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  • Nova Fest Awards Best Musical & Best LGBT Film to New York Film Academy’s Plus One

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    The New York Film Academy (NYFA) Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre (PCMT) has snagged two film festival wins for its original movie musical Plus One. The epic short film utilizes original music as it follows three generations of women, two unexpected pregnancies, and a time-traveling secretary with the key to their futures.

    After a successful run at the NOVA Fest, Plus One went home with the top trophies for Best Musical and Best LGBT Film.

    Plus One’s trophies will be proudly displayed in the Musical Theatre office at the NYFA New York City campus. Stop by and check them out, and learn more about PCMT’s work!

    PLUS ONE – trailer from SEAN ROBINSON on Vimeo.

    Two-Year Conservatory students at PCMT have had the opportunity to perform in original movie musicals since the program began in 2012. The unique experience allows conservatory students to prepare for the film and television industry as well as the stage. Each PCMT original movie musical is created from scratch with original stories and scores, and executed through collaborations with working industry professionals. Past films have featured collaborators such as Tony Award-winner James Monroe Iglehart and Tony Award-nominee Charlotte D’amboise. Yet each PCMT movie musical maintains its focus on its student performers, allowing the next generation of artists to truly shine.

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  • Here’s Where I Stand by New York Film Academy PCMT Plays for Everytown and March for Our Lives

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    As the March for Our Lives Movement conducts rallies and students around the country commemorate the 20th anniversary of Columbine with walkouts on April 20, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre (PCMT)’s will donate all proceeds from its powerful update of the movie musical Camp’s smash hit Here’s Where I Stand to Everytown for Gun Safety, a charity focused on protecting communities from gun violence. The non-profit organization, first founded by concerned mothers, “is a movement of Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities,” and has inspired more than 4 million people to “come together to make their own communities safer.” 

    Students from around the country also joined together March 24 in the first March for Our Lives protest, in at least 50 cities throughout the U.S. On that day, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre (PCMT) raised its voice in support. PCMT’s powerful update of the movie musical Camp’s smash hit Here’s Where I Stand is available for digital download on iTunes (go to iTunes Store, not iTunes Music, and search “PCMT”), Google Play, and Bandcamp.

    To download on iTunes, open iTunes Store (not iTunes Music) and search for “PCMT”.

     

    In line with the March for Our Lives rallies and Everytown’s message of community and hope, Here’s Where I Stand offers an empowering message for young people in its lyrics:

    In this life we’ve come so far

    but we’re only who we are (who we are)

    Courage of love (courage of love)

    will show us the way (show us the way)

    From the time PCMT first conceived the Here’s Where I Stand project in October of 2017 to March For Our Lives’ first rally on March 24, there had been 18 school shootings. New York Film Academy students and faculty alike at PCMT have been inspired by the students around the country who are raising their voices for safety and change.

    Here’s Where I Stand is a powerful song that resonates differently for everyone,” says PCMT Artistic Director Kristy Cates.  “It is a song about having the courage to speak your truth and take a stand for what you believe in. As we’ve seen young people around the country respond to the epidemic of gun violence by raising their voices for change, we as musical theatre performers thought this was the perfect way for us to lend our own voices in support this movement.”

    The PCMT’s music video is directed by The New York Film Academy’s PCMT was highlighted by Variety as one of the most cutting-edge musical theatre training programs.

    To download on iTunes, open iTunes Store (not iTunes Music) and search for “PCMT.” To download PCMT’s Here’s Where I Stand to your Apple or Android devices from Google Play or Bandcamp, click the icons below:

     

    If you experience any difficulties downloading the track on iTunes through your phone app, please try your desktop.

