Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Second ACTS - Changing Careers Through a Musical

When Mark Hagan contacted me about his new show, Ripper, written with MCHM partner Michael Carach, I was eager to hear more about the show and their development process. Rather than write about it myself, I asked them to put together a guest post (the first and last guest post with R.C. Staab and Daniel Sturman was last August) talking about their project. Below is their account of the beginning of MCHM, the inspiration behind writing Ripper, and the challenges on the horizon as they look towards a production.

Formed in 1985, MCHM was the summer folly of two youths growing up in rural New Jersey. Best friends Michael Carach (MC) and Mark Hagan (HM) would spend their endless summers rewriting current Broadway shows to create parodies for their friends. Armed with a tape deck and a crude microphone from Radio Shack, the duo would sing along with popular shows at the time and compile them into new shows with new lyrics and story lines. “We never put these shows together for anyone but our small circle of friends, but we always dreamed of someday being able to write a real show from scratch" says Hagan. This eventually led them to build a small play theatre in the loft of Mark's parent's barn like a scene out of “Our Gang.” Nothing came of that venture except for dust choked rehearsals and a chaotic fantasy dance sequence that nearly brought the house down...literally.

The two went on to college some twelve hundred miles apart and upon graduating, entered wildly different careers. Hagan worked as an architect for some twenty years. During that period he started a record label (www.GlobalDance.com) and attempted to enter the music industry only to find it to be a closed system where the independent artist had few opportunities to be heard. Meanwhile Carach became a television director, writer, and finally a production manager for live television events where he later went on to win two Emmy Awards for technical excellence.

Quickly approaching mid-life when most professionals are simply funding their 401K accounts, they discussed re-booting their careers and starting over as writers. They would begin this effort by trying to write that “real show” they had dreamed about since High School. “Neither of us knew what the other could produce, but the planets had realigned and MCHM once again began to write.” says Carach from his backyard writer's retreat.

What came from five years of intensive writing, re-writes and musical scoring, MCHM's Ripper was born. “Back in the eighties is when Mike and I experienced Broadway. It was a time of large-scale British imports of bombastic proportions, usually based on some historic events like the French revolution or the Paris Opera House's resident ghost. It was at that time that the greatest unsolved mystery entered my consciousness” says Hagan. “I always thought it would make a jarring and aggressive musical. The idea gestated for a few years until I saw a PBS documentary on the subject suggesting the Royal Family's private doctor may have been involved. So I thought to myself- there is a lot here that COULD have happened and perhaps there are some valid reasons to why the mystery was never solved despite modern day forensics. When Mike and I sat down to begin work years later, we decided we would take Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code approach where we would construct a completely original piece based on historical facts. Our goal was never to solve the mystery, but to present a show where the audience could draw their own conclusions and come away with some possible explanations of why the mystery was never solved.”

Now into their forties and with a completed script, MCHM is now seeking workshop and development opportunities where their show can begin to find a life of its own beyond the written page. “We had one reading at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts with a mix of professional, community theatre, and novice actors several years ago. We learned a great deal about what worked and what didn't. The show's structure was changed. Some elements were truncated and new material including a new song was added.” said Hagan. “As well we have had professional guidance from several Broadway actors as to the process of how a new musical comes to life. Additionally we garnered the interest of several veteran Broadway producers who have taken a wait and see stance. It is imperative that we get a staged reading or a concert version of the show put together in order to get things moving.”

“We are not recent MFA graduates and we are not twenty-somethings just launching a career. So many of the “Young Playwrights” development programs, simply don't apply to us.” says Carach. “We are consummate professionals at very different places in our lives. We have day-jobs, mortgages, insurance and retirement to consider.”

“Although we may be late to the game, we are certainly dedicated to following through and doing the best work we can.” says Hagan. “We approach things from a more mature and experienced place, so we have that to offer. Being based in South Florida puts me at a bit of a disadvantage in that our only local regional theatre, Florida Stage, shuttered last year. So I have turned to the Internet to try and build relationships with prospective producers, producing theatres, and agents. There's no doubt that we have always had our eyes fixated on Broadway. I believe so strongly in that this is what we're supposed to be doing creatively.”

As MCHM's push to get Ripper into the workshop process continues, they have also begun work on their second new original musical, a lighter smaller show based on life, friendship and love with the working title of Call Me Katie. Additionally work has also begun on a comedic straight play entitled Who is Phoebe White?

“Although Ripper has been well received, we know the odds of getting a full-scale production are slim. Many theatre companies simply do not have the capital to produce a show as lavish and complex as the one we have written” says Carach. “We will consider alternate staging or concert versions of the show in order to increase our chances of getting noticed. Additionally we hope that we can get our foot in the door by writing new shows that are economically feasible, as well as entertaining.”

“We may have been distracted by our original 'responsible' career choices,” says Hagan, “but at least we have the creative passion to make a go of it despite the odds. I just hope we make those connections soon and both live long enough to see the dream come to fruition.”

For more information please visit www.RipperMusical.com or www.MCHMmusicals.com


Chris Edgar said...

Thanks, that was an inspiring post -- I can definitely relate, as I worked for seven years as a lawyer before beginning to work on my musical. Like these gentlemen I think my extensive experience working outside the theater industry has given me a different perspective and some material worth writing about.

Kimberly Lew said...

Thanks for the comment, Chris! One thing I really want to do on this blog is show the range of experience of new musical theatre writers, and it's great to know that Mark and Michael's story had an impact. If you come to a a point in your musical where you'd like to also contribute a guest post, feel free to email me and we'll set something up. I think it's so great for everyone to be able to share about their development processes (and celebrate them/commiserate together).