Cover art of The Dramatist Craft and Career Issue: elongated pens overlapping to create multiple pathways
Philadelphia: Philadelphia’s “Music (Wo)Man”
Woman Playing Piano

If you’re a Philadelphia composer, lyricist, librettist—or maybe all three—there’s finally a place where you can present your work-in-progress. That place is MusiCoLab, a Salon Series for creators with a song (or two) to sing from shows they are working on and the brainchild of Philadelphia resident, BARBARA BELLMAN. A librettist, lyricist, and playwright herself, Barbara wondered why Philadelphia dramatists couldn’t have the exposure opportunities that seemed so plentiful in the Big Apple. As a BMI Musical Theatre Workshop alum and a graduate of the Tisch Musical Theatre Writing Program, Barbara splits her time between Philly and New York. During her time at NYU, she learned about the New York Musical Theatre Factory, where creators presented their work-in-progress to peers who offered support and encouragement. Barbara thought a program like that was just what Philly needed.

After Barbara mentioned her idea to Artistic Director SETH ROZIN (InterAct Theatre), word of the idea started circulating. More people commented that Philly could surely benefit from such a program and it gained traction. Seth and Barbara decided to open up the conversation and include the creative, theatre and academic communities to explore what would be useful. The ideas ranged from networking to development, but the first step would be for the Salons to test the idea that there were “unsung” projects waiting to be heard, and an audience of interested patrons who wanted to hear what was in the wings. Steven Gross, Temple University associate professor and a musical director with Broadway and West End experience volunteered to be musical director.

Barbara hosted the first salon in her home and invited a few friends, who invited a few more. Before she knew it, 60 people packed her living room to hear eight creative teams introduce their shows. Then a friend offered to host the second salon, and the audience grew again until it outgrew homes and relocated to the Drake Proscenium Theatre, a space large enough to accommodate the expanding audience of friends and colleagues. 

Attendance at a MusiCoLab salon is free, but to build a fund to support a casting director, pay talent and provide some refreshments, MusiCoLab partnered with 11th Hour Theatre Company. 11th Hour is now its fiscal sponsor and accepts tax deductible contributions from those who want to see MusiCoLab continue its mission to provide an encouraging home to new Philadelphia creators. 

On the horizon are plans to build an even larger audience for new musicals “under construction” in order to entice Philadelphia’s producing artistic directors into developing and producing new musicals by Philadelphia artists thereby making Philly a “new musical town.”

These are ambitious goals, but Barbara and Seth are taking it step by step. First step is building an advisory board to help curate musicals, with an eye (or ear) to hosting some cabarets to showcase four musicals devoting fifteen minutes to each. NOTE: Right now, COVID-19 has slowed down the momentum, but it’s not stopping MusiCoLab’s plans for a musical future in Philadelphia.