin fundraising for the inaugural festival on March 15. All donations will be tax deductible and various levels of sponsorship will be available by visiting theamtf.com.
Davis says he would love to see the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival grow into a weeklong annual event with workshops and fundraising opportunities to be held throughout the year around the city.
“The idea is to cultivate and mentor the next generation of musical theatre artists and to partner them with new directors and choreographers,” Davis says. “I want this to be a celebration for everyone who loves musical theatre.”
For more info on AMTF, go to the official website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.