Friday, March 03, 2017

Brandon Ivie, Village’s New Musical Whisperer

Cubamor (Sam Freeman)

To an extent, this is a “Where is he now?” interview! In 2009, Brandon Ivie was kind of a kid wonder in theatrical circles when he was first profiled in SGN.

He started his own theater company, Contemporary Classics, as a senior in high school, focusing on new musicals. Once graduated from UW, he landed a job as assistant to David Armstrong, Executive Producer/Artistic Director at The 5th Avenue Theatre. He calls that "the best first job out of college ever."

Ivie has already worked on a number Broadway shows – some of which premiered at 5th Ave, like Shrek, Memphis and Catch Me If You Can, and helped launch the Broadway production of ex-Village Theatre associate Brian Yorkey's next to normal, which won a Tony Award. He worked on multiple productions of A Christmas Story across the country. He helmed an Off-Broadway production of Jasper in Deadland and reprised it at 5th Ave.

He’s been working for several years with friend and protegee Justin Huertas on Huertas’ Lizard Boy, which premiered at Seattle Repertory and has had several backing presentations in New York City to try to get it produced Off-Broadway.


In 2009, I wrote, “Ivie has his finger on the pulse on contemporary new musicals.” That statement is true today, as well.

In 2009, when I asked Ivie what he wanted to see as his future, he pronounced, “I want to be a musical theater artistic director in Seattle, and be working on developing new musicals. That's the big goal.”

Now, he has a regular job with that focus so he can live his dream of focusing on new musicals and nurturing them toward full productions! July 1, 2016, Ivie started working at Village Theatre as their Associate Artistic Director, and the whole focus of that job is to build their new musical pipeline from readings to developmental productions to possible Main Stage choices. What Ivie says, Ivie manifests!

I caught up with Ivie as he worked on the second developmental musical of three in a brand new program they are calling the Beta Series. Village has done a number of developmental productions, but now they’re expanding to do three planned developmentals a year. This year, they chose three shows that had been presented as “readings” in their summer Festival of New Musicals.

The three they’ve chosen are Cubamor and Writing Kevin Taylor – which have already hit the stage, and String, coming in June. In fact, String has just been announced as being part of their 2017-18 Main Stage season. What that means for those who love the making of musicals is that if you attend a developmental show in June, you’ll see how it changes as they bring it to Main Stage next year!

Ivie says, “Village brought me on because they wanted to expand the original programming. One idea they had was a series of developmental productions. We talked about rehearsals and previews and tech times and logistics to figure out what that programming would look like. The Beta Series is what has come of that. 

“It’s the missing link. We’ve had developmental productions but so far none has been programmed for the Main Stage (until String). This is a springboard and support system to help shows transition from a table or staged reading to a full production.

“All the shows that come to this program might go on to a future life. We’re telling other theaters and producers about the show, we’re inviting them, we’re sending materials to them, so these shows have a life after this.

“We’re budgeting and planning for our 2018 Beta Series now. We’re in the middle of programming that. We get hundreds of shows every year submitted to us.”

Writers’ Residency

Since Ivie started, Village has announced another new program: Writers’ Residency Program. Ivie describes it as, “It’s for shows that have yet to have a first draft. Very early in their development. It’s about generating material. Writing teams spend a week at the theater, are housed by the theater, and are given office support, rehearsal space, dramaturgical support and on-call professional actors.

“For the first residency we picked three teams that Village was familiar with. (Justin Huertas/Kirsten deLohr Helland/Sara Porkalob is one team, Orlando Morales is another, and Danny Larsen and Michelle Elliott are the third.) The residency is something I came up with because I have seen that it is really difficult for a show to have a clean, clear development process when they’re bouncing around (different) institutions and producers and directors.

“It’s easy to have too many cooks in the kitchen. By trying to please all these different entities, you end up not pleasing anyone and the show loses its point of view. This is an attempt at finding a way for a show to have a consistent artistic process with one institution.

“Those residency musicals are not necessarily destined for Festival, but the most ideal process for a show to go through at Village would be residency into a reading into Beta into Main Stage and that we can support writers from the very, very beginning to the end. This way, we can be the point of view for the whole process.”

Ivie’s Bi-Coastal Life

Ivie spends part of his life in New York City. Just when you hear he’s back in town, it turns out he’s flying back to NYC. He’s making a name for himself as a director of musicals and goes to readings and meetings. Now that he’s working at Village, even if the NYC work is not directly related to Village, it may well end up with a benefit to them.

About his upcoming work there, Ivie says, “I’m going to be directing at NYU with their graduate musical theater writing program. I direct a reading of these students’ thesis project. They’ll probably do 20 readings and I’ll direct a couple of them.” That’s certainly a good way to be in touch with brand new writers!

Village Subscribership Highest Ever

Village Theatre just announced that they’ve enrolled 20,000 subscribers, a new record. Ivie hopes that some of the new subscribers might have been brought in because of the new musical programs. “I hope so, it means good things for me,” says Ivie. “New musicals have been part of Village development from the very beginning. It’s part of the culture of Village. Some audience members have been here for 20 years seeing new musicals in development for all that time and they’re able to think critically about shows in ways that other audience members might not.”

The new job has aspects that are a definite stretch for Ivie. He says, “I’m a little nervous being the new guy on campus. I’ve never worked here on an administrative level. I’ve never been in meetings to choose the Festival or season or (other) planning. I was pleasantly surprised at how open and willing the theater was to try new things.

“It’s going so much faster than I ever thought it would. We’ve made a lot of programming in the last six months and that’s really exciting.”

Prognostication?

Asked to predict the next five years, Ivie says, “Five years from now? I would want Village to be the most sought after new musical incubator in the country (with me as the head of the program). I realize it will take more than my first six months to make that goal happen.”
The cast of Writing Kevin Taylor (Sam Freeman)