BWW Interviews: Jim Vagias from The American Theater Group


The American Theater Group (ATG) is a brand new professional theater company in New Jersey. They have just completed their first production and have a new musical series happening in November where audiences can witness a reading of a brand new work. I come from a background of writing for the stage and was eager to talk to one of the founding members Jim Vagias about this new endeavor.

Thank you for joining us on BroadwayWorld. As a writer for musical theater, I can’t tell you how happy I am to see this series started by American Theater Group.  We hear all the time “there is nothing new – people only do revivals” yet a series like this puts light on the new. Do you have a personal interest in finding new works?

Jim Vagias: Part of ATG’s mission is to make sure that we nurture the artists and audiences of tomorrow. So yes, the discovery of new voices of the American theater is an integral part of what we aspire to do.

The ASCAP Foundation has had a new Musical Theatre Workshop each year. Can you tell us how you became involved with them?

I have long been an admirer of ASCAP’s dedication to new writers. Michael Kerker has been tireless in seeking out and helping new voices. Over the years he has invited me to be on the panel with other theater professionals to offer critiques of excerpts from works that are part of the workshop. After participating in a number of these ASCAP workshops, it occurred to me that as incredibly valuable as they are, the next step in the development of the work was to do a reading of the entire work - not just a 30-40 minute excerpt, and to present these full readings in front of an audience of theater goers who are not part of the industry. By that I mean we wanted the audience composed not simply of fellow writers, actors and other theater professionals, but people who normally buy tickets “to go to a show”. As my partners Joe Mancuso and Rick Sordelet call it, “people who are theater goers but that are not of the theater.” We felt that such an audience would give the authors a more realistic audience reaction to their work. After talking with Michael and Stephen about this for years, it’s exciting to see it finally come to fruition, and we are thrilled and incredibly grateful that the ASCAP Foundation Cy Coleman Fund and Bart Howard Fund were able to generously assist us.

Did you receive submissions for this series or believe you will do that in the future?

We are not accepting submissions at this time. As with the current offerings, we plan to have this program be an extension of the ASCAP workshops. This year Stephen, Michael and I chose the two pieces we are doing from the works presented at both the LA and NY programs.

It is great that you have a series artistic advisor in Stephen Schwartz. How did you get<a href= such a busy man to get involved with your group in NJ?

As anyone who knows Stephen can tell you, he is incredibly supportive of new writers, and has served as a mentor to numerous up and coming artists. His involvement was just a natural extension of his involvement with the ASCAP workshops. And as a new theater company, we are honored that he is on board.

That is so wonderful since he has brought the world so many new, fresh musicals. Do you think producers are afraid of taking chances on unknown properties in today’s economic climate?

With the huge amounts of money it takes to mount a Broadway, or even off-Broadway production, it’s understandable that many commercial producers are afraid to take a chance on new writers or a new work. 

Regional theaters still seem to be the places where writers, directors, actors can get their feet wet as they attempt new things. Is this part of your mission at ATG?

Absolutely. With the risks for New York so high, that’s why regional theaters are essential to making sure that there is a place for new voices to be heard. And that is an integral part of ATG’s mission - not that doing new works is easy for regional theaters to do either. People instinctively gravitate to the familiar, and audiences are no different. So doing new works is a challenge, and it takes time for any regional theater to get their audience to trust coming out to see a title they’ve never heard of before. But we embrace and look forward to that challenge!

I love readings of works because you get to concentrate on the story. And I’ve always found Q&A’s so helpful. What can your audiences expect?

The Q&A after the readings is an integral part of the evening. After we do the reading, the writers will come on stage and have a conversation with the audience to get immediate, concrete feedback. Stephen will lead these conversations. And anyone who has watched Stephen critique and analyze a piece can tell you that he is unparalleled in his ability to get to the heart of the work. He does so in a constructive, helpful way, and his insights are amazingly perceptive. I think that part of the evening is going to be just as enjoyable as the actual reading itself. And hey, it might give some people the chance to boast in years to come that their suggestion was a part of shaping a future Broadway hit!

I personally wish you all the best with this new series and we look forward to watching it take off! Thank you for sharing some of the vision behind it with the BWW readers.

BWW Interviews: Jim Vagias from The American Theater GroupThe second reading in the series, Bubble Boy will take place on November 10 and is written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio.  Based on their movie by the same name, the musical is about a boy who has to live his life in a bubble, and meets the girl-next-door who introduces him to a series of crazy adventures.  Paul and Daurio have written numerous films including Despicable Me, and The Lorax. Bubble Boy will be directed by Scott Schwartz, the award winning director whose many credits include the Broadway production of Golda’s Balcony, the off-Broadway hit Bat Boy, and the national tour of Godspell.

The series started on Saturday November 3 with Single Girls Guide, with a score by Tommy Newman and a book by Gordon Greenberg, directed by Mr. Greenberg. The musical is a fun look at the trials and tribulations of a newspaper that tries to boost circulation by adding an advice column for single women. Mr. Newman’s various credits include co-conceiving and creating the musical Band Geeks, and winning the Frederick Loewe Foundation Award for his work on the new musical Tinyard Hill. Mr. Goldberg’s many credits include Pirates at the Paper Mill Playhouse and the critically acclaimed off-Broadway revival of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at the Zipper Theater. 

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