    Thank you to the talented students who lent their voices to the song and cause (in alphabetical order):

    Alexandra Attardi, Alyssa Carrigan, Cecilie Kiorbye Bertelsen, Clara Colombo, Damaris Olivo, Ekaterina Chigvintseva, Gabriella Malm, Giuliana Deantoni Tanze, Grace Strickland, Hannah Swanson, Helora Danna Santos da Rosa, Jenna Bruce, Lisbeth Celis, Madeline Mancebo, Majeste Pearson, Maria Cavanaugh, Maria Christina Mosquera, Marije Louise Maliepaard, Micaela Haskins, Michael Baccari, Nathaniel Anderson, Nicole Goldstein, Noah Chartrand, Paige Gittelson, Rebecca Keenan, Ruby Locknar, Ryan Curley, Samuel Beard, Sarah Elizabeth Venners.
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  • New York Film Academy Alum is Cosette in Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Miserables

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    If music is the universal language, than New York Film Academy (NYFA) Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre grad Laís Lenci is becoming a universal performer. From Brazil to New York to Mexico City, the triple-threat singer/dancer/actress is now performing in triple languages. In March, Lais will star as Cosette while also performing in the ensemble for Cameron Mackintosh’s Spanish-language production of international smash-hit Les Miserables, in Mexico City.

    We caught up with the busy performer to hear about her experience working with one of theatre’s most renowned producers in one of the world’s favorite musicals. We’re sure you’ll be as impressed as we are: Lais has worked with Cameron Mackintosh not once, but twice — and in two languages, neither of which is her mother tongue!

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?

    Laís: My name is Laís Lenci, I’m 24 years old and I’m a Brazilian actress, singer, and dancer. I decided to live in New York to study musical theatre, specifically, because I felt that something was missing in my background as an artist. I wanted to improve and learn things that in Brazil just couldn’t be taught.

    A friend of mine saw a NYFA’s audition advertisement and said, “You should try it!” The same week, I scheduled my audition — and received the greatest news that I would be studying at NYFA the next year! That was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in my whole life.

    NYFA: Why Musical Theatre? What inspires you most as a performer?

    Laís: Well, I started dancing when I was three years old and I always enjoyed being on stage. At the age of nine I started taking acting classes and the singing came a bit later.

    When I saw the Disney production of Beauty and the Beast in Brazil I was still a kid, but I was certain that I wanted to become a musical theatre performer. I think that dancing, the singing, and acting become more powerful together. I feel that they can really connect to the audience and touch their souls in a very special way. That’s really inspiring to me.

    NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?

    Laís: I have many! But if I can point out one, it should be my last performance at our graduation showcase. When I finished my last note, I felt that I was finally ready to share my art with the world. And that was a very special moment to me.

    NYFA: What surprised you the most during your training? Was there anything you hadn’t expected to learn or do?

    Laís: I just didn’t know that I was capable of learning so much in only one year. I felt that I grew up as a person and as an artist, 10 years in one.

    I hadn’t expected to do such great and tough scenes during Meisner Classes. I had no idea that there was so much inside of me, emotionally speaking, and that I was going to be able to express all of that during my scenes. It proved me that, with the correct training, I could become a great actress.

    NYFA: You’re gearing up for a March premier of Les Misérables in Mexico City with Cameron Mackintosh, one of the most famous theatrical producers in the world. Can you tell us a bit about how this opportunity came about for you?

    Laís: Yes I am, and that’s very exciting! Two years ago I auditioned in Brazil for Cameron Machintosh’s Les Misérables. After a very exhausting six months of auditions and waiting, I had the great answer that I’d be a part of the cast.

    We did a one-year run in Brazil. By the end of the year I got a call from the producers, asking me to send in an audition tape for their next production of Les Miserables around the world. I sent it, and a month later they called me back to tell me that I got cast again, but this time I would be doing the show in Mexico City, singing in Spanish — which is not my mother language. A brand new experience!

    NYFA: How are rehearsals going?

    Laís: Rehearsals are going really well! It’s very interesting to do the same show but with a whole new team of directors, new cast, new language, new country. Many things have changed in my track as well and it’s very challenging. It’s also an exhausting period, as every musical’s rehearsals are. It’s the moment when we just can’t waste our energy and time with anything else but the show. We need to be 100% committed to the piece!

    NYFA: Cosette is a very vocally challenging role. For our students, do you have any tips and advice on how to prepare and sustain a tough vocal performance over a run with many, many shows?

