Filichia Features: Bravo to The Broadway Teachers Workshop

Filichia Features: Bravo to The Broadway Teachers Workshop

As I entered the room above the Lyric Theatre, I saw that every seat was taken and people were standing. Was it my imagination or were there more participants in The Broadway Teachers Workshop this year?

John Prignano, the senior operations manager of Music Theatre International, had a theory why attendance had increased for the conference that offers “Professional Development in the Theatre Capital of the World.”

“We were offering tickets to Hamilton,” he said. “Some teachers undoubtedly figured that paying the workshop fee was still the most economical way to see the show.”

Although I wish to take nothing away from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster, the teachers may wind up spending more time talking about all they learned in this room where it happened.

Prignano centered on shows written specifically for the educational market – “ones that have accessible music, lyrics and content are easily accessible -- and have a lot of female characters.” That got a knowing laugh from the crowd.

But first he explained how MTI works. “We don’t own the rights to the shows,” he said. “We simply represent the authors and collect fees on their behalf. That’s why when you request a change, we must go to the authors and ask them to approve. If they do, we’ll let you make the change.

“How many of you have asked for changes?” he asked, and after many had raised their hands, he added “How many of you have made changes without asking?” Far fewer hands were raised now.

Well, as Weismann in Follies, we’ve come here “to lie about ourselves a little.”

Prignano said in a no-nonsense voice “If the authors hear of any unauthorized changes, they have every right to shut you down. And don’t think ‘Oh, I’m just a school. No one’ll notice.’ Through social media and Google alert, people will tell on you.”

(And hell hath no fury like kids who didn’t get the roles they wanted and saw them instead go to their arch-enemies.)

“If the language is inappropriate for your community, we’re pretty good at approving changes,” said Prignano. “But please give us enough time and don’t call the day before opening night. After all, you’ve known for a while you’d be doing this show. So call us sooner rather than later.”

Among the newer titles that Prignano mentioned were:

Do You Want To Dance, a jukebox musical replete with music of ‘70s, and Peter and the Starcatcher, Broadway’s longest-running play of the 2011-2012 season. “I just saw Peter at The International Thespian Festival in Nebraska,” he said. “Twelve performers did it on Broadway with a lot of doubling, but here there were 28 in the cast and everyone still had a lot to do.”

Prignano also gave a helpful hint: “We license shows 18 months in advance,” he said. “As a result, you can schedule shows not available right now for a year-and-a-half in the future.”

He also gave a quick synopsis of “My MTI,” a prominent website feature. “You can manage your account on-line, ask about a license, request a perusal script, order T-shirts, not to mention scripts to replace the ones your kids lost. You’ll probably get an answer within 15 minutes.”

My MTI” does supplant the need for phone calls. “Oh, we’ll take them,” Prignano said. “We understand if you want to ask ‘I have 27 girls and two boys. Any idea what I should do?’”

Jefferson Tidwell then took the stage to tell about his company ShowTix4U – which allows those who attend school productions to much more easily purchase tickets.

Thank the Internet, too. Patrons can see alive-in-real-time seating charts and can choose their seats. (“Big deal,” you’re saying. “That’s pretty much the case with every ticket site.” Yes, but ShowTix4U was the first to do it eight long years ago.)

“We can print tickets for you, or provide you with ticket stock,” said Tidwell. “We can arrange to have your ‘tickets’ on 8-by-11 sheets of paper, which means you can use the space underneath the ticket part for advertising. So now you have another place to sell ads in addition to your program. You can send us the ad artwork, or we’ll do it for you.”

There’s a fifty-cent fee per ticket, but that is only calculated on tickets actually sold. Tidwell stated that the average percentage of sales that ShowTix4U gets when it’s introduced to a school is a mere 20%. After a few shows, however, when the audience is familiar with the site, that figure zooms to 80%.

After Tidwell finished, a teacher raised a hand to say “I’ve used this service, and it’s terrific.” That happened again after we heard about Virtual Stage Management.

Here’s how it works: each person involved with your show gives you his name, phone number and e-mail. You match that information with the role each is playing in every scene. So if you’re only rehearsing Act One, Scene One, on Tuesday, you can target those people with texts or e-mails and not bother the others.

After rehearsals when you’re ready to give notes, you needn’t have e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y congregate for a two-hour session when everyone (including you) is tired. Instead, you go home, send out individual notes to each person and save the kid from being embarrassed in front of his peers. What’s more, if the boy or girl doesn’t straighten out the next time, you can prove you’d already addressed this issue with the electronic-trail.

Representatives for Realtime Music Solutions were next. This program allows for customized transposition, cuts and vamps. If someone misses a cue, you can easily have Realtime go back a few measures. If a piece of scenery gets stuck, you can vamp until it’s moved.

More to the point, if your pit can only accommodate eight musicians and you want to do West Side Story – whose contract requires many more musicians – you can sweeten the score with this program.

To illustrate, the technician played a bit of “Dance at the Gym.” What fun to hear, when the music stopped, all the teachers yelling out in unison “Mambo!”

We also heard a few selections from Wonderland High, the update of Alice in Wonderland that James Merillat and Jesse David Johnson have devised. It involves Arthur, who’s forced to go to a new school to start senior year, and finds that where he’ll matriculate is Lewis Carroll-like -- where everything is possible and nothing makes sense. “As if anything in high school has ever made sense,” quipped Merillat, who received a generous laugh of recognition.

Arthur falls for Alice, who’s involved with the captain of the school’s championship team – that plays croquet. “It’s a show about finding you own individual path and voice and not needing to be part of a clique,” said Merillat. Added Johnson, “Alice realizes that she’s not as nice as she was in middle school, and so she wants to find again that kid she once was.”

How both creators beamed when they announced that there are 16 female roles and a mere six male roles, some of which could be played by girls. “Only three boys have to sing,” said Merillat. “And only one of them has to sing well!”

Last but hardly least, Prignano gave a Musical Theatre Trivia Contest (if, indeed, anything about musical theatre can be called trivial).

Of the 10 questions, some questions were easy: “From what beloved children’s TV show does Avenue Q take its inspiration?” (Sesame Street, of course.) Some were harder: “What does Bobby ask of Maisie in The Boy Friend?” (“Won’t You Charleston with Me?”) And one was close to impossible: “How many times does Tony sing the word ‘Maria’ in West Side Story?” And Prignano didn’t even get enough time for us to review the song in our heads!

(The answer, by the way, is 29.)

As it turned out, there were plenty of ties, and while some organizations might have opted for tie-breakers in order to save a few bucks, MTI allowed multiple winners at each prize level.

First prize was a free standard rental, which could save a director up to $1000. Second prize was a free RehearScore, valued at $500. Third prize was the aforementioned Virtual Stage Management, worth $275 for a 10-week free trial. And fourth prize offered many Original Cast CDs from Broadway shows – which, as we all know, are worth their weight in gold.

Read more Filichia Features.

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at His book, The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at