We’re Looking for the Next Generation of Musical Theater Songwriters

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By Greg Reiner, Director of Theater and Musical Theater, NEA –

Every important lesson in life I learned from musical theater.

The musicals we performed over my four years in high school were South PacificWest Side StoryGuys and Dolls, and Into The Woods. I’m not sure that I could recall with any accuracy anything I learned in advanced algebra, but I remember with blazing detail nearly every moment spent in the drama room learning and rehearsing those shows.

From South Pacific I learned that you can’t just wash a man out of your hair if you’re truly in love, that prejudice is something that you have to be carefully taught, not something you’re born with, and that it’s okay to be a cockeyed optimist.

From Guys and Dolls I learned you can’t change the person you’re in love with, but if you’re lucky, they just might make you into a better version of yourself.

From West Side Story I learned that what we all have in common is miles much more important than what we think divides us.

And, from Into The Woods, I learned possibly the most of any of them, though today—as we start accepting applications for the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for High School Students—I am thinking of when Cinderella says, “Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.”

I am excited about the incredible opportunity that is now available through this competition for students in high school to discover and share their voices, and for the rest of us to learn from the incredible creative talent of young people in our nation.

The musicals my friends and I conceived when I was in high school may not have become Broadway hits, or even been particularly good ideas (O.J. The Musical, anyone?), but based on the entries I saw from last year’s pilot program, the talent out there in high schools now is ridiculously exciting. I can’t wait to hear the entries this year as they come in, and I am especially looking forward to sharing the finalists’ and winner’s songs with the world when we livestream the final competition concert in April 2018.

To quote the great Sondheim, at the end of the musical Merrily We Roll Along: “Don’t you know?/ We’re the movers and we’re the shapers./ We’re the names in tomorrow’s papers./ Up to us now to show ‘em.”

Learn more about the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for High School Students and how to apply here. The last day for applications is January 5, 2018.