    Laís: Cosette is a hard one, because there are a few specific high notes that you have to be fully vocally healthy to do perfectly. And I’m also a member of the ensemble, doing eight shows per week. My challenge is to sing all the ensemble songs (the poor, the lovely ladies) that are all very belted and powerful, and still be ready and not vocally tired when I go on as Cosette — who is the only legit female singing role in the whole show.

    My advice is to rest as much as you can when you’re not doing the show. Take care of your voice and your body’s health. Take voice lessons even when you are in a run. It’s really important to always be working with a vocal professional that you trust.

    And be kind to your instrument. Don’t push. Don’t force your vocal chords when you are not feeling okay. We need to know our limits, and know how far we can go, to be able to sing for three hours and still be healthy for a whole week of work.

    NYFA: How has working with Cameron Mackintosh helped you grow as a performer?

    Laís: What really impresses me about Cameron is that he’s the greatest Musical Theatre producer in the world, he has a huge team working with him, and still, he’s fully involved with all the shows he’s opening around the world. He always comes a few days before opening night to make sure that everything will be just perfect. He’s also a very humble man and a real gentleman.

    It’s such an honor that I’ve been cast twice by Cameron himself. His success is a response to the love that he puts into his work and his shows.

    That’s what I want to achieve in life. I think that greatness only comes when we are fully committed to our work and when we truly love what we do.

    NYFA: You’ve traveled from Brazil to New York, and now to Mexico City as a performer. As an international student and artist, what has been your greatest challenge? What advice would you give to your fellow international performers?

    Laís: I do love challenges, and I’m very moved by them. I think that the biggest challenge is to be away from my family and friends. Sometimes you want your mother’s hug and you just can’t have it. But that’s also a part of our profession. We go where we have work.

    My advice is to be brave and embrace the challenges — they make us grow, they make us better people. Stick to your character and your personal ethic. Stay strong to your beliefs and never give up on your dreams! They do come true for those who work hard and have love and gratitude in their hearts.

    NYFA: Is there anything I missed that you’d like to speak on?

    Laís: I just want to say that I’m so thankful for everything that NYFA has offered me as an artist and as a person. I will never forget everything I lived there, and that I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t taken the decision of moving to NYC to study at NYFA.

    Thank you for trusting my talent and for changing me for good! I miss every second of my experience with you and wish all the success in the world to all the students! I’m pretty sure they are all in the best hands of NYC!

     

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  • From “Carousel” to China: The World of NYFA Musical Theatre Alumna Ilda Mason

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    NYFA Musical Theatre alumna Ilda Mason is no stranger to the hustle and bustle of life as a working actress in New York City. Since graduating from NYFA, she has performed in not one but two professional productions of “West Side Story” and toured the country with “Cinderella.”

    Now, as she gears up for her next adventure — performing as Pilar in a tour of “Legally Blonde” in China! — Ilda took some time to catch up with the NYFA community to share her thoughts on success after school and believing in yourself, no matter what.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to NYFA?   

    IM: I was born and raised in Panamá City, Panamá. I studied ballet on and off for many years because I always found myself coming back to it despite of all my other extracurricular activities I did in school, like musical theatre.

    I auditioned for my first professional musical in 2008. It was “Beauty and the Beast,” and we performed in the biggest theatre in the country. I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life, but as a plan B, I studied Structural Architecture. So I have a degree in Architecture!

    I knew I wanted to come to the United States to study Musical Theatre and it seemed like fate when I saw NYFA at a student’s stand in the very same building where that huge, first musical took place. I knew instantly that NYFA was it because it mixed Musical Theatre and Acting for Film.

    NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?      

    IM: I loved my first NYFA Musical, “Spring Awakening.” Such an incredible show to be part of! It was my first audition process in New York, and to be cast in it was out of this world. Everything about it was exciting, new and powerful. And my favorite class project was the Final for Performance Lab, in which we had full creative freedom to do whatever we wanted and create a medley of songs and musicals to tell a new story. It was my favorite because I had the opportunity to see how my classmates shined so bright.

