Staying Connected to the Magic of Musical Theatre

Today’s guest blogger is Contemporary Musical Theatre team member, Ashton Tibbitt.

Ashton Tibbitt
~Ashton Tibbitt
Hi there! Ashton here. Current intern for, playwright, librettist, lyricist, grad student, North Carolina native, Brooklyn resident, etc. I’m currently finishing up my first draft of my second full-length musical as part of my MFA thesis at NYU.
I met David and Laura nearly two years ago at a writers event and joined them this past Fall as an intern. They asked if I’d write a little bit about my experiences as a new writer in the city.
It’s always hard describing my background. I’ve had a very non-traditional educational journey and have been lucky to have gotten the chance to study a wide array of subjects and topics. With that being said, in my experience, I believe there are few things harder than writing songs. Particularly, writing songs for musical theatre.
I’ve been studying for the past two years in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU, and there are still times when I question and wonder just how songs are made (even the ones I’ve written!). In general, writing requires you to distill the human experience. You have to learn to embody characters and to live lives that you could have never fully experienced. It’s a monumental task.
I’m not the first writer to stare blankly at the white page, unable to move. Whether the problem is a lack of ideas, or the opposite, an overwhelming flood of ideas passing so quickly that you’re unable to grasp them all… nothing is harder than being stuck and not knowing how to continue or where to begin.
When I’m in that scary stuck place, my favorite thing to do is to get up, get out, and see something new. As a writer, I observe and absorb the world around me. What better place to see tons of different people and culture, than in NYC? As a writer for the stage, I need to understand how audiences respond to things. What better place to be a part of a great audience than the many on- and off-Broadway theatres or the opera?
I try to see as many shows as I can. What I love more than simply getting the chance to see a great production, is watching an audience being strongly affected by the power of theatre.
For example, I recently saw both SpongeBob Squarepants and Frozen. While admittedly, I don’t believe I’m the target audience for either of these shows, I still left the theatre both times excited and completely filled with gratitude. SpongeBob Squarepants was unlike any other experience I have had on Broadway. By the end, I was completely drawn in and I don’t believe I’ve had that much fun in a theatre in a long time. That’s magic. If you get the chance to see Frozen, in particular, I’d recommend looking around at the children in the audience, during “Let It Go.” They are completely entranced. That’s magic.
When you’re writing on your own, or even with a collaborator, it’s very easy to lose sight of that magic. For me, going to see shows and concerts is how I reconnect with it. For me, nothing beats the experience of seeing something new for the first time and sharing that experience with the audience around me.
Coming off of a not-so-great weekend, my Monday morning started with nonstop car alarms outside my window at 4am and then led into a not-so-shockingly delayed MTA commute. This is the last full week of classes of my graduate school career and I know it’s going to be both busy and rough.
Do you want to know why none of that is really getting to me right now?
On my commute, I was browsing some of the new songs just posted on and I found a brilliant new song that I absolutely adored. While stuck underground, not-moving, in between Brooklyn and Manhattan, I closed my eyes and was transported to another place entirely, through song. I felt like I had been let in on a secret and given a special gift.
After listening to that particular song on repeat a half-dozen times, I decided that I absolutely must sing that song in my next voice lesson. It wasn’t necessarily in my voice part, but one of the amazing things about is that I have the ability to contact the writers directly, to ask if transpositions are possible and to get answers to any other questions I may have. (Update – I reached out and received a quick reply and exactly the transposition I needed!)
Stay connected to that magic of seeing something new, listing to something new, and if you’re reading this, most importantly, singing something new! From experience, I promise it will make you better!

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