Musical theatre artists in the San Francisco Bay Area are fortunate to enjoy a one-of-a-kind development resource in Berkeley, CA: Musical Café. Musical Café started out about a decade ago as a musical theatre creatives’ discussion group, founded by three Dramatists Guild members: Richard Jennings, Sandy Kasten, and Jerome Joseph Gentes.
Musical theatre creatives met regularly to share their work and receive feedback in a peer-to-peer environment. In 2015, the organizers expanded activities to initiate the first Musical Café Showcase, a performance series presenting selections from new musical theatre works by local writers and composers. Over the last five years, Musical Café has presented nine showcases, each featuring 20-minute selections from four musicals (a total of 36 new musicals). Each of these events is open to the public. Showcase works have been selected for development and production or workshopping by theatres such as Mountain View’s TheatreWorks and San Francisco’s Spare Stage and have been made into popular web series and movies. Jennings says, “Musical Café is a team of richly experienced theatrical artists. We are always learning from our creative teams, our audiences, each other, and the inspiring Bay Area theatre community.”
In 2018, Musical Café presented its first-ever weekend workshop for musical theatre writers and composers, as well as a workshop on auditioning for musical theatre. In coordination with parent organization Play Café, it’s also hosted events such as a panel on “How to Get Your Work Produced” and a meet-and-greet experience for playwrights and composers.
In the fall of that year, a new program called Musical Café’s Next Stages was introduced. This is designed as an ongoing developmental opportunity for musicals previously featured in a Musical Café Showcase. Four musicals were selected to participate in the inaugural Next Stages program. Each selected musical received two full-length table readings (with ample time for re-writes in between) moderated by dramaturg Allison Bergman, or Dramatist Guild members playwright Anthony Clarvoe and composer Min Kahng. The musical “The Paper Raincoat” by Alex Wong, Amber Rubarth, and Devon Copley was chosen for a concert-style performance which took place June 1-2, 2019 at Bay Area Children’s Theatre in Berkeley.
According to co-founder Jennings, “Listening to these artists, we realized that we could better support them with in-depth feedback and coaching through two rounds of readings and rewrites. As we move forward, we plan to provide both experiences, plus full-length, semi-staged showcases.”
Jennings adds, “As a developmental program, we’ve found our niche. For every ten opportunities to develop a play there may be one opportunity for a musical, or, often, none. Musicals are more expensive, require staff with certain expertise, and take more time than a play. Creators of a musical often work alone with few resources.” The distinctive Musical Café is a project of Play Café, also in Berkeley, CA, previously profiled in our Regional Report. Musical Cafe continues to build its support and audience. It maintains its open submissions policy to musical theatre writers and composers in the seven-county San Francisco Bay Area.