    The team I was a part of was amazing! Terra made the most incredible medley of rock songs and musical theatre hits that told the story of a rock band going to space, and I got the role of the astronaut! We used Christmas lights against the dance classroom’s mirror to create the illusion of being in space and … it was just perfect. To this day, my favorite class assignment.

    NYFA: Why musical theatre? What inspires you about this kind of storytelling?            

    IM: Musical Theatre brings together my love for acting, singing, and dancing. There is something magical about being on stage, telling a story with so many challenging elements. It’s live, always. You have to be on your A game all the time, whether it is trying to get the job or then keeping your mind, body and soul to 100 percent because your body is your instrument and you need to be ready to do a show eight times a week. It’s inspiring to me because it is special, it is demanding and it is rewarding. To dance my heart out every night, to sing a gorgeous score and to tell a beautiful story for a living must be the best job in the universe. I stare in awe whenever I see a Broadway show, or incredible acting on film. I want to do that, I want to be there. That’s why I moved countries.

    NYFA: While at NYFA, you choreographed the Musical Theatre Department’s production of “Carousel.” Can you tell us about that experience, and how it has shaped what you do today?     

    IM: I was chosen by Chad Austin to be his associate choreographer for this show, and it was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had. To see a show from concept to end required a lot of hard work and we were a team that was committed. Getting to work so close to Chad as director/choreographer, gave me a look into all it takes to create something special. Being able to help choreograph and teach to our cast made me grow so much. I taught me about leadership, ownership and commitment. I needed to know every single move, step and position because the cast was counting on me. I think this was the biggest preparation to be a dance captain on Broadway one day soon.

    NYFA: You performed in two separate professional productions of “West Side Story.” What was it like to approach the same show in two different iterations?     

    IM: My first “West Side Story” will always hold a dear place in my heart. That production in Signature Theatre was flawless in every single way. It was so special to do such an iconic show that tells the story of Latino immigrants just like me, surrounded by such inspiring actors. We did a very immersive, intimate production in which only 300 people were all around us while the Jets and Sharks ran amongst them during the prologue.

    The second time I was part of the cast in Paper Mill Playhouse and that on its own was already mind-blowing. We rehearsed at the New 42nd St. Studios, and I was once again surrounded by massive Broadway stars, but the story was the same. Same beautiful message, stunning score and the best dancing there can be. The best part was seeing how different directors and choreographers bring the same show to life.

    NYFA: You recently performed in the national tour of “Cinderella.” For our students, how did you adjust and sustain your work for the tour conditions and schedule? Was there anything that surprised you or challenged you along the way?         

    IM: Being on tour is incredibly challenging and demanding. I learned and grew exponentially during those 10 months on the road. I learned that you must go in being 100 percent in every possible way, because the nature of touring will take a toll on you. I learned about making a lot of money and saving a lot of money for my future; I learned about the importance of rest. My body needed rest because we never truly had a day off while on tour since our “off” days where travel days. I learned about not falling into the claws of drama. Drama is meant to happen when you live in such a small bubble, and it will drain you mentally and spiritually.

    I learned how to be more like my dad and stay calm, collected and in a way diplomatic because these people become your family. You don’t want to fight on the road. I learned about the importance of keeping myself healthy and injury-free. So many people had to leave the tour because they got hurt and couldn’t perform anymore. I learned how to cook on the road! By the end of tour, I had a mini kitchen with me, equipped with a mini electric skillet, mini rice cooker, cutting board, spices, cutlery — you name it. It gave me the comfort of eating the food that I loved and missed and the peace of mind that I always had something to eat even when we were in the middle of nowhere, and saved so much money because of it.

    It’s challenging to be away from your loved ones, to miss out on things, to be surrounded by the same people every single day, but that was also something beautiful because you appreciate your long distance relationships with friends and loved ones; because you appreciate your alone time, and sharing time; because touring is a whole new ball game and doing a show about kindness and dancing a beautiful Ball every night is pretty spectacular.

    Processed with Snapseed.

    NYFA: What is next for you? Can you tell us about any upcoming projects that excite you, or any new avenues you hope to explore soon?       

    IM: I’m so excited because next month I will be going to China to perform as Pilar in “Legally Blonde: the Musical”! We will be doing a short tour through Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Beijing, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about this Chinese adventure!

