I would say that my path to musical theatre writing began as a musical theatre performer. I grew up acting and singing in musicals, and during high school I became extremely passionate for performing. So when I started writing music, musical theatre was the natural genre to write for. And even though I don't really perform anymore, and have composed music for many other mediums, writing for musical theatre is still by far the most satisfying field for me.
Writing musicals professionally became a goal for me as I started my college education. While at BYU, I hopped around from major to major (the theatre major, media music major, and finally the music composition major), trying to create my own musical theatre writing major. And it is still my goal now; as I'm finishing my masters in music composition and applying for jobs, each step along the way is with that end goal in mind.
Question 2: If you were to go back and repeat your BYU musical writing experience, what would you do differently? What did you do right that you would repeat?
The things I would do differently are pretty much embodied in what I have done during my masters at JMU. At BYU, I was always bending over backwards and trying to jump through hoop after hoop to get my work considered and performed. Of course at the time my ultimate goal was to get a musical performed at BYU as a main-stage production, which I didn't realize would be a dead-end road. Things may have changed since I was there, but while I was there, I got huge support from some theatre faculty (which I am extremely grateful for), but there was no organized way to mount a new musical in comparison to mounting a play. What ended up happening was having my musical go through a playwriting class, which, as helpful as it was, wasn't designed for musical theatre development, it was designed for playwriting.
So when I got to JMU, I did what would have been so much easier than my path at BYU. Rather than try to work my musical through the theatre department as a play, I produced it through the music department as a work of music. Easy. All I did was schedule a student music recital in the recital hall, then held auditions, scheduled rehearsals, invited student assistants and designers to help me out, advertised, and then had my musical performed at my scheduled recital time.
Then comes the recording process. At BYU, I had to get permission to use the school's studio and then try to schedule my entire cast and instrumentation into increments of studio time around a hundred other students scheduling time; which was just exhausting. When I got to JMU and found the studio situation to be equally demanding, I was like, "Not this time." I made the decision to finally invest in my own home studio. Which was quite the bite of the bullet, because it required more student loans. But I decided that it was time to take control of my work, and no longer pay other people, or work around other people, to accomplish things I can do on my own.
A second advantage to the investment of the home studio, was purchasing a very expensive midi library of instruments and sounds. Through my training in music composition, I have gotten to know the orchestra very well, and I decided to include orchestration in the early composition process rather than tacking it on at the end. And with an extensive midi library of instruments, I could produce a fairly professional audio accompaniment for my vocalists without going through the work of hiring, rehearsing, scheduling, and getting frustrated with student musicians. Then, after my actors performed with that accompaniment, I was able to record and mix their vocals in my own home studio.
So really, the moral of the story is taking control of my work. Rather than jumping through hoops and requirements that may or may not get me where I want to go, I side-step them, and create my own path to my desired destination.
Question 3: What advice would you give me on my path?
Well, we'll see how far I get in this career pursuit, and therefore how valuable my advice will be in the end. But my advice would be that there is no "one way" to make a career out of musical theatre writing. I have been told by many that the only way to do it is to move to NYC, be basically homeless for a while, and work your way to the top. While that works for some, and while I may be trying my hand at that in the near future, I think it is not so clearly set in stone. I have made a hobby of reading the biographies of successful composers that were able to make a valuable contribution to art of musical theatre, and if anything, each story is different. The key is to find the path that works for you, for your character, and for your talent, and the music that comes from that process will be more honest and valuable as a result, and thus be able to rise to success.