Robert Bartlett Johnson
Debbie Wicks La Puma
Pamela Bierly Jusino
The history of the Alliance goes back to the spring of 1994 when an NEA grant brought together a group of 5 Composers to participate with 5 writers and 5 performers to explore new collaborations and directions possible for music-theatre.
The workshop was led by Wesley Balk, former director of Minnesota Opera Company, who coaxed and sometimes pushed the performers out of their comfort zones and into new territories. Henry Holt, conductor of opera, music-theatre and dance, sensitively drew out the individual composers’ true voices. Ben Krywosz, Director in Music-Theatre, enlivened discussion and understanding of the collaborative nature of this art form and continues this work through his company Nautilus, in Minneapolis -St Paul and conducts Composer-Librettist Studios around the country. The whole project was ably assisted by the mentorship of Robert Darling. Eric Schaeffer hosted the workshop at Signature Theatre.
These professionals rolled up their sleeves and did the equivalent of “jamming” together over the space of a few weeks. One composer used electronic jazz harp to create operas. A writer-composer team worked on opera for the deaf. A local DC poet turned verse into theater. A jazz saxophonist, who in that day and age still copied down by hand wild Mingus-like rifts, challenged both singers and his collaborating writer teams. Another writer-composer team was inspired by Balinese gamelan and Indian mythology to incorporate the inspirations behind dance-music-theater from Asia. A former west coast composer wrote a gem of a performance art in a one woman’s diatribe against the population explosion. Several of the singer-actors took a turn at composing new music-theatre forms by way of improvisation.
Following this seminal experience, the artists involved in the NEA workshop joined together to form the Alliance for New Music-Theatre. Many of these efforts later found audiences in performances and showcases at venues that included The Kennedy Center, Signature Theatre, Woolly Mammoth, the InSeries, Olney Theater, BAPA, and the Source Theater Festival.