Musical Theater Songwriting Contest Seeks Talented High School Students

By Catherine Gewertz — September 18, 2017 2 min read
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The National Endowment for the Arts has announced a national competition for musical theater songwriting, and it’s looking for talented young composers.

Students can enter by going to the “songwriting challenge” section of the NEA’s website during the application period, which begins on Oct. 2 and ends Jan. 5. The NEA is looking for songs in a wide variety of styles that would fit nicely in a musical theater production. Students will upload recordings of their compositions on the NEA website.

“If you have talent, and you have a voice, we want you as a young person to be empowered to share that with the world,” Greg Reiner, the NEA’s director of theater and musical theater, said in an interview.

The endowment wants to “take away the imagined gatekeeper” that might lead students to think they have to attend top schools, or have special connections, to see their work brought to life on the Broadway stage. “Anybody should have access to creating art,” Reiner said. “It shouldn’t be limited to where they happen to live in this country.”

This is the first year the NEA’s musical theater songwriting competition has been held nationwide. Last year, it was a pilot program in only three cities: Dallas, Minneapolis, and Seattle. You can hear the winner, Angel Rodriguez from Seattle, in the video at the top of this blog post.

In this year’s national competition, six regional winners will be chosen in February. They’ll get to spend a weekend in New York City in April, working with professional musicians, singers, songwriters, and producers to get their songs ready for the final competition. (They’ll also get to see a Broadway show and meet the cast, NEA officials said.)

In a live webcast at the end of that April weekend, the professional musicians—and the students, too, if they’re performers—will perform the students’ songs for a panel of judges, and the national winner will be chosen.

All six finalists will receive cash scholarships intended to support their pursuit of a career in the arts, Reiner said. The amounts of the scholarships haven’t been announced yet.

The American Theatre Wing, a theater-support organization that co-produces the Tony Awards, is working with the NEA to develop curriculum materials that will be available free on the NEA’s website. No details yet on what kinds of curriculum materials will be created; it’s still a work in progress.

Playbill, Inc. and Disney Theatrical Productions are providing funding and promotional support for the songwriting competition.

Heather Hitchens, the president of the American Theatre Wing, said in a prepared statement that she hopes the contest will help nurture “the next generation of Rodgers & Hammersteins, Jonathan Larsons, and Lin-Manuel Mirandas.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.