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful in preparing for what you are doing today?         

    IM: Absolutely. I was so prepared for that first audition season. I was my strongest in every way and ready to tackle any dance call, had a full repertoire of songs and enough confidence in who I am that I was ready to start the job of auditioning and having a day job at the same time. With time I grew to learn more about what was my style, what songs show me best at the actual audition time and what to wear to show who I really am and who I can be. I had incredible teachers at NYFA and I’m thankful for all the pieces of gold they gave me as guidance for this difficult journey though the musical theatre/film industry.

    NYFA: Any parting thoughts for our readers?       

    IM: Musical Theatre is hard work and perseverance to its core. It’s about not giving up and showing up to those auditions even though you are tired, haven’t been seen for Equity calls or even if you are scared. I learned a huge lesson from a close friend of mine. My tour roommate, an immigrant from Malaysia who was on an O-1 visa just like me and was also non-Equity, booked the Broadway revival of “Miss Saigon” and made her dreams come true.

    After that I realized that there is no audition too big. You want to be on Broadway, right? So you have to go to that Broadway call! She unknowingly taught me that you never know if you never try, and that if you feel you are right for something you have to go for it.

    Funny story, that’s how I landed this “Legally Blonde” tour! I applied to get an appointment and didn’t get one. The day of the audition I looked in Audition Update and found the location of the singers call. I marched there determined to be seen and, because they were running ahead of schedule, they were so nice to let me sing for them.

    Long story short: I crashed the audition and got the role. We need to believe in ourselves first and always.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Ilda Mason for sharing a part of her story with our community.

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  • NYFA Musical Theatre Alumna Kodi Milburn Spreads Her Wings

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    For all students, the transition from art school to the professional world is a journey of transformation often wrought with surprises both good and bad, but it takes particular skill and dedication to turn such life experiences into a work of art.

    With her original work “Chrysalis,” NYFA Musical Theatre alumna Kodi Milburn morphed the challenges she found in the entertainment industry into an artistically satisfying and empowered performance piece. We had a chance to catch up with Kodi to hear about her collaborative creative process and thriving in life after NYFA.

    Photo by Sean Ben-Svi

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to NYFA?

    KM: I grew up in Nebraska with my single mother. She is both a hippie and a musician, qualities that shaped me into who I am now. I’ve always been into music and theater.

    My first show was as a baby in “Fiddler in the Roof,” followed by “Peter Pan.” My mom was Peter and I was a Tiger Lilly dancer. Time went on, and I knew I wanted to pursue art further. It’s kind of the same old story: a small town girl from the Midwest moves to the city to pursue a dream.

    I chose NYFA because it was a more down to earth and artistic environment than other schools. I needed that freedom to work on my art. I also noticed the star-studded list of instructors, some of which had directly inspired me to become a performer (Deidre Goodwin). How cool is it to learn dance from a woman you used to watch on TV?

    NYFA: Why musical theatre? And, what has inspired your work lately?

    KM: I have since branched out into different genres, but the core of my training is in musical theater. I think that as a musical theater performer you have to be a triple threat. Therefore, I feel prepared to attack any genres head on. Lately the work of my peers, Terra Warman, Caleb Settje, Zoey Michaels, and Makayla Benedict, has inspired me to put up local theater and produce more of my own work!

    NYFA: What surprised you most about your time studying with us? Do you have a favorite NYFA moment?

    KM: I was surprised at how close I got with my peers and instructors. You’re really going through the trenches together, and I work with those same people on nearly every show I do outside of NYFA. They quickly became family to me.

    My favorite NYFA moment was being selected to sing for the Jonathan Groff master class. You had to be nominated by your teachers to be selected. That was a validating and humbling experience, to be chosen by the people I held in such high regard.

    NYFA: Can you tell us about your experience filming NYFA movie musical “Seeking Alice,” and seeing it go on to win awards like Best Musical at the Nova Fest?

    KM: Filming “Seeking Alice” was a hoot, but we were up all night and filming outside in January. You do it for the art though! Funny enough that was not the first time I had played Tweedle Dum, and I got to revive the character alongside one of my dearest friends, Jonina Bjort. The crew and creative team for the film were innovative and an absolute joy to work with in such hard-core conditions. I mean, I got to eat ice cream, refine my MUA and Hair tech skills, and belt Bobby Cronin’s original music — of course it was amazing.

    As you can imagine, we were all thrilled to see that the film was loved as much by the professionals at the Nova Fest as it was by all of us involved! Truly the icing on the cake

    NYFA: For our current Musical Theatre students, what did you find most challenging in transitioning to work outside of the program environment, and do you have any advice for navigating that transition?

    KM: I found that the balance between working on art and becoming a responsible adult was the hardest transition for me. Here’s the thing: That transition is hard for everyone. The good news is the instructors at NYFA have the tools to help you into the real world. I’m sure you’ve heard it from them but my advice is to follow these four rules.

    1) Be professional. (Meaning, show up early and show up prepared).

    2) Take yourself seriously and take care of yourself. (Get up and go to that 5 a.m. audition and invest in your own business. Get a survival job! You have to pay your rent to stay here).

    3) Be a good person. (You will work with the same people over and over again, do not burn bridges!)

    4) Be true to yourself. (There is no right way to be successful in this industry, so if you end up doing something that isn’t exactly what you planned, that’s not a fail, it’s part of a path.)

    NYFA: How did your original project “Chrysalis” come about? Can you tell us about that creative process?

    KM: I started writing “Chrysalis” after I graduated. My friends and I were auditioning and it seemed that we couldn’t book anything because we were too thick or too dark skinned or not blonde enough, not because we weren’t talented. So I wrote a show for those people and me to perform artistically satisfying pieces without feeling like we needed to change something about us in order to do so.

    The creative process was a lot of work. I began writing music and then the script. Next I gathered my team (which included NYFA alumni) and began rehearsals. I then pitched my show to a millennial, all-female, producing team called The Creators Collective. They picked up the show and we began fundraising.

    We received free space from CC and 100 Bogart, and most of our funding from a group funding campaign and a live fundraiser in my hometown of Rushville, Nebraska. The show went up on Aug. 5, 2017! We are now recording a cast album and applying for grants for a 2018 run of the show.

    NYFA: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you are working on?

    KM: Currently I am continuing my work on “Chrysalis,” appearing in Tandem Children’s Theater Company as a female Harry Potter, collaborating with Caleb Settje on his new musical, “aKing,” partnering with my producers and AirBnB for live AirBnB experiences, taking promotional photos for SHIFT dance collective, and working with Makayla Benedict and Zoey Michaels on a song set for live performances. My Facebook is updated with my current/future projects.

    NYFA: Anything I missed that you’d like to share?

    KM: I am a promotional portrait photographer with reasonable rates for fresh graduates and students. You can contact me if you would like to set up a session.

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  • NYFA Musical Theatre Alumna Terra Warman Creates Original Musical “Mister B. Gone”

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    NYFA Musical Theatre alumna Terra Warman isn’t afraid of anything — not even demons.

    Carving out a unique path in the musical theatre industry, the multi-talented artist has just put the finishing touches on  her original musical “Mister B. Gone,” adapted from the book of the same name by Clive Barker, a dark tale that tackles freedom, hell, and all the forces in between.

    We had a chance to interview Terra via email to learn about her process, what makes this musical one-of-a-kind, and what’s next.

    From the August reading of “Mister B. Gone” – Jakabok (Terra Warman) and Quitoon (Eduardo Perez-Torres)

     

    NYFA: First can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to NYFA?
    TW: I desperately needed to escape my home town of Cincinnati. After a major career shift from  international politics to … I had no idea … NYFA reached out in that very effective way that they do.
    I’ve been in music my whole life and both of my parents are artists so considering a school like this made sense. It was interesting to me that on top of a musical theater education, the second year final was a musical film. I decided to audition, they slapped me with a scholarship, and it was off to New York for me.

    From the August reading of “Mister B. Gone” – The Lovers, She and He (Kenny Malloy and Jacob Henry)

    NYFA: Why musical theatre?

