How Do ASCAP and DreamWorks Cultivate the Next Generation of Musical Theater Artists?

Followers of the ASCAP Foundation know the foundation's philanthropic reach extends to most aspects of the music world.

Their Morton Gould Young Composer Awards supports talented young composers of concert (i.e. classical) music. The Johnny Mandel Prize advances the careers of aspiring jazz composers who are also recipients of the Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award. Then there's the Jamie deRoy & Friends Award, which supports an ASCAP songwriter (either composer, lyricist or team of writers) whose work has been of a "high and consistent level of professionalism."

Which brings us to recent news that the ASCAP Foundation, in partnership with DreamWorks and the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, has announced four new musicals that will be developed at the 2016 ASCAP Foundation Musical Theatre Workshop under the leadership of Artistic Director Stephen Schwartz—think Wicked, Godspell, Pippin, as well as the Walt Disney films Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Now in its 23rd year, the workshop gives selected composers and lyricists the opportunity to present selections from original musical works in progress for professional critique. Indeed, the workshop has been chugging along for close to a quarter-century, but the partnership with the Beverly Hills-based Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is a relatively recent development. The center signed on last year, and will host the workshop from Feb. 16-18, 2016. 

Schwartz applauded the move, noting, "Not only does this provide us a larger, state-of-the-art venue, but it greatly expands our educational possibilities. With the Wallis' strong educational program in place, we now have the opportunity to include students of musical theatre from the wider LA community who will be invited to attend and observe the workshop."

This is no minor matter. As we've previously discussed, it has been a precarious time for musical theater education in the L.A. area. You may recall the bizarre story of L.A.'s 24th Street Theatre, whose Enter Stage Right program was a stellar example of arts education done right. Six years after its inception, Enter Stage Right became the most requested program in the district, serving 11,000 students annually at 110 different schools.

You could guess what happened next. That's right—its funding was cut. Fortunately, the theater has rebounded, thanks in part to a Rosenthal Family Foundation grant, but its plight underscores the fleeting and seemingly arbitrary fate that can await successful arts education programs, which is why we're bullish on the 2016 ASCAP Foundation Musical Theatre Workshop. Its primary funders, ASCAP and Dreamworks, are a consistently generous lot.

As we noted last year, the foundation awarded over $40,000, spread over 10 organizations during the first half of 2015. Seven of the 10 recipients focused on music education. And as this post explains, DreamWorks has a strong commitment to inner-city arts education.

Which brings us back to the 2016 ASCAP Foundation Musical Theatre Workshop, where Schwartz can have the second-to-last word. "We were overwhelmed by the quality of submissions we received," he said. "The four works chosen displayed a certain level of promise that we believe could develop into a fantastic finished musical. We are excited to be a part of the six emerging composers’ and lyricists’ journey."

Click here to see more information on the winners.