News Column

MSU grad hopes to continue momentum after off-Broadway production

August 2, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 02--Getting his musical to New York was tough.

Getting it back home to Minnesota might prove even tougher.

With a well-reviewed string of five off-Broadway performances wrapping up last week as part of the New York City Musical Theatre Festival, Minnesota State University alum and amateur playwright Phil Darg is now hoping to find a way to produce "Sasquatch! The Musical" in his native state.

"We're hoping to get it back to Minnesota," he said. "That's always been in the back of our minds."

Darg was notified earlier this year that his musical was one of 10 selected by NYMF's panel of nine judges -- all but one of whom has won or been nominated for a Grammy, Tony or OBIE award.

Each of the 200 submissions was judged blindly with the final 10 earning a chance to participate in the festival's Next Link program. The mission of the program is to "empower emerging musical theatre writing teams ... by providing the training and relationships needed to help them move their musicals from readings to fully-realized productions and to advance their careers by maximizing the exposure they receive in the Festival."

Each playwright is given the chance to attend a weekend symposium that includes seminars led by industry professionals on fundraising, marketing, industry outreach and self-producing. Participants are also introduced to potential collaborators, supporters and producers, and receive dramaturgical support from professional literary managers and dramaturgs.

Finally, each Next Link show receives financial support in the form of a $5,000 subsidy toward its production.

Darg's string of shows wrapped up July 14 at the Pearl Theatre Company Performance Space, a 160-seat facility on the famous West 42nd Street thoroughfare. Though his production didn't receive any festival awards, it was generally well-received by critics. One off-Broadway blogger said it was one of NYC's five shows to see in July.

As for Darg, who presently lives in Maple Grove but has remained in New York for the duration of his production schedule, he said he's been pleased by the response.

"It's gone pretty well, overall," he said. "The audiences have been laughing and clapping -- and that's always a good sign. ... Until something is in front of an audience, you don't know how it will go."

Darg said the performances may have run a bit long and there were a few snatches of dialogue that were eclipsed by actions on stage, so he'll revise his script slightly before attempting to mount any further productions.

Though nothing is finalized, Darg said a number of people expressed interest in his production in New York City. He's also hoping the play's reproducability -- the sets are minimal, costumes (besides the sasquatch) are contemporary, acting responsibilities are evenly distributed and the music can be played by a five-piece ensemble -- will make it attractive to school and community theatres.

"It's still early in the process," Darg said. "But it's our intention to take (the musical) and produce it again and move it forward."

In addition to the subsidy he received from the festival, Darg relied on the crowd-source fundraising website Kickstarter to raise an additional $5,065 for his production. Even while his production has not yet turned a profit -- which is not at all unusual in the world of musicals, where only a small fraction ever recoup investment and production costs -- Darg said he's satisfied with what's he's accomplished.

"When we set out, we had a very daunting task," he said. "We put on a musical, and we made it work.""

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(c)2013 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.)

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