    TW: Straight theater didn’t excite me enough, music by itself needed an anchor in storyline, and from the age of 13-16, most of the music I wrote was basically a diary entry anyway so, why the heck not musical theater?

    NYFA: Do you have a favorite NYFA moment from your time studying with us?

    TW: One of my favorite NYFA things was my second year performance lab final. The assignment was to make a five minute jukebox musical with three songs. We wrote the 20 minute epic “Space Oddity” about a rock band that wins a lottery to go to space, crash lands on an alien planet, and has to escape. At one point we’ve got “Space Oddity,” “Come Sail Away,” and “Wicked” all layered on top of each other. My lab partners and I got swept away — we had extra rehearsals, did lighting ques, costume changes…

    It was the first time something I had created had ever come together like that instead of being some failed and unrealized pipe dream in my head. That’s the dragon I’m chasing.

    From the August reading of “Mister B. Gone” – NYFA alumni Charles Englesjerd plays a demon hunter, a madman, and Heinrich Herzt

    NYFA: Can you tell us about your work developing “Mister B. Gone,” how the project came about, any exciting discoveries in your work?

    TW:  OH I CAN. I wrote the first song while still at NYFA, because I liked the language of the book. I loved this hateful main character who comes out the gate ordering you to burn the book and spends the whole story telling this horrifying and sad tale where nothing goes right, everything is unrealized, and the reader is complicit in all of it. It was different in structure from everything we were studying in class, and the words read like music. This was my private rebellion against classical musical theater that everyone was insisting I would never be right for. The writing of Clive Barker’s “Mister B. Gone” was one of pure accident and an immeasurable amount of dedication and faith.

    The discoveries I have made can be simmered into this: You cannot do it alone. (And Hell is always in A minor.)

    Listen: “Caroline” from “Mister B. Gone”

    NYFA: For you, what was your process in converting a book into a musical?

    TW: In February of this year I met this guy and as a pretense for hanging out with him I say “Yo guy, wanna…hang out and sing some song I wrote about a demon?” I taught him the song and he writes me this email of 20 questions about character motivation, and where the song comes in this show that I had only vaguely conceived of. I answered these questions as if I was really writing this musical.

    Then I booked  “In the Works,” a low stakes showcase for new music at the Duplex (Thanks Bobby Cronin) and thought, well, why not write one more song?

    The guy introduces me to playwright Rachel Chung (who is also from Cincinnati, but we didn’t know each other), and suddenly she and I are meeting three times a week, having our friends read scenes, and plotting what the stage might look like. A dear friend insisted that, as a going away present, she wanted to see an exposition of the work. We could have done a concert or a reading … and we pretended we would. But this monster had us, and we were gonna feed it the world. What happened next resulted in one of the most intense theatrical experiences of my life.

    I wrote music and lyrics in the day, we had rehearsals at night with our cast, then Rachel and I had production meetings long into the night. Everyone either had a full time job or was a Med student at Columbia. Bye sleep.

    In one month (June) we fully wrote and produced the first act, launched an incredibly successful Indiegogo campaign, and staged said act in Rachel’s Washington Heights apartment. We took a week to recover then, finish/revise/recast/and rehearse the full show over the next month (July). We had fundraisers, photoshoots, impromptu singalongs. Sometimes a song wasn’t written when it was slated to be staged so we’d stage something else, or role play the idea of a scene before writing it. For the full production I took on the lead role of Jakabok Botch, and probably will continue to for all time because he just gets me. Rachel moved to Scotland after the last show, and now we continue to work as a trans-Atlantic team.

    From the August reading of “Mister B. Gone” – Caroline (Aili Klein) and Jakabok (Terra Warman)

     

    NYFA: Any advice for fellow NYFA students who are interested in acquiring the rights to a story and developing an original musical, as you are doing?

    TW: YES! If you are adapting, find out who has the adaptation rights. We got really lucky because Clive Barker owns the rights to his own work and sold them to us for a dollar.

    NYFA: What is your favorite aspect of creating an original musical?

