Directing a new musical

Creating a new musical is crazy.  Combining the script and the music — and dealing with all the people involved — is a little like juggling a bowling ball, a chainsaw and a feather.  Amber Mak is directing a workshop production of NUMBERS NERDS for the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival this summer. Here are some of her thoughts on the process and the production:

amber mak

What is it like working on a new musical? 

Well the word “new” means possibility.  Unknowns.  We have no idea what is going to happen. And so the choices are limitless, which is exciting and scary at the same time, because we have no idea where it wants to go. It means collaboration since there are so many other people involved – the writers, the actors, the designers and the producers.

What role do the actors play in the collaboration?

They are the very first ones to get to live in these characters, to embody these people. So, they help shape how and where the story goes.  They give us insight into how these characters think and act. As an audience, we have preconceived ideas about who Dorothy is in THE WIZARD OF OZ or who Elphaba is in WICKED.  So there are limits to what an actor can do with those roles.  But with a new piece, there are no preconceived ideas.  The audience waits and eagerly watches to discover who these characters are.  And the actors can decide much more completely how to bring those characters to life.

What is one of the themes in NUMBERS NERDS?

“Smart girls rock!” is one of the great themes in the show.  And it is very important today!   We are in such a wonderful time for women to be in leadership positions. In the political world, the musical theatre world, the business world – almost everywhere.  To affirm girls that they are smart, they can do it all and to dream big – is an important theme in the show and in our world.

How do you deal with differences of opinion while you are in the creative process?

Everyone has ideas about how to put this show together.  Actors, writers, everyone has some thoughts about how to make this show great.  All of the ideas are good, it is just a matter of finding the “right” idea or the “best” idea under the circumstances of the story.  We all must stay focused and open.  It comes down to what are we trying to accomplish with this story and what is it going to take to get the audience to understand it.

Any thoughts?  Suggestions?  I would love to hear them.

Larry Little