Back in the early to mid-1960s, an aspiring songwriter could hop in a cab, roll up to the Brill Building in New York City, and play a song for a publisher. Within seconds, the publisher would render a verdict: hit or no hit.
It was a refreshing concept. Anyone with a catchy melody in their head could set up an appointment, and if all went well, have their song on the radio within a week or so. It was the embodiment of instant, shameless commercial success.
But not all artists are so quick to cash in. What's more, many artists and songwriters find themselves actively fighting against the pressures of financially incentivized parties who expect a "hit."
This phenomenon is particularly acute in the cutthroat world of musical performances on and off-Broadway. It seems like every day we stumble across news of a production which, after years of preparation, investment, and toil, is shuttered a few days after its debut. It's depressing stuff.
Wouldn't it be nice if early-career musical theatre artists had a kind of creative oasis, a place to develop and present work in a collaborative atmosphere free from the pressures of commercial success? Well, they do. It's called the Musical Theatre Factory.
The New York City-based organization opened its doors less than a year ago, and since then, it has supported the development of 60 new musicals, with over 650 volunteers contributing over 10,000 combined hours of creative work. Factory members include writers, composers, performers, choreographers, directors, music directors, dramaturgs, designers, and producers.
This is just the kind of work—collaborative, off-the-radar, boldly indifferent to crass commercial success—that foundations love. Case in point, the Boston Foundation and its Elphaba Fund.
You may be familiar with the foundation. It's focused on women's and children's health and education, particularly in the third world, environmental causes, and arts and literacy education. In 2013, Gregory Maguire, author of the novel Wicked, and his husband, the painter Andy Newman, founded the Elphaba Foundation at the Boston Foundation to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the play's debut on Broadway.
As a symbol of the foundation's support of the Musical Theatre Factory's low-pressure, non-commercial approach, Elphaba recently awarded the factory with a $10,000 gift in support of the organization's commitment to developing new musicals by its army of early-career writers and composers. The gift will help underwrite MTF's soon-to-be-announced summer season, and marks the most significant contribution made toward the Factory's $150,000 capital campaign, announced earlier this year.
At the end of the day, the gift shows that foundations continue to fund organizations that provide artists with valuable creative space, free from publicists, producers, and agents breathing down their necks.