    TW: When the actors ask me questions about the meaning of the music and lyrics. It really touches me that someone else is thinking critically about my work, because that’s all I do. Then you get that perfect moment when it’s on it’s feet, with the band, sounding just the way you imagined and you look around at what you made and this very intense feeling of pride and fear wells up inside you and you have to excuse yourself to joy-cry in the bathroom.

    The other thing: The world you create is yours. How you present gender, sexuality, race, and age is your right and responsibility. In our show, though the characters have a gender, representation on stage of that gender is fluid and abstract. I insist on having actors of color. I want non-binary and fluid people to come out and feel they have an opportunity in my work. I think women are just as capable as playing dangerous and threatening characters as men. And because I wrote it, I can have it this way.

    From the August reading of “Mister B. Gone” – Kenny Malloy

     

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful in preparing for the work you are doing now?

    TW: Absolutely. There is no one way to do this, and at NYFA every one of my teachers had done it differently. They really pushed me to take ownership of the career that I wanted, and that’s no easy task considering I didn’t know what it looked like. I just didn’t want the conventional. If I was struggling with the way the industry ran, or my role in it, they handed me the tools to do something about it.

    NYFA: Can you tell us about any other projects you are developing or working on? What’s next for you?

    TW: I just got a fellowship through Town Stages to develop my song cycle “Havoc! A Song Cycle for Six Women Who Give a F*ck,” which was produced earlier this year and raised over $6000 for charities helping to end violence against women and girls.

    “Mister B. Gone” has a concert reading coming up at The Tank on October 21-22. After that we plan to submit to festivals and an off-Broadway run. The NYMF and Edinburg Fringe for sure.

    Rachel and I have a couple of things on the docket. A Hildegard of Bingen rock opera, “Juile D’Aubingy,” a version of 1776 in space with all women…

    My band Terra and the Dactyls continues to gig around the city, and be the core pit band in my shows.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Terra for taking the time to share some of her story with our community.

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  • NYFA Harvard Musical Theatre Students Create Powerful Music Video Cover of Sia’s “Bird Set Free”

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    This summer, NYFA Harvard students from around the world had collaborated and performed in a unique and empowering music video project as part of NYFA’s musical theatre workshops. Performing their own vocals in a cover of Sia’s powerful ballad “Bird Set Free,” students created a piece that celebrates the diverse voices and in our international community, as well as the liberating power of the visual and performing arts.

    NYFA Musical Theatre Instructor Bobby Cronin led the music video project, which is as a part of the NYFA curriculum he developed alongside Musical Theatre Chair Mark Olsen and Shani Patel to help students gain insight into the potential power of musical storytelling in film as well as live theatre.

    “I was blown away by the message the first time I heard the song,” said Bobby, “and I’d since been yearning to use the song in an educational environment. Once I met the students at the New York Film Academy’s summer program at Harvard, I knew this would be the song for our music video.”

    The group brainstormed together, and Bobby suggested the idea of using paper signs to represent an important battle each student felt they had struggled with individually, and the students loved it.

    “We then worked with NYFA’s Shaun Clark who was the DP/cinematographer on the project,” said Bobby. “He was very inspired by our ideas and pitched using videos like [Sinead O’Connor’s] ‘Nothin’ Compares 2 U’ as reference — close shots that give the inner turmoil of the artist. We then discussed that the song is about breaking free of these turmoils, and the idea to use black and white (darkness) transitioning into color (light) became the metaphor for our video.”

    The message of Sia’s song resonated especially with the burgeoning musical theatre performers. Some of the lyrics include:

    “I don’t care if I sing off key

    I find myself in my melodies

    I sing for love

    I sing for me

    I shout it out

    Like a bird set free…”

    The students learned the song under the guidance of musical director William Demaniow, in an arrangement created by Bobby. After recording the song with professional equipment, the faculty and student collaborators filmed the music video, which was poignantly edited by Elise Ahrens.

    “I wanted this video to represent the world we live in today and the dream I have of us all co-existing as a human race,” said Bobby. “And, how as an artist, it is of the utmost importance to create from your